Democrats Dave Clark, Rick Daugherty, Greg Edwards, John Morganelli and Susan Wild participated. Roger Ruggles was unable to attend because he was serving at an Easton City Council meeting. Republican Marty Nothstein, a Lehigh County Commissioner, was similarly waylaid by a meeting of his board. Pinch-hitting for him was Lehigh County's former GOP Chair, Wayne Woodman. A second Republican candidate, Dean Browning, was also unable to attend. He was at an NRA Dinner and they were handing out bazookas as door prizes. Hard to pass up.
Moderator Barry Goldin did an excellent job. He made clear at the onset that there would be no cheering, booing, jeering or "spitballs." But his admonition was likely unnecessary. The audience featured none of the raucous Wild and Edwards supporters who actually shouted John Morganelli down in one debate, and booed him in another.
Goldin also reminded the candidates that there are 10,000 Jews in the Lehigh Valley, and they vote. He added the event was also being covered by Hakol, the only Jewish newspaper in this area.
The Rise of Anti-Semitism. - Goldin’s first question focused on the increasing hostilities against Jews. He claimed a 60% increase in the United States, Britain and France, and said there's an 80% rise on college campuses, and it even includes professors. As a result, Jewish institutions like Brith Shalom must spend money on security that could be devoted to other needs. He asked candidates what they would do to arrest this development.
"I have not experienced these things," said Silfies. "The best thing I can do is listen."
He listened to Wayne Woodman, who said he experienced a lot of anti-Semitism growing up. He agreed that anti-Semitism is on the rise in a way that has not been seen since the '30s. "We're the canary in the coal mine," he warned, in what to me was one of the most memorable lines of the night. He suspects that identity politics is at least one of the root causes.
Calling this rise in hate crime a very serious problem, Morganelli said his office investigates quickly and does prosecute, pointing to an incident of racism at Saucon Valley School District in which an African American student was draped in a Confederate flag. "It really is a result of ignorance," concluded the DA. "We all of us are human beings. We want the same thing. ... We have lots of differences, but lots in common."
Dougherty argued that "our main strength is our diversity," but also pointed out that fair housing laws enacted 50 years ago were originally opposed by realtors.
Clark used anti-Semitism as an excuse to tee off on Donald Trump, whom he would call "Bonehead Trump" as the night went along, as well as blame the Koch brothers and John Birch Society for many of the nation's woes. In previous debates, Clark could count on a Trump insult for laughter or cheering. But he was answered with silence last night.
The Iran Deal - Goldin’s second question focused on the Iran deal. He noted that Israel is a long-time US ally and might very well be our key Middle Eastern partner. But we entered into a deal with Iran that allows it to build ballistic missiles, increase its troop presence in Syria, send aid to Hezbollah and meddle in other Middle Eastern countries. Should we back out?
Morganelli agreed that "we need to be 1000% on the side of Israel." Noting that it is a parliamentary democracy, he said Israel is "the only ally we can count on in the Middle East." But he complained that the Trump administration has been making changes without consulting our key ally. He said whatever is done should be discussed with Israel first, and that a strategy should be developed moving forward.
Like Morganelli, Dougherty would renegotiate the Iran deal in conjunction with Israel.
Silfies supports staying in the Iran deal because it "keeps the peace for now." Edwards added that pulling out "will destabilize what little peace there is." He is "deathly afraid" that the Trump administration "will just make things chaotic." Wild echoed Edwards and Silfies. "I don't think we can back away from the Iran nuclear deal," she said.
Is Israel is Attacked, Should US Intervene? - Only Silfies hesitated, saying it would depend based on the circumstances. He also complained that Congress is never consulted as it should be. "We just bombed Syria a couple of weeks ago without the permission of Congress. The other candidates supported a military response. Morganelli called Israel "our closest friend and ally. I would support military action in her defense." Like Clark, Edwards said that "if Israel is attacked, America is attacked."
But Woodman, who has traveled to Israel, offered some context."Israelis attacked every day," he cautioned everyone, noting that missile strikes are a daily occurrence "Everyone who carries an Israeli passport in one hand has to be prepared to carry a rifle in the other."
"Israel is a sovereign nation," observed Woodman. "We don't tell any other country where their capital should be." Dougherty agreed.
Morganelli summed up the views of other candidates. He supports the move, but only as part of the peace process. The way it was done, he said, was "sort of like sticking your finger in someone's eye."
Reconciling Rising Demand at Food Banks With Cuts to SNAP (food stamps) - There were lots of interesting, and varied answers to this problem.
Dougherty noted that the current farm bill, from which food assistance benefits comes, is proposing a 80% reduction. At the same time,"we waste a huge amount of food in this country." He said that a few months ago, he spent the night at a Bethlehem homeless shelter,and it was filled to capacity with 75 people."We're going in the wrong direction," he observed. He also said he was surprised to have learned from an NPR broadcast the the two professions with the highest suicide rates are ranchers and dairy farmers.
Clark's view was less nuanced.he just blamed the GOP for massive cuts which go to the top five percent. He thinks this can all be solved with a graduated income tax.
Wild said it was "unfathomable" to her that anyone would go hungry.
"We are $21 trillion in debt. That is also unfathomable," retorted Silfies. "We can't be talking about spending more when we are bankrupt."
Woodman said that Nothstein is a "problem solver" who could reform a faulty system that has left us with 6 million unfilled jobs. He observed that after a 50-year war on poverty, 15% of the nation still lives in poverty.
'That $21 trillion debt is not a result of food stamps for poor people," said Morganelli. Noting that his father was an Italian immigrant had to work numerous jobs to feed his family, he knows what it is like to do without. But he blamed the problem on the unwillingness of people to work together.
Bill Clinton worked with Newt Gingrich," he observed."We've lost that in Washington. We should not be looking for a Democratic solution or a Republican solution, but the right solution." he also would address the fraud that exists in defense contracts and with welfare. "They are taking funds away from the people who need them," he argued.
Edwards derided a federal proposal to cut SNAP. "Food insecurity is real," he cautioned, noting it affects 1 of every 8 people. "As we cut your SNAP benefits, we're going to give you a box of food," he sneered.
Food Pantries and Illegal (Undocumented) Immigrants. Will food pantries get in trouble for feeding people who are here illegally,and should those people be concerned about an arrest? - There was only one candidate who was competent to answer that question, and it was Morganelli. He is a prosecutor and enforces the law. He explained that he knows of no legal basis to support a prosecution against a food pantry that feeds noncitizens. He added that local police and immigration officials do not hang around at food banks hoping to catch someone 'because they're hungry." He explained that immigration officials do go after people like those who are in the MS-13 gang. They have been arrested in Northampton County after committing numerous violent crimes. "When they are done with their sentence, I don't want that person released back into the community," he said.
Since Unemployment Has Dropped, should We Reform Immigration Laws? - Wild said she supports a clean DREAM Act, opposes a travel ban based on country of origin and worked to bring a family from Syria to the US. She called immigrants a net benefit to the country, but failed to say how she would reform the system.
Edwards said that the Gang of Eight had come up with comprehensive immigration reform, but it was killed in the House."Most of our members of Congress are bought and paid for," he said He also failed to state how he would reform the system.
Clark said he would impose "clear" punishments on businesses that hire illegals.The law already provides for that, so he failed to answer the question.
I missed Woodman's answer for some reason.
Silfies, Dougherty and Morganelli had answers. Silfies thinks we should leave illegals alone so long as they are "peaceful." Dougherty said he would fine them because they broke the law. But after they pay the fine, they should have a legal status of some sort.
Morganelli explained what first prompted him to go after illegals.In the '80s, the unemployment rate was much higher. Union workers going to job sites found that contractors were using illegals and paying them $4-5 an hour, and under the table. these people were using false IDs and were,in fact, taking jobs away from citizens. He prosecuted illegals and the businesses who hired them. He had earlier pointed out that some illegals also come here specifically to commit crime
But he explained that he supports DACA, an expansion of asylum and refugee status and does consider the United States a "very welcoming country." He agreed that immigrants are a net benefit to this country.
Wayne Woodman is not going to like this because he's a bridesmaid and not the bride, but his performance was so good that Morganelli asked if he could use him, too.
In addition to Israel, I'd have to declare Brith Shalom a co-winner of this debate. Excellent questions from a moderator who managed to get the best out of the candidates. I particularly like that the candidates gave no opening statements. Instead, an introduction was read for each.
Blogger's Note: As most of my readers know, I support John Morganelli. But I tried to be as honest and as fair as I can in this account. I photographed each candidate during the debate. I am a lousy photographer, but have no desire to use a candidate's picture to make him or her look bad. If you are a candidate and think think my pic of you is bad, drop me a line (BOHare5948@aol.com) and I will remove it. Except Wayne Woodman. I can only do so much, Wayne.