Saturday, February 01, 2014

Eleven City Council Candidates Run Gauntlet in 6-Hour Meeting

Top Row (L to R): Bruce Smackey, Sonia Vazquez, Steve Melnick, Lynn Rothman
Middle Row (L to R): Dave Sanders, Tom Miller, Jeremy Sestito, Cathy Reuscher
Bottom Row (L to R): Melody Frey, Ron Heckman, Michael Colon

If you've noticed that Bethlehem's deep-freeze appears to have moderated, you might want to thank City Council. They generated enough hot air during a special meeting on January 30 to heat the City for the rest of the Winter. They grilled eleven impressive candidates to succeed Bob Donchez. He left Council earlier this month to become Mayor. Under the City's Home Rule Charter, Council fill vacant elected offices. If they stalemate, as happened recently when Meg Holland resigned as Controller, the courts make the appointment.

After a grueling six hours, only Council member Karen Dolan was ready to go on. "I had a cup of coffee," she explained. "I can go all night."

Council President J. Willie Reynolds, however, was uncertain about starting the nomination process at 1 AM. Besides, there were only five Council members on hand because Eric Evans was ill. A consensus agreed to defer the voting until Monday night.

Observer Alana Jennings called this cast of 11 an "embarrassment of riches".

Sonia Vazquez, Principal at Donegan Elementary School. - "Everything I do is 150%," the West side resident assured Council members. She also pointed out that much of her career as an educator has been as an administrator, making her familiar with large budgets.

Vazquez also detailed her involvement in various volunteer activities, from Lehigh Little League to the Blueberry festival. .

David "Lump" Sanders, a long-time Bethlehem Housing Authority Commissioner and owner of "Lump's Deli". - "Bethlehem is #1," he told Council. "Don't let anybody fool you." He told Council that on Christmas Eve, a loved one had a medical emergency. Thanks to Bethlehem police and EMTs, she was in a hospital and being treated within thirty minutes.

Steve Melnick, an economic development consultant who directed the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone. - Melnick promises to bring "aggressive economic" development and criticized the warehouses on Southside Bethlehem, raising the hackles of Council members J. Willie Reynolds and Michael Recchiuti. He said he'd try to attract more small manufacturing by reaching out to them. "I think it's a little disingenuous to say we need to go outside because we've been doing that," retorted Reynolds.

Ron Heckman, a former Northampton County Council member and Director of Human Services. - After complimenting him for his willingness to "always stand for things," Council member Karen Dolan basically told Heckman he's either too white or too masculine. "Can you understand why I feel it would be important to have diversity on this Board?" she asked.

"I don't know if it would be the top priority for me if I were picking someone," he answered.

Recchiuti was a bit kinder to Heckman, telling him, "If there were a Hall of Fame for public service in the Lehigh Valley, you would certainly be in it."

Upon hearing that Lehigh University directs visitors to its campus via South Maintain instead of the Southside. Heckman provided a flash of his humor.

"Maybe we could pull a Chris Christie and do a lane closure," he joked.

Michael Colon, volunteer coordinator at the Gracedale nursing home and regular attendee of City Council meetings. - This Penn State grad claims he would bring youth, diversity and common sense.

"We don't lack a young male on Council," noted Adam Waldron, himself a young male. But he and other Council members complimented Colon for his regular meeting attendance. Colon, who is bi-lingual, told Council he would reach out much more to Lehigh and Moravian, claiming they have much to offer the City.

In a lengthy exchange, Dolan queried Colon about developer Abe Atiyeh, whom she referred to as "He who shall not be named" and as "this development character [who] seems to enjoy torturing citizens." She attempted to lure Colon into saying he would ignore the law to go after Atiyeh.

Colon said he'd follow the law.

Melody Frey, a Wall Street investment analyst. - She told Council that, contrary to common belief, legacy costs can be reduced by more careful management of the pension funds. She favors District Council seates. "We're not a small City anymore," she explained.

