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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, January 04, 2021

NorCo Council Expected to Elect Vargo-Heffner Prez

Though the Council Clerk has more important things to do than post the actual time, Northampton County Council will reorganize today at 4:30 pm to select its leaders for 2021. When he was elected last year, Council President Ron Heckman said he would step down this year. Council VP Lori Vargo-Heffner is  telling people it's "my turn." Vargo-Heffner apparently thinks that a year as Council President will raise her visibility and result in her re-election this year. I agree that it will increase her name recognition. But if her first three years on Council are any indication, it will be in a bad way. Not only will she hurt herself, she will also damage other Democrats (Tara Zrinski and Bill McGee) presumably seeking re-election in an at-large race for five seats.  If Council elects her, as I believe they will, they will kick off 2021 with a mistake, both politically and in governing, 

The Political Background

This year should be bad for Democrats in county races. Though Northampton has historically been a blue county, that dominance is reversing. In 2016, Trump won the county by 5,464 votes. At that time, there were 98,929 Democrats, 73,638 Republicans and 39,026 others for a grand total of 211,593 registered voters. Though Trump lost the county by a scant 1,233 votes in November, the erosion of the Democratic party continues. As of December 28, there were 102,227 Democrats, 81,432 Republicans and 43,691 others. Democrats have increased their numbers by 3 per cent, while Republicans have increased strength by 9.5 percent. A blue county has become purple. 

What's worse for county Democrats is that their strength is concentrated in the urban centers of the county. My analysis of what were then still unofficial results demonstrates that Biden was popular in Bethlehem, Easton and in the more urban townships and boroughs. In the more rural areas, Trump hammered Biden.  

This is bad news for county candidates in an at-large election. Turnout will be much lower in this year's municipal races than they are in Presidential contests. It is possible that the advent of no-excuse mail-in ballots and early voting could spark an increase in turnout, but that seems unlikely in Bethlehem and Easton. In those cities, the election will for all practical purposes be over in the primary. There is no Mayoral race in Easton, and it is doubtful that a Republican will run in the race to succeed Mayor Bob Donchez. This depressed turnout in the urban core and give Republicans an edge throughout the rest of the county. 

To make matters worse, Republicans are angry. I still see Trump signs and flags everywhere. Less than half think Biden won the race. In countywide races, you can expect to see Democrats pay the price. 

A Democratic Council President who understands the tenuous grasp her party has on control might overcome these headwinds. Lori Vargo-Heffner has demonstrated, however, that she is ignorant of both politics and, more importantly, governing. 

Heffner's Mistakes

In a county council whose members have hardly distinguished themselves in meeting attendance, Vargo-Heffner has been a workhorse. That's half the battle. But only half. Everywhere else, she's been a failure. Basically, she's just too mean.

Here is an incomplete list of examples:

1) In her first year on Council, she sabotaged the nomination of an Allentown Diocesan school official to appointment as an unpaid volunteer to the Drug and Alcohol Board. Heffner hinted that Dr. Brooke Tesche, now the Chancellor of Education with the Diocese of Allentown, might use her role to recruit students to a new Catholic high school for children who are drug or alcohol dependent. She even hinted that Dr. Tesche might be lining her pockets. 

That's ridiculous. 

We all know Catholic schools only recruit athletes. Heffner raised enough of a stink that Dr. Tesche's nomination was killed.

2) Perhaps you think that Heffner was concerned about the separation of church and state. Nope. Heffner was the biggest cheerleader on Council for a $20,000 church steeple grant, described by congregants at a public hearing as a "beacon of hope and faith." You can't get much more religious than that. Heffner, who was on the selection committee, tried all kinds of arguments. She tried arguing that hotel taxes aren't really public funds. She even argued that denying this grant would be discrimination. Fortunately, the grant was tabled.

3) She's awfully picayune. Get this. She actually objected to the minutes of a General Purpose Authority meeting because the references to her failed to hyphenate her last names.

4) When Court Administrator Jermaine Greene sought Council's approval for a Juvenile Justice Center Director of Treatment, she mounted all kinds of roadblocks. She imperiously told a black man who brought a physician and a psychologist that she did not like his tone. Judge Stephen Baratta eventually put her complaints to bed, but she never apologized for her unprofessional behavior.

5)When a negative survey about Gracedale (based on an inspection before Lamont McClure became Executive) was released, Heffner attempted to downplay it. McClure was "very disappointed," and Council members reacted with appropriate outrage. Not Heffner. "Comparatively, it was good," she said. "Let's not just focus on the deficiencies."

6) She's the driving force behind an expensive referendum this Spring, in which you the voter will be called upon to change the names of Council members to Commissioners. This is just pure ego. Voters should say No to the nonsensical name change as well as Vargo-Heffner.

7) She attempted to defund DA Terry Houck's request for funding at the Regional Intelligence and Investigation Center. "I'm not telling you how to fight crime," she snarked to Houck. "I'm not trying to be bat girl." But by defunding his request to a level he deemed unsafe, she was telling him not to bother fighting crime at all.

8) Most recently, she received a Covid-19 vaccine. Though she's far from the front lines and is no first responder, she plastered pictures of herself all over Facebook, virtue signaling.  This is a slap across the face of real first responders, many of whom happen to be county employees.

Unlike most Council members, she has failed to learn from her mistakes. She keeps making them and blocks people like myself, when I point them out. Now she will ensure that the entire Council makes mistakes, which will hurt Democrats seeking re-election. 

The smartest thing Democrats could do right now is use their 6-3 majority to elect John Cusick as Council President. Cusick is a Republican but takes a fairly bipartisan approach to governing. He is clearly the most fit person to lead Council. If they are interested in both good government and good politics, he is their best bet.  


Anonymous said...

What a hideous development it would be if that nut job is elected council president. Your suggestion that Cusick be elected is a good one. He has the experience and would be impartial and professional.

Anonymous said...

The likelihood of republican Cusick being President is remote. What are the chances Heckman would stay on as President through this year if nominated. That would seem more likely.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Heckman may not want it. I’ve noticed he appears to have detached himself. But he would certainly be better. Biden has called on both parties to work together. Electing Cusick would demonstrate bipartisanship and make it more difficult for Republicans to blame Democrats for everything. But I agree the possibility is remote.

Anonymous said...

Dealing with members like Zirinski and Hefner may have given him a permeant headache.lol.

Anonymous said...

While she's the noisiest D. She represents everyone of them, from Lamont on down, quite well. The county party disagrees on very little. There's no difference between this mess and Lamont. You'll work hard to separate them. But voters should be prepared to flog all members of the same team that agrees on 99.9% of everything Vargo Heffner says and does.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I am a Democrat and know that her attitude and high handed attitude is not a reflection of her party or other council members. You disdain her bc she belongs to the wrong tribe. I disdain her because of her bad attitude and overall snarkiest.

Anonymous said...

I am a democrat and ashamed at what is happening at County government. I hope that Cusick gets the president seat of Council and McClure and his --- kissers are out.

I just heard that Baron's old male secretary, who was some relation to him, had a higher salary than normal for the position AND he is now Deputy Director of Public Works. What qualifications does he have for this high position? Taxpayer dollars want to know.

Also, I heard that his old secretary position was not even posted for County employees to bid on the job, which is POLICY. Why has policy been not adhered to? Lastly, heard the person who got the position is also a relation to Baron.

I hope you post this and not cover up for buddies, Baron and McClure.

Anonymous said...

I know little about this woman, but the necklace hanging above the cowl/turtleneck went out with the 1980s. That bothers me so much that I won't vote for her.

Anonymous said...

She is mean and after 4 years of being on council so inept. It's so frustrating to watch her unprepared and uninformed at council meetings. She often asks a presenter, during a public council meeting, to entirely educate her on the spot and explain the issue that she is about to vote on. Ive seen her ask to have things explained, that she has already voted on the year before; She is voting on issues she does not have the capacity to understand. I can't believe that she may be council president.

Anonymous said...

BO: your hare for her appears to be limitless. Now that your former crush has been in court to face the music, you have focused on Lori, whose political style does not fit your style. Shape up. Maybe she will retaliate by referring to you as a bitter ex drunk.

Anonymous said...

To the last post by anonymous at 9:43am:
I'm guessing this response is from Lori herself. Whether it was posted by her or not, the last sentence of that comment is a low blow considering Lori is in recovery herself.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I ran no check on my statcounter to see the IP address of that comment. I rarely do that. So I am unable to determine who submitted that comment. But I refer to myself as a drunk, not an ex-drunk. I may no longer drink, but am an alcoholic and that's fair game. I am unaware whether Vargo-Heffner is in recovery. Because she is an elected official, I have to allow that comment, but do not know whether it is true. If it is, good for her. My criticism of her is that she is too snarky to others, has poor judgment and fails to learn from her mistakes. So naturally, I expect Council to make her their President.

Anonymous said...

"That's ridiculous.

We all know Catholic schools only recruit athletes."


Anonymous said...

Sunshine Act violation..has already been decided who will be the next county council president. Despicable goings on behind closed doors.

Anonymous said...

Have asked two council members to vote for a bipartisan leader of council if Ron does not want the job anymore. but.it appears the fix is in already and the vote will be a rehearsed one.

Anonymous said...

she is too snarky to others, has poor judgment and fails to learn from her mistakes. So naturally, I expect Council to make her their President.

That is so true, but why would they make such a poor choice?

Anonymous said...

God help us Lori Vargo Heffner made it as County Council President. Couldn't even watch the video from the County website. What is up with that!

Anonymous said...

@ 8:12
You "heard." You hear much. You sound like a loser who says, "Many people have told me. Many, many people."

Tell us. From whom did you hear all your info? A waiter?

Bernie O'Hare said...

8:12, the position is exempt and hence career service rules are inapplicable. So far as I know, Andrew is unrelated to Steve.

Anonymous said...

The guy is the son in law of a prominent Easton democrat family. What are his Public Works credentials? His replacement for your pal "Steve" has a story. Also an HR director that is the daughter of a democrat state legislator. What are her credentials?

These are things you will pass off as no big deal since it is all in your guys world. It is how McClure does business. Instead keep pounding on another young woman. You are predictable if nothing else.

Anonymous said...

My apology, Mr. O'Hare. I believe you are correct that Andrew is unrelated to Steve but rather an old Council Member. Please advise as to his qualifications for the Deputy Director of Public Works position. Strange that Andrew's old position is exempt, thus, political.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Andrew is related to a former council member who actually is an enemy of Lamont McClure. That has nothing to do with why Anthony got that job, but it is a political hire. Both positions are exempt, meaning they are political hires specifically sanctioned by the Charter. Each department gets one exempt cabinet member and one exempt employee. I believe all the attorneys in the solicitor's office are exempt as well. Career service rules do not apply. I have no idea what the job description of a deputy director of public works entails, but am sure that Andrew is as qualified as you are going to get in an administration that might be in its last year. If it were a career service job, it would continue beyond the exec's tenure. Political appointments come and go with the exec. If your complaint is that you didn't have an opportunity to get the job, it's because it is not career service. If you believe these exempt positions should be eliminated, change the charter. The Home Rule Charter is due for an overhaul. I believe Execs should get a limited number of political hires because they are people around whom they can discuss confidential matters and be themselves. I can see it in the Solicitor's office as well since the Exec wants to be able to discuss confidential matters. For continuity, however, I believe some assistant solicitor positions should be career service. Of course, your main beef is that you think you should be entitled to bid on the job. But you're wrong.

Anonymous said...

10:06 Thank you for the clarification. I would want to work under such an environment. Just trying to understand.