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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

NorCo Exec Debate Draws "New Generation" of Leaders and Followers

The New Generation: John Callahan v. John Brown
Northampton County Executive candidates John Callahan, Bethlehem's Democratic Mayor, and John Brown, Bangor's Republican Mayor, squared off in a well-attended debate at Northampton Community College on October 22. The Express Times and League of Women Voters grilled the hopefuls before an audience of over 120 people. In addition to the usual camp followers, there were many newer and fresher faces in the crowd. College students, some of whom will be casting their first vote in November, were in the house. This seemed to thrill LWV spokesperson Beverly Hernandez. In addition to thanking the candidates and the media for their interest, she thanked the audience. "This election is about you," she stated. "Please vote."

In addition to new voters, Callahan and Brown are themselves new to County government, unlike most previous Executives. Callahan stated that it's time for a "new generation of leadership" in Northampton County.

Both candidates seem to be on the same page on most County issues. There were no serious differences until the end of the debate, when they were able to question each other's records.

ET Editor Jim Deegan
Is it Time For a Tax Hike?

Callahan noted that Northampton County's fund balance was at one time $60 million, but could be as low as $14 million in next year's budget. "We can't keep kicking that can down the road," he said. But a tax hike is a last resort. He would first focus on creating efficiencies through a program called Continuous Improvement, in which employees find ways to provide the same service at a lower cost. Callahan claims this saved $14 million in Bethlehem's $75 million budget. "Imagine what it could do with a $340 million budget?" he asked.

Brown echoed many of Callahan's remarks, saying he'd manage more efficiently, line item by line item. He has identified some departments where cuts can be made. Like Callahan, he would partner with the County workforce to find cuts.

Selling Braden Airpark

Brown believes it's important to "keep airports vibrant," and would "support a subsidy on a short-term basis" to keep Braden Airpark afloat. He is opposed to selling the Airpark to help pay off a judgment incurred by the Airport Authority, but believes the Authority board needs to be reviewed.

Callahan said the Airport Authority's financial malaise is a "complicated issue" with many moving parts, from a decrease in air traffic after 9/11 to airline consolidation, and added that Northampton County only appoints six of the 13 board members. Although he doesn't believe a decision on Braden should be made "in a vacuum," he noted that the Airpark was able to work before Moyer Aviation was forced out. He said he would want to partner with local pilots an community leaders on the best course of action.

LWV Beverly Henrandez
The County's Crumbling Infrastructure, From Bridges to Its Own Buildings

"I think it's terrible what's going on with County facilities," noted Callahan, who claimed to have invested millions into Bethlehem's City buildings. He criticized a lack of political will, as well as poor planning. Brown agreed, noting that the County's infrastructure "just has not been a priority." He said the County needs a five year and 10-year plan. "The challenge is how do we pay for it," he asked.

The County's Cadillac Health Plan Could Prove Costly to Taxpayers 

Brown would reach out to the employees and "come up with a solution that is a win win." Callahan stated that the notion of sticking County workers with increased health care costs was both "ill advised" and "jumping the gun." Noting that experts are still divided on the impact of Obamacare, he said it is "too early" to make big changes. He criticized executive John Stoffa's decision to increase healthcare costs to County workers, stating that "you just don't drop a bomb like that on the employees.

Stoffa did reverse himself, so this will be next Executive's problem.

Gracedale Privatization

Neither candidate favors selling Gracedale, the County-owned nursing home. Noting that he signed a pledge to keep Gracedale in County hands on the day he announced his campaign, Callahan suggested that County Council needs to listen more to the recommendations made by Premier, the nursing home's administrator. "We may never break even," he conceded, but said Gracedale is "an obligation we have to the seniors of the County."  Calling the nursing home a "vibrant facility," Brown noted that the home has changed markedly from what it was like many years ago, but the County needs to do a better job of "getting the message out".

Reassessment Not Done Since '95

"Now is not the time," stated Brown, noting the cost would be $8-10 million. Callahan stated it's overdue, but "more stability" is needed in the housing market before taking on a process that will create winners and losers.

NCC President Mark Erickson
Economic Development

"We have not pursued it," complained Brown. "We have to get away from Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, and focus on the rest of the community," argued the Bangor Mayor.

Unlike many County officials, Callahan believes that the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation "is headed in the right direction under Don Cunningham." But the County is not. Noting that the economic development office is located "in the bowels of Northampton County," next to the jail's bullpen, he wondered how that is supposed to attract investment.

He pointed to his own record of economic development in Bethlehem, stating there has been $2 billion invested, resulting in 5,500 jobs.

Do We Need a $6 Million Morgue?

Callahan complained that, no sooner was the ink dry on the bond documents for bridges, that the Coroner announced he needed a $6 million morgue. "It's a case of not having a five year plan," he complained. But he cautioned that a "Taj Mahal of a morgue" may not be needed. Brown called the current morgue "abysmal" and "completely inadequate." He agreed with Callahan that the County needs to have more vision, but stated that it's important to have an appropriate setting for what is "one of the most painful and critical times" for surviving family members.


Callahan supports regionalism, from bi-county health to work release. He called the possibility of sharing work release facilities with Lehigh County a "missed opportunity." Concerning regional public health, Callahan stated that "disease doesn't know municipal boundaries."  Brown supports looking at a bi-county health department, but notes that the health industry has changed and there are clinics everywhere.

Candidates Grill Each Other

After fielding questions from the panel, the leashes were removed and candidates could go after each other.

And they did.

Brown tagged Callahan for ignoring Bethlehem's 12,000 seniors and raising taxes in Bethlehem while giving himself a payraise. Callahan retorted that he made Bethlehem the safest City in the state, produced a surplus for two years in a row and erased the deficit while reducing the City's debt by $100 million.

Brown claimed that Callahan borrowed $17.8 million from the Sewer Authority, forcing people outside Bethlehem to pay for the City's poor fiscal leadership. But Callahan answered that  under his fiscal leadership, the City's credit rating has gone from "neutral" to "positive."

Finally, Brown slammed Callahan over his decision to settle a civil rights case for $7.89 million, but Callahan said it was necessary because the case had become a "huge distraction to our police department" during a "very dark period of time in our history." Noting that Bethlehem is the safest City in the state and one of the top 100 places to live, he argued that "time has shown the wisdom of that decision."

Then Callahan fired back.

Brown was taken to task for allowing a 79-acre brownfield, to be sold to an out-of-state developer, who did a stint in jail for illegal dumping. Brown claimed he opposed the developer.

The Bangor Mayor was also taken to task for accepting $7,650, seven times his annual salary, for a "junket" to Notre Dame "to become a better mayor at a job you never intended to keep." Brown responded that he learned ethics and leadership at the training seminar, and was grateful to Bangor Borough Council for sending him there.

Finally, Callahan hit Brown for public safety failures. Brown fired the police chief in Bangor, never replaced him, and Bangor was excluded from a regional force in the slate belt, according to Callahan. Brown responded that the police department needed a makeover, and the officers there are much happier now and have every other weekend off.


Anonymous said...

Given your mancrush for Callaahn. Try to be somewhat impartial.

How did you rate the contestants and who if either do you think did a better job and dare I say may have "won" the debate?

Bernie O'Hare said...

They both were quite good. I support Callahan, but think they both did well. Callahan is a little quicker on his feet, and was relaxed last night. Brown was a bit more tentative, most likely bc he is not used to these forums. At one point, I thought they were going to run off and marry each other. As a bottom-feeding blogger, it was tough. Thank God they went after each other at the end or I'd have to make things up.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Bethlehem was a top 100 place to live in 2008...

Anonymous said...

sounds like brown has no original ideas as he agrees with jc on most issues. he learned ethics and leadership in a week? WTF has he been doing the rest of his life?

Anonymous said...

Instead of taking the low paying County Exec job John should seek that bethlehem township manager job. Better pay and with his skill sets he could take that township to a new level and better its communication with the city and county.

Anonymous said...

I heard that during the debate, Callahan punched a LWV referee and accused her of having "rabbit ears."

Anonymous said...

It was a shame that no local TV station carried the debate live. But there wasn't any new ground broken here. Same complaints, little substance.

Anonymous said...

The Johns did well but Callahan had the best responses and seemed the most sincere. The questions brown came up with where clearly from Hector and the gang still smarting over his firing at the Parking Authority. Lucy Lennon was in the crowd and I am sure she had some input into those questions. She has been against everything done in Bethlehem since she moved there from the casino to arts quest and it was quite apparent hearin Brown's questions, I beg you any amount of money that Brown had no idea the city paid off a lawsuit 10 years ago or the circumstances behind that entire debacle. It just shows and proves who the leader in last nights debate was and it was John Callahan

Signed a registered R who is voting for Callahan

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Gotta give credit to Brown he's not the worst mayor in Bangors history. He's #2 after the drug dealer who went to jail. He destroyed the police dept in less than 3 years. And that 7 grand was a waste of taxpayer money. These teabaggers talk a good game but play by their own rules.

Anonymous said...

Stick a fork in this slate belt rube.

Anonymous said...

I find it funny that people actually think because both these guys are "Mayors" they do the same job. Callahan is the head of the city administration (he runs the day to day operation of the city), while Brown is essentially a figure head with limited power.

Under the Borough Code, the mayor has limited power regarding administration of the police department, and power to declare a state of emergency. Brown does not even run the Council meeting, or vote on issues. The Council is charged with running the day-to-day operations of the Borough, most choose a Manager to do that.

So Brown screwed up the only thing he really has power over--the police department. And this guy wants to be County Executive.

Anonymous said...

Is he even from the slate belt? Isn't he an import from new york?

Bernie O'Hare said...

". Lucy Lennon was in the crowd and I am sure she had some input into those questions."

My guess is the nasty questions came from convicted felon and former political consultant Tom "Scissorhands" Severson. He was there. I noticed one of the Brown ads looked very much like Severson's work. If Brown is using this crook, I will make sure everyone knows by election day.

Anonymous said...

Did Callahan finally announce a tax rebate from casino funds? He always keeps his promises and has just a short time to follow through. I'm sure he did. Why is nobody reporting on the upcoming tax rebate?

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Is he even from the slate belt? Isn't he an import from new york? "

With a name like John Brown, the google searches and other searches are hard. I do not know how long he has been here or what companies he has worked with.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I heard that during the debate, Callahan punched a LWV referee "

I thought at least Barron would show up in his referee uniform.

I parked in Barron's old spot.

Anonymous said...

Callahan sounds sincere? I am sure he did but he has proven he campaigns on one thing and does another. His credibility is shot for anyone who wants an honest person running this county. Brown is not a politician so it doesn't mean anything that Callahan was quicker on his feet. That is what a good politician sounds like to me. I'd rather someone who makes a decision I disagree with then someone I can't trust. This is how we got Obama again. People who lower the bar for our leaders.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Well, I was asked to rate the debate (look at the first comment), and being quicker on your feet generally does help in a debate performance.

Anonymous said...

9:53. Ok Lucy L.

Anonymous said...

Callahan is a known commodity while Brown has a limited record. It is easy to say you stand for something than it is to accomplish somethings. Positive Proven records are always debatable pro and con. Give me a record to judge someone on and not lip service. Callahan gets my vote.

Anonymous said...

I am still trying to find out what business Experience Brown has. Please Bernie can u uncover this guys total lack of a work history for us before the election. And I don't want to hear he is a consultant, that isn't a job, especily when you have no customers to consult too

Anonymous said...

I am a consultant. If I ran for office I would be prepared to disclose my client list.

Brown should do the same.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Actually, that is a valid point. Or at least reveal whether he is associated with any businesses who have ties to Northampton County government.

Anonymous said...

Here you go Bernie, this will help you get started.


Anonymous said...

Apparently, he lived in Brooklyn for sometime, too.


Scary Mary Inc said...

Lucy L still pissing and moaning ? Oh My, Remember her from the Dancing Fish and Mary Glennon.

Lucy Lennon said...

Job well done last night-and nice coverage Bernie. First of all-let me set you anonymous bottom feeders straight. This is Lucy Lennon.I made none of the other comments here. John Brown is a good friend,and I totally support his run for election...That being said. A) Hirko is not a big secret. John Brown did not need my help in "uncovering" a very painful time in the city's history. A Bethlehem Police officer ( or two ) decided this was an important story to share.That is a decision that we,the residents of Bethlehem,will be paying for and living with a long time. B) I don't know who the "Scissorhands" guy is. I Just googled him and all I came up with is some whacky guy who fought with my friend Ron Angle. Don't know him. and C) I LOVE BETHLEHEM!!!! I was against the casino-not for moral,religious or any addiction stances ( I myself like to go to the casino ) but because of what I thought would be the impact on our Downtown Business Community. The casino has done nothing for it. Where is all the support for the independently owned and operated businesses that we were promised? Where's my tax relief? Why should the Casino's multi million dollar restaurant franchises be included in our Downtown Bethlehem Restaurant Week-competing against restaurants who have struggled through these economic hard times?... I could go on and on....I love my city. I have donated thousands and thousands of dollars to both the Police and Fire departments. I have helped many private businesses,whether it be through financial aid,or shared resources. My children have "endured" years and years of Christmas's and Birthdays with never receiving a gift from the mall or online ( and let's face it,that's what kids want ) because I only shop in Independently owned and operated businesses-in Bethlehem. So don't ever say I don't support my city! Come to my house-sit at my dining table from Home and Planet ( who left our fabulous city for Easton,after years of struggling in the shadow of our great savior The Casino ) Drink from cups from Comfort and Joy. Read a book from Moravian Book Store in a chair from Wadswoth's antiques....The list goes on and on as I write this response through my Fox Optical reading glasses. So I leave you with this....Grow a set,sign your real name and then we'll sit and talk-otherwise get your story straight-I love Bethlehem. I love the city employees,the job they do,the merchants who provide us with a great downtown and our wonderful schools and community!!! And with that I bid you a great day:) The real Lucy Lennon

Jack Mayhoffer said...

Who the fuck is Lucy Lennon? She sounds whacked. Was against the casino but admits she frequents it. Um, ok. Doesn't buy stuff from the mall? Friends with Ron Angle?

Anonymous said...

Just received a NEGATIVE brochure from Brown in todays mail! Certificate of hypocrisy awarded to callahan.This mailer has Scissorhand Severnsen's style of attack written all over it! BROWN must be behind in the polls and with this mailer he is sure to lose this race.Disclose the author Mr. Brown and man up with your associates.

Anonymous said...

Negative works. And Callahan has lots of negative. Lots.

Anonymous said...

I take it that Barron never showed? Lamont was too busy to show up. He was busy at some County Council Sub-Committee meeting!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Neither Barron nor McClure was there. I saw Kraft, Werner and Ferraro.

Anonymous said...

Why should Steve Barron go? If he did, you all would say he is too political. You would say he is trying to kiss up to Johnny Casino or someone would insinuate he is trying to get a job within the administration which is and was dead wrong. When he is too loud, you complain! When he is too quiet, you complain! Your freaky stalkerish obsession with him is disturbing to many people. Get a life

Point a Finger and 3 More Point Back at U said...

And here you are stalking Bernie and complaining that Bernie is stalking Barron. Telling him to get a life, wow! What a life you must lead ... Barron!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Attendance at a function like this is not political because it involves both parties. It is actually an exercise of good citizenship

Anonymous said...

I asked Ron Hickman why he was not there and he said he was too busy being in the Bath Halloween Parade throwing candy and looking for more votes.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Running for office is a part of citizenship, too, for those who can put up with anonymous personal attacks like yours.