Though she claimed that she herself was an Army brat who moved frequently in her youth, Dolan questioned Frey relentlessly about her Bethlehem roots.

Tom Miller, who went from messenger boy to Senior VP at Bakers Trust Co. before retiring. - What this octogenarian likes about Bethlehem is that seven colleges are only 20 minutes away, and two are in walking distance.

He told Council that the City's cash on hand is much better than in years past, but believes it needs to improve its bond rating. With his 40 years of banking experience, Miller believes he can add a financial perspective.

Miller is a graduate of Bethlehem's Citizens' Academy and convinced former Executive John Stoffa to start one in Northampton County.

Cathy Reuscher, a Southside resident and food co-op advocate. - She brings a knowledge of the City's south side, and defends the genteel poor. "Poor and content is rich and rich enough," she said, quoting from Othello.

Reuscher currently works for the Appalachian Mountain Club as their Mid-Atlantic Policy Associate.

Lynn Rothman, a former environmental scientist and current President of Allentown's Temple Beth El. - This is the only candidate who received a kiss before being grilled. Her husband was with her.

Dolan noted that Rothman's synagogue is in Allentown, not Bethlehem. But Rothman explained that the congregation includes Bethlehem residents. She added that her temple supplied 6 tons of food to Second harvest last year.

She said she would support small tax hikes for improvements in public safety, saying that multiple small hikes are preferable to a major, unexpected increase.

She told Council she loves Bethlehem. "It has everything a big city should have, but with a small town feel," she explained.

This former EPA official impressed Council members with an explanation of the strengths and weaknesses of water leases.

Bruce Smackey, professor emeritus of marketing and manufacturing systems engineering at Lehigh University. - Noting that the City debt service is $7.6 million, Smackey pointed out that is 10% of the budget. He believes long range planning is the answer. "All we are doing is fighting fires," he noted.

Smackey also had a fascinating view of economic development, noting it should not be defined by the City's boundaries. He called the competition that goes on between cities destructive, pointing to numerous municipal bankruptcies. "Maybe we should give some help to the businesses that are already here," he noted.

He suggested the City should leverage its buying power with other municipalities.

Jeremy Sestito, a CPA employed at PPL.- This accountant wants to bring a long-term balanced budget to Bethlehem.

Dolan posed a question, and after listening to his answer, commented that former Council member Jean Belinski would attack her during debates with "That's the stupidest answer I ever heard."

"You're lucky," she advised Sestito, thus creating the impression that he had just given the stupidest answer she ever heard.

Clearly nervous, Sestito said his "passion to achieve an outcome" is what sets him apart.

Though this meeting lasted six hours, all candidates remained for the entire meeting.


Anonymous said...

Sorry but it sounds like Dolan was playing a mean game. People cannot help who they are.
She sounds like she was more insulting than inclusive.

Is excluding people based on their gender or ethnicity in favor of another, not a bit prejudiced in its own way.

Let us be honest, there are currently no Einsteins on city council so the over the top time of "interrogating" and as you said "insulting" sounds a bit to arrogant.

By the way, if Ms. Dolan knew who she was going to pick before the interviews, why would she waste so much time with her questions? Was it an attempt to sabotage others in front of council to boost her pick? If that is the case, not cool Ms. Dolan. These people deserved better than that.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I believe she behaved poorly, and exactly for the reasons you noted. I like Karen, know she is dedicated, but truly believe her approach here was counterproductive. No more coffee, Karen.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

"Sonia Vazquez, Principal at Donegan Elementary School. - "Everything I do is 150%,""

Math is not her good subject.

Anonymous said...

All seems like decent choices, except maybe 2 or 3. Sanders and Melnick lost, why should council thwart the will of the voters?

Are any Republicans?

Dolan seems like an ass. If, as I have read on WFMZ, she is supporting Sonia, then her intent was to embarrass, and she should have not questioned them.

Bernie, if not Sonia, then who would you choose? And who do you think it will be?

Anonymous said...

Too bad Sestito didn't take the opportunity to reply to Dolan's comment with, "and Belinski was obviously being kind to you."

He wasn't going to get her vote anyway, but it might have gotten a couple from others.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Sanders and Melnick lost, why should council thwart the will of the voters?"

One can make that argument and that question was asked. But one could ask others why they did not run if they intended to sit on City Council. Those who lost got votes. Those who did not run got none.

Bernie O'Hare said...

10:51, If not Sonia, who would I choose? I probably would just close my eyes and spin a wheel. They are all that good. The person who really impressed me, who seemed to think outside the box and offer innovative answers, was Bruce Smackey. He's not the kind of guy you see running for office, but maybe he is exactly what we need.

I have probably just condemned this guy.

Bernie O'Hare said...

6:08, If you want to discuss someone's physical attributes, sign your name so I can discuss yours.

michael molovinsky said...

very large group of impressive applicants

Anonymous said...

Dolan does her choice more harm than good. In todays world people cringe at the idea that some need "special" consideration. It would appear Ms. Velazquez has very impressive credentials and would make a fine choice, since budget oversight is the real responsibility of city council my own choice would be from about three and she would be one of them but not the first. Public budgets are tricky and an intimate knowledge of all the pieces is very helpful.

However, Dolans way of insulting the other candidates and wanting them to feel guilty about their ethnicity or gender is typical liberal thug activity. How the Hell is someone too white or too masculine, really??? I mean was the guy ever in the KKK? I guess myself and my wife must be bigots in her book because neither of us would make that our first requirement. Who says such stupid things? Dolan was just outright mean.

She is trying to shame the other council members into following her. The sad thing is for Ms. Velazquez because if she is indeed picked it will appear to be for all the wrong reasons.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Too bad Sestito didn't take the opportunity to reply to Dolan's comment with, "and Belinski was obviously being kind to you.""

This gentleman is a CPA, has made Bethlehem his home, wants to help his community and applied. He was clearly nervous as he stood in front of them. Dolan's remark to him was completely uncalled for, and is repugnant to the vaunted civility of that body. She really owes that gentleman, who is more qualified than her, an apology.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bernie, Heckman is use to the bare knuckle politics of Northampton county government. I think he was around during some of the Ron Angle days. Do you think he could behave himself and deal with the civility of Bethlehem government?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Ron would do just fine. He's a bright guy, very tolerant and would add some wisdom, with just a touch of humor.

These are all good candidates. They really are.

Anonymous said...

Someone who is not a candidate told me when Dolan was asing Sonia questions she had cards and was reading ghe answers. Seriously!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Sonia was prepared, and had made notes concerning matters that might come up. She did that with everyone. Some people rely heavily on their own notes. Nothing really mysterious about it that I could see. I doubt Karen fed her questions in advance bc they were too confused.

Anonymous said...

6:13 I didn't see that but I would not put it past Karen. Great catch

Anonymous said...

Get off your rump and vote for Lump!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm not impressed by a council member who behaves more like a Dolt than a Dolan. Could it be she had a predetermined choice, and was belittling everyone else who could walk and chew gum?

I just noticed someone else posted a sentiment almost identical to mine. Great anonymous minds think alike. You gotta love politicians.

Bernie O'Hare said...

It's no secret that Dolan had already decided she was supporting Vazquez. If only for that reason, I believe should should have spared the other 10 candidates her interrogations. I think the rest may have their favorites, but they demonstrated much more civility than Karen. She set a poor example. I am happy to see that both Callahan and Waldron, the newcomers, acted with courtesy and respect.

Anonymous said...

If I had my hat in for City Council, I would have said my only reason to be here other than to serve the taxpayers would be to counter each and everything that would come out of Dolan's mouth.

Anonymous said...

Jump on a stump and thump for Lump!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Don't be a chump, vote for Lump.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Want a thriller? Vote for Miller.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Don't pick a lackey; vote for Bruce Smackey.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Don't make me cry, vote for Frey.

Bernie O'Hare said...

... And so on.

Anonymous said...

Old RH a KKK member? That is insane. Does she realize that right out of college the guy was working and walking in North Philly for public assistance. North Philly in the early 70's dude, that was some heavy shit.

I thought the guy was nuts, not racist but that's what he did for over three years before he came back to the area and worked child abuse investigations with us in Northampton County.

I think anyone that calls the guy a racist is a jackass!

Bernie O'Hare said...

She did not call Ron a racist or a jackass. But she asked him if he understood why she would want someone with more diversity than he could provide. I certainly think her long-winded remarks insulting and demeaning to a man who has done nothing but help people his entire life. I believe she owes him and everyone who interviewed an apology.

Anonymous said...

Karen behaved exactly like one would have predicted she would

Anonymous said...

Bernie it sounds like all the applicants suffered just as regular city council attendees suffer at the hands of Ms. Dolan.

Hopefully city council will not put on a show when they pick Ms. Velazquez on Monday. I would hope they would just thank everyone and not make nominations that they know are for show. Just start the meeting nominate the lady vote on her and adjourn.

That would be the honest and decent thing to do. I was told even the Chair of the Northampton county Dems was there telling the all Dem council to pick her, so why play anymore games.

Anonymous said...

Was even one person besides Bernie who has posted on this thread even at the meeting? It seems as if not one person writing about this meeting was even there. You're stringing up Dolan , accusing her of behavior that Bernie grossly exaggerated. I realize that's a sport for some of Bernie's fave fans: Karen-Bashing. Bernie loves to whip up and unleash his haters on one of his regularly-insulted targets.

Anonymous said...

Is it because he hates women? We all know he good friend Mr. Angle hates women. Very easy t o pick on a woman. Why do you think they stick up for one another. some men just never learn.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, My recollection of much of this special council meeting differs quite a bit from yours. First let's remember that the purpose of the meeting was for council members to ask questions to help find the best candidate to fill the open seat on council. Council members had received resumes and heard personal statements from all of the candidates. This meeting was for questioning the candidates to help differentiate and find the best. Throwing all softballs to make the applicants feel good would not have aided in the process at hand. I saw all of the candidates receive thanks and encouragement from council and that included Ms Dolan. I'm wondering if she's being singled out here because she asked tough questions? Hey, that's her job. I also feel that some of the quotes that you've used are taken out of context and paint a distorted picture of what actually took place. I live in and love the City of Bethlehem. I am really proud of the quantity and quality of the applicants to fill the vacancy on council. I hope that the replacement doesn't suffer that same treatment that Dolan has received when they do their job.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Was even one person besides Bernie who has posted on this thread even at the meeting? "

From the comments posted here, it is clear to me that some people who were at that meeting posted. They did so anonymously, just like you. Her behavior was appalling, including her behavior to two of the female applicants.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I'm wondering if she's being singled out here because she asked tough questions? Hey, that's her job"

She is being singled out, not for asking tough questions, but bc her real goal was to disparage anyone not named Sonia Vazquez. She was not doing her job, but was playing a game. For her, it was not an interview, but an interrogation, and one that insulted the applicants. I have laid out specific examples of just how unfair she was. She owes everyone an apology.

Anonymous said...

Hey O'Hare, Heckman should run to lose some weight instead of for office.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, do we really need anon personal attacks?

Bernie O'Hare said...

No, we don't. When someone puts his or her name in for public office, i tend to allow some shots. But they speak poorly of the writer. People can be very nasty when they don't have to identify themselves.

Anonymous said...

Not cool man. You dumped that shit on Angle and Stoffa. Just not cool.

Bernie O'Hare said...

A lot of anonymous personal attacks aimed at Stoffa and Angle still exist on this blog. They probably include anonymous attacks made by you. I won't allow it with anyone if it goes too far. But when someone expresses interest in public office, I unfortunately have to allow some hateful remarks.