(The sight of me on NBC-10 must have driven Pawlowski nutz.)
Last Tuesday night, a Bethlehem lawyer hosted a fundraiser for Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski's U.S. Senate campaign. His ever present campaign manager, Mike Fleck, could be heard complaining about the smallish contributions made by some donors. But at that time, he was already in the grip of the feds. He may have even been wearing a wire. On Thursday, Pawlowski's world came crashing down. Fleck let his entire staff go, hoping to avoid exchanging H Street Strategies for Cellblock H. His cell phone was disconnected. And King Edwin was visited by agents at City Hall while others were outside his house. A week ago, Pawlowski had aspirations to be a U.S. Senator. Now, with that campaign suspended, the question most people are asking is who will succeed him Will Magisterial District Judge Michael D'Amore be coaxed out of retirement? Will Sam Bennett replace Pawlowski? Despite his "Happy Monday. It's gonna be an awesome week!"announcement on Facebook, Pawlowski is fighting for his political life. His own hubris and lack of transparency appear to have done him in.
The sudden appearance at the FBI at City Hall and outside his home appears to have caught Pawlowski by surprise. But for weeks, there have been rumblings. I decided not to write about it because I had no idea whether it was state or federal. It might be both.
If Pawlowski is forced to resign, which increasingly seems likely, I fon't consider him the main culprit in this matter. That distinction belongs to the NIZ.
Allentown's inappropriately named Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ), which I think should be re-named the Millionaire Improvement Zone, is about 127 noncontiguous acres in Allentown, and Allentown only, in which developers J.B. Reilly and Joe Topper can use state tax dollars to pay off construction loans for development. It's a TIF on steroids. Despite Reilly's hollow denials, it is also being used to poach businesses from other parts of the Lehigh Valley.
According to The Morning Call's Matt Assad, Reilly's City Center has raked in at least $54 million since 2012. Though it's our money that's being handed out, ANIZDA Board Chair Sy Traub refuses to allow the public to see how the money is really being spent. So there is virtually no public accountability for the large sum of corporate welfare that Reilly has spent.
They never even made him take a urine test.
With that kind of unaccountable money floating around, a Mayor who wants to be Governor and then U.S. Senator, is it any wonder that the feds are looking at all the no-bid contracts awarded? It's inevitable that, with that kind of money, someone is going to skirt the law.
Somewhere along the way, the ideal of open and honest government has disappeared in favor of exclusive parties for the "Miracle that is Allentown."
Most of the contractors doing no-bid work inside the NIZ just happen to be Pawlowski campaign contributors. Neither he nor Mike Fleck has ever been shy about asking for money. Both have been known to strong-arm contributors.
Somewhere along the line, it appears likely that someone crossed the line. If that is so, it is very possible that a few heads will be rolling. It's too soon to say whether it is Fleck, Pawlowski, contractors or some combination.
First, Reilly needs to show us the money!
There needs to be much more accountability in how these public dollars are being spent than the paternalistic ANIZDA board and J.B.Reilly have been willing to provide. Without public scrutiny, this will just happen again with different players. There's simply too much money.
No additional tax revenue should be distributed unless the unelected ANIZDA Board insists that the public receives a very transparent accounting of just where the dollars are being spent, and why.
Second, Allentown could use a little more democracy.
For too long, with the notable exception of Jeanette Eichenwald, Allentown's City Council has been nothing more than Pawlowski's rubber stamp. It is his money that elected most of them, and they do his bidding. Unfortunately, if Pawlowski resigns, they pick his successor.
Democracy in Allentown has been replaced by an urban growth regime, in which politicians like Pawlowski and businessmen like Reilly make all the real decisions It's become a one-party town in which there is very little incentive for Allentown's working poor to go to the polls. They are more concerned about feeding their families.
Dedicated people like Michael Donovan, Kim Velez, Rich Fegley and Lou Hershman have been vilified and shoved aside in favor of a person like Cynthia Mota, who has been bought and paid for by pawlowski. That dynamic has to change.