Thursday, November 06, 2014
Bethlehem City Council Celebrates Cinco de Noviembre
I know Cinco de Mayo is a pretty big deal in this country, especially those who use it as an excuse to get schnokered. But Cinco de Noviembre? Si. Three people got up last night to deliver speeches to Bethlehem City Council in Spanish. I have no idea what they said. Nor did City Council. But that makes no difference. They are just as good at ignoring people who speak Spanish as they are for those who speak only in English.
The first one of these wanted City Council to appoint Olga Negron to Karen Dolan's vacant seat. He only spent half his time speaking in Spanish, and then Council should have interpreters on hand to translate. Kinda like the United Nations. A second fellow, who was as big as Baby Hughey, did that, too. "I deserve representation of my own people," he said in English. He added he happens to be Negron's nephew.
A third person just got up and just went off, spending her entire five minutes speaking in Spanish. It must have been a powerful speech. A red head in the audience wiped away tears. Basilio Bonilla told Council they missed a good one. So, apparently, did he, if the report that he speaks no Spanish himself is true.
It was that kind of night. It started at 7 pm. I left around midnight, unable to take it anymore. But I got most of what happened.
I was there to see who they would pick to fill the vacancy created by Karen Dolan's resignation.
Though thirteen people had applied, Council members were doing all their talking with candidates one-on-one, with the idea of getting someone picked right away.
But though they were ready to move quickly, Olga Negron in particular wanted to put on a show, and drummed up a number of people to speak on her behalf. On top of that, the Birkenstocks were there in force to oppose Developer Dennis Benner's proposal for a 9-story building at 4th and Vine.
It made for a long night.
On my way in, walking past a "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" van next to the library, I saw all kinds of signs opposed to the development. One of them stated, "Size Does Matter."
Inside the Town Hall were all the wimpy kids with more signs. One of them told Council he's on the fencing team. Even Gloria McVeigh was there, holding more signs, fresh off the crushing defeat she experienced just yesterday in her effort to get Mike Beyer elected over Justin Simmons.
Between the candidates, their supporters, the Birkenstocks and the Lehigh Professors, there were around 100 people jammed into the room.
Since the public gets to speak first, we were treated to condemnations of Benner's 9-story building, interspersed with endorsements of candidates.
Spadoni Fails to Get One Nomination.
Obviously, the most qualified of these candidates was the person who sat there for 16 years as Council's legal advisor. That would be Chris Spadoni. He sat next to me. That was his first mistake.
The second mistake was when Republican Tom Carroll, who ran for Council himself in 2011, got up and endorsed Spadoni. Strike two.
Strike three came when Carroll, who is openly gay, claimed Spadoni would "plug all the holes." He was referring to the budget, but the Beavis and Butthead in me was laughing.
Chris failed to get a single nomination.
Esther Lee Actually Makes Sense
The Queen of Race Cards, Esther Lee, was another applicant, After listening to numerous people claim that Bethlehem needs more diversity, she claimed she wanted to be considered, not as a "tall black woman," but as a citizen.
That's a first for Esther.
She also failed to get a single nomination.
Barron Claims Council "Sold Out"
Controller Steve Barron was there as well, in his capacity as President of the South Bethlehem historical Society. "You sold out for $9,700", he accused Council, referring to campaign donations they had received from Benner. "We all do vote," he warned. He also called South Bethlehem a "magical place."
If Barron believes that Council members sold their votes in exchange for these campaign donations, doesn't that mean that he sold out, too, when he accepted all that union money in his own races?
Reynolds addressed that accusation.
"The idea that anybody on City council or the Mayor would do anything they didn't think was in the best interests of the city, is ridiculous and insulting."
Grace Smith Threatens To Speak Gaelic
One of the applicants for Dolan's job, Grace Smith, claimed she learn a lot about compromise by living in a twin home with one bathroom shared by nine family members.
But I think she was as puzzled as everyone else by the audience members who insisted on speaking Spanish. During a break, she threatened to speak Gaelic.
Sarabeth Brockley, Lead Birkenstock
The coordinated attack on Benner's 9-story building began with Sarabeth Brockley, a Lehigh University Research Fellow She spent the fist half of her speech demeaning and condescending to Council, doing things like defining the word "expert" and telling them that she was leading a procession of experts who were going to TEDx everything. As a Lehigh professor handed out papers, she spent about two minutes that essentially equated Karen Beck Pooley, a planning expert, with God.
Pooley did make some good points, noting that the density in that area of south Bethlehem is equivalent to Boston. Instead of more density, she argued that people need a reason to come there.
Then came a mixture of Lehigh people, many of whom don't live in Bethlehem, telling City Council how to run the City.
Some south side residents and two business owners spoke in opposition to the 9-story building too. But Lucy Lennon, who does work for one of Benner's sons and is a realtor who specializes in rentals, ticked off about ten businesses that have closed shop on the city's south side. She stated there is an "urgent" demand for housing on the south side, but students want a "nice place" to live. She believes the 9-story building will provide that and attract business.
The 9-Story Building Gets City Council Backing
In the end, Bethlehem City Council voted 4-2 to back the Benner building, as the developer sat in the room. Cathy Reuscher, who voted No, called it a "hard decision." Waldron was not "comfortable" with the proposal. It was supported by Willie Reynolds, Eric Evans, Bryan Callahan and Michael Recchuiti.
After that, the wimpy kids left.
Council Names Louis Stellato
Despite the speeches in Spanish, Council went with an old fart. Louis Stellato was picked as a 14-month Council member by Eric Evans, Willie Reynolds and Bryan Callahan. Three members are a majority of a quorum,and that was good enough, according to Council Solicitor Jack Spirk.
Recchiuti wanted to nominate three people, but Spirk said he could only name one. He went with Dave Sanders, owner of Lump's Deli and its table of Knowledge.
Lynn Rothman, president of temple Beth El and a regular attendee at city council, got a vote from Waldron.
Reuscher went with Olga Negron.
Dem Party boss Matt Munsey was slinking about in the hallways s the meeting went on.