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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bethlehem City Council Candidates Exchange Views at Northwest Blockwatch

Jeff Kocsis
All seven Bethlehem City Council candidates were in church last night, but they were not praying. At least not yet. They were there for a candidates' night hosted by the Northwest Block Watch, which meets monthly at the Church of the Manger on Greenview Street. It was standing room only, too, as about sixty people crowded into the nave, including State Rep. Danny McNeill and Lehigh County Commissioner candidate Dan Hartzell. Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board Chairman Gus Loupos served as facilitator. He just got back from Ireland and claimed to have a piece of blarney stone for any candidate who was bashful about speaking. None of them needed any help. For a little over an hour, the candidates fielded some excellent questions.

Matt McKernan
Three of the seats up this year are for four-year terms. Four candidates are in the running, including incumbents Willie Reynolds and Mike Recchiuti, along with newcomers Shawn Martel and Michael Colon. Reynolds and Martel are teachers. Recchiuti is an elder law attorney, and Colon heads up volunteer services at Gracedale. One of these candidates is going to come up short, but all four proved to be knowledgeable and engaged.

One seat is only for a two-year term. It is the balance of Karen (K. Dierdre) Dolan's unexpired term. She resigned at the request of a Northampton County Investigating Grand Jury. Her position is being sought by Jeff Kocsis, Matt McKernan and Olga Negron. Kocsis works for Lehigh County in the register of Wills office, and Negron is employed by the Bethlehem Area Public Library. McKernan owns Mosaic, an ad agency in Bethlehem.

Olga Negron
1. 911. Since the City is being forced to contribute more money for 911, should it consider regionalizing with Northampton County, Lehigh County or Allentown? - In his opening statement and at other times during the evening, McKernan spoke of the need to create efficiencies by regionalizing municipal services. But not 911. He called it "vital to our City" and said it would be a "big mistake" to walk away. Negron added that consolidating 911 with another entity would be "horrible." Kocsis argued for keeping 911 "at all costs." Martel stated that Bethlehem's 911 is much more comprehensive than one seen elsewhere, with 108 cameras to assist firefighters, police and EMS. But Martel noted that, under current state law, Bethlehem will receive no funding for 911 next year. Colon, who worked in 911 himself, stated that some of the "equation may be out of our hands."

Michael Colon
Reynolds explained that, at one time, the state funded 75% of the cost of 911. He acknowledged everyone wants to keep it, but noted that Allentown and Bethlehem are the only two cities left in the state with their own 911 centers. "There's a very real possibility that we won't have a choice," he added.

"We on Council have done everything we can," noted Recchiuti. He told the audience that the 911 tab this year is $3.4 million, and Bethlehem is paying $2.1 million of it.

Several candidates pointed their finger at Harrisburg, and State Rep. Dan McNeill pointed out that all 83 Democrats voted to continue finding 911.

Shawn Martel
2. Single hauler. - None of the candidates champion the single hauler solution championed by former Mayor John Callahan. They instead support zoned hauling, which will permit the City to ensure that trash is not out on the street for days at a time while protecting private businesses. According to Recchiuti, Mayor Bob Donchez will soon be introducing a zoned hauling plan.

Reynolds stated that when a single hauler proposal was first floated by Mayor Callahan, his mother gave him an ultimatum. "If you vote for single hauling, take the yard sign out," she warned him. "I've known my garbage man longer than I've known you, and he's more reliable."

Mike Recchiuti
Negron stated that, as a community organizer in Allentown, she once was in charge of 42 blocks. "Allentown has a single hauler and is still full of trash," she commented, quickly adding she did not mean that quite the way it came out.
McKernan stated that, from a pure business perspective, single hauler makes sense because it is much better service at about half the cost. But he said that it's still a bad idea because it would take jobs and income away from people. "When you hire a Bethlehem hauler, that business stays in Bethlehem," he observed.

Kocsis, Martel and Colon all spoke of giving people the right to choose. Martel stated he'd be unable to sleep at night if he voted to pass a bill "that would cause people to lose their jobs."

Willie Reynolds
3. What's happening to Martin Towers? - Recchiuti was quick to point out that the city does not own the 53-acre site. He stated plans are in the works and should be on the table in three or four months. He supports a mixed use development, a proposal shared by other candidates. He stated the CRIZ is not the NIZ, referring to two development tools that develop sites with public assistance. "We've always known that this is going to need taxpayer assistance," he added. Colon lamented the lost local tax revenue from a vacant building.

Martel pointed out that it will cost $40 million to remediate problems at the site, which include asbestos. Negron stated she has a "lot of hope" for the building (there are actually several buildings) but that the City "needs to do a better job reaching out to developers."

Dan McNeill
McKernan called it "kind of an eyesore" that's "not doing anything for us." He thinks that a solution can be found by convening more "community forums" to talk about it.

Pointing out that he lives on the west side, Kocsis advised being "vigilant" and watchful. "Your concerns are mine,:" he said to the largely West Bethlehem audience.

Reynolds noted that demolishing the building might release a lot of asbestos in the air. Whatever plans are ultimately produced must "balance the needs of the neighborhood," he stated.

4. If you had to cut, where would you do it? -   Reynolds joked that he'd eliminate the $25 currently paid to Gus Loupos to conduct zoning hearings. Recchiuti stated that he does not think it would be possible to pick any one thing, but suggested a possibility with recreation. Colon proposed closing a few swimming pools. Martel agreed with cuts to recreation and overtime. Kocsis seemed to object to the question."You can't just go in with a machete and cut away," he complained. Negron suggested recruiting volunteers and students to save costs.

"I don't want to cut anything," said McKernan. "We just need to be more efficient." He added it would be "short-sighted" to close the pools because the kids would start getting in trouble.


Anonymous said...

Excellent coverage Bernie.

Anonymous said...

People wondered why Joe Kelly recruited Matt McKernan to run for city council. Part if it may been for the Callahan/Reynolds faction but actually Kelly and McKernan look so much alike they could be brothers. Really wild.

Anonymous said...

Is Recchiuti like Jimmy McGill on Better call Saul, an elder attorney hitting up bingo halls for votes?

Anonymous said...

Who's the idiot that wants to close pools to save a buck? These tax cutters will stop at nothing to save a couple bucks.

Anonymous said...

Again, Great Job Bernie, was there a presence of local press for this important meeting or were they MIA again?

Bernie O'Hare said...

The press was coveriung Benner's latest building proposal.

Anonymous said...

Then the local press writes editorials chastising the public when the election turnout is low.

Anonymous said...

Reynolds looks like a creep doesn't he?

Anonymous said...

2:00PM Reynolds aa creep You should see him attemp to play golf...thats even more creepy......He has no class and definately no tact when it comes to talking with normal people...a true Callahan ASS

Bernie O'Hare said...

That's not Willie's fault. I was sitting and got him at a bad angle. I picked the best of several shots. I am a lousy photographer. I try to get several shots of each person, basically to make sure you know what they look like. Some people are easy to shoot. Others are harder. Mike Recchiuti is tough bc he closes his eyes a lot. Kocsis is tough, too. Martel and Colon are easy. Willie takes a fairly good picture if the photographer knows what he's doing. I don't.

Bernie O'Hare said...

3:21, I am neither a Willie fan nor foe. I supported Bonb in the Mayoral over Willie. But I always found him accessible and friendly. I think your comments are a cheap shot, and you must know that or you would ID yourself.

Louie Denaldo said...

McKernan needs to drop out and move back to Jersey. Having another Callahan in office is bad news. Yeah the casino was a great idea but look at all the issues and low life's it has brought into our beautiful city. McKernan doesn't know jack about the city and probably cares more about Allentown. Was this too harsh of a comment, Bernie? I know you get defensive very easily.

Bernie O'Hare said...

It;s not a personal attack, but you come across like a fairly mean-spirited person and lack the guts to sign your real name.

Louie Denaldo said...

What exactly is a "community organizer" anyway??

Anonymous said...

Kocsis has my vote! Great coverage Bernie!