Monday, May 17, 2021

Why Bethlehem's Former Planning Chair Supports Dana Grubb For Mayor

Blogger's Note: Att'y Jim Fiorentino is Bethlehem's former Planning Chair. He and I grew up together in Hellertown, so unfortunately, he knows me all too well. He has nevertheless asked me to publish essay supporting Dana Grubb, which first appeared on Gadly's blog last week. 

In my 10 years on the Bethlehem Planning Commission (2006-2016), I witnessed Willie Reynolds as a Council person and Bob Donchez as a Council person and then Mayor rubber-stamp anything a developer wanted from the City. The fact that they took money and/or jobs for family members from developers once would have mattered to progressives who usually decry the cozy relationship between money and politicians. I wish I knew what happened to those people whom I supported for Council and who now support a person for Mayor who has no qualms over the selling of Bethlehem to the highest bidders.

I voted and supported Willie Reynolds for both Council and then the Mayor’s office in the 2013 primary when he ran against Bob Donchez. However, in 2015 when the Donchez administration decided to engage in back-room ordinance drafting with lawyers working for developers and Willie Reynolds as Council President rushed approval of the ordinance in a lame duck session, I realized that the choice in 2013 had been about differences of age rather than integrity, as both men were willing to do the bidding of their financial contributors.

I was the Chair of the Planning Commission in 2015 when, during the reading of the proposed Martin Tower re-zoning ordinance, I became concerned about the way in which the ordinance was worded. There were  many provisions in the proposed ordinance that were so unique in their details that it seemed as if it had been written with a specific purpose in mind. This was a problem as it gave the appearance that the ordinance was drafted to benefit a particular set of interests rather than for the purpose of using an even-handed approach to regulate all properties that fall within a general category of land use. Only thanks to a right to know request by a local blogger did we learn that my concerns were justified—the documents obtained by the blogger revealed that the developers’ attorneys and the lawyers in the City Solicitor’s Office were drafting the ordinance together and in secret.

2015 was a year in which the atmosphere regarding zoning changes was already heightened with suspicion. The Donchez Administration‘s willingness to draft an ordinance regulