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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tony Hanna: "We Believe in the First Amendment in Bethlehem"

"Save the sign!"

That's the battle cry from LV Congressman Charlie Dent's Facebook page. Here's why. Bethlehem is supposedly trying to force a local business owner, who lives above his antiques shop, to remove a huge "Charlie Dent for Congress" sign. His business is right across the street from City Hall.

"Ridiculous!" says one Facebook friend.

"I think I should go buy some antiques from that guy!" says another.

These are all reactions to a Morning Call news account, in which Bethlehem's evil zoning officer, John Lezoche, wakes up one morning and decides to take on the Dent campaign over ... zoning.

It's one helluva' story, resulting in 86 comments online, although it's mostly people calling each other idiots and morons. The story has just one little problem.

It's completely untrue.

"Political campaign signs are a mark of a truly free country," says elections lawyer Larry Otter. Local Dems should know. Back in 2004, with a little help from Otter, they sued practically every Northampton County municipality from here to Kingdom Come over restrictions that many of them place on campaign signs.

I called Zoning Office John Lezoche today. He's a quiet, unassuming man, not exactly the type of person who leaps headfirst into the dark and muddy water of Congressional politics. Lezoche asked me to speak to his boss, DCED Director Tony Hanna.

I had heard stories that the antiques dealer was being cited daily and wanted to know what exactly was going on, and when I was told to contact Hanna, I immediately began to think this really was a political decision from up above.

I was wrong. Hanna told me, "We intend to do nothing about it because it's protected by the First Amendment." He told me that Bethlehem is working on a new zoning ordinance, and feels that the language in the current model is a bit "too restrictive." He insisted nobody has or will take any action on a possible violation. "We believe in the First Amendment in Bethlehem," he added.

So why the big write up in The Morning Call?

Hanna would like an answer to that question, too. He tells me that, whatever Lezoche may or may not have said, reporter Matt Assad was specifically told by Assistant City Solicitor Joe Kelly that there would be no attempt to enforce a zoning ordinance that infringes on free speech. "Matt Assad had a subsequent conversation with Joe Kelly, and Joe Kelly told him they weren't enforcing the zoning ordinance," says Hanna. He offered to put me in touch with Kelly, but I felt the information provided by Hanna was already adequate.

Now Bethlehem's legal team are certainly all in the tank for Callahan, but they're not stupid. They are not going to go against law made by their own party in 2004.

According to Hanna, reporter Matt Assad was also provided with this information before his story appeared in the paper. But in the news account, Assad fails to tell his readers that Bethlehem had already decided the zoning ordinance was unenforceable. Perhaps wires were crossed.

Now just as Joe Kelly and Tony Hanna are in the tank for Callahan, I'm in the tank for Charlie Dent. But neither the candidates nor the public are helped by a false story that places either candidate in a bad light.

Gatekeeper Bill White has warned you that "there may be a good reason why that story you're reading on someone's blog still hasn't appeared in your newspaper." I suspect this is one such story. That's because it reveals that the MSM is not so "fair and accurate" as they pretend.


Anonymous said...

Asssad was never fair and balanced. When he worked on the Northampton County beat, he was know by his reputation for muckraking and scurrilous articles.

Anonymous said...

There is more to this story than free speech.

According to the Morning Call article, published September 16, 2010, Mr. Lezoche stated:
"I've been spit on, pushed, shoved and offered bribes," Lezoche said. "All in a day's work."

It is admirable that Mr. John Lezoche has apparently been able to spurn bribes. Do you think he should take it one step further, and report to authorities those who have offered him bribes. Offering bribes is a criminal act.

His recent statement to Morning Call reporter Matthew Assad begs the following questions:

1. Has anyone ever really attempted to bribe Mr. John Lezoche? Or anyone else in the zoning office?
2. How many bribery complaints has Mr. Lezoche made to law enforcement authorities?
3. If there have been attempted bribes, did Mr. Lezoche ever bring them to the attention of his superiors at City Hall?
4. If there were attempted bribes, what are the names of the people who attempted to bribe Mr. Lezoche?
5. Have any of the alleged bribery suspects ever been charged with a crime? Prosecuted? Or brought to justice?

Anonymous said...

what other pro-Dent stories have lacked truth? The Morning Call is quite happy to have Dent still in Congress.

I now think their poll is a complete crock. they are probably withholding a lot of information that has Dent in a bad light.

Anonymous said...

Bribing local big time and small time governments is not new and happens more often than not. Maybe not so much as of late as building permits are way down across the board.

Years ago, how many Bethlehem Twp building officials and twp employees were convicted and spent time in prison?

A city of Bethlehem building official moved to Florida maybe 10 years ago only to be convicted of accepting bribes and has since served his time in prison.

I could go on on on, Allentown & Easton have had their share of criminal activity, just ask around!

Anonymous said...

Bernie, Little Confusing.
Are you saying Bethlehem is planning a new ordinance to forbid
such banner signs or is the city planing to relax even more so its current ordinance?
Why would Assad deliberately blunder the accuracy point of this story? Was he trying to grab more attention, sell more papers, get more online hits, or is there another reason it did not appear as accurately as warranted.
Perhaps you may speak with Assad and ask him.
He's been a Bethlehem-based reporter nearly 15 years.

Anonymous said...

"reputation for muckraking"

Muckracking is not a bad word. It means exposing illegal activities. If Assad did that, he was doing what a reporter is suppose to do.

Anonymous said...

"Offering bribes is a criminal act. "

Didn't a certain senatorial candidate publically state on national TV he too was offered a bribe?" What happened there?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:21, I am saying that Bethlehem is palnning a new ZO. Hanna told me yesterday that he (and lawyers) are even looking at the new ZO to relaz some of the langauge.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 6:35,

Here's my problem. I think any Zoning officer who thinks he has been bried has an obligation to report it, but I really have to wonder abut what was actaully said.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Why would Assad deliberately blunder the accuracy point of this story? Was he trying to grab more attention, sell more papers, get more online hits, or is there another reason it did not appear as accurately as warranted."

I did not speak to Assad, and have no doubt that wires were crossed somewhere. I sometimes misunderstand what people tell me.

But Hanna was quite adamanat yesterday that Assad was made aware thst Bethlehem had no intention of enforcing the zoning ordinance, and that this occurred before his story ran. In fact, he tells me that an angry Jack Spirk(the City Solcitor) called editors after this story ran.

I see no correction or no follow up.

I also notice that the ET ran no story about this.

Anonymous said...

"I sometimes misunderstand what people tell me."

So do we.

You're right about the Call running a correction. If they don't it showcases a deliberate plan to mislead readers.

Anonymous said...

So anyone can hang any size sign from the front of their business or residence?

Bernie O'Hare said...

For a political campaign, so long as it does not interfere with neighbors or traffic, why not?

Anonymous said...

Big time Stoffa supporter and soon to be County dollar rich, developer Abe Atiyah put huge Stoffa signs up all over his properties.

Hell, now Stoff is going to sell Gracedale for the guy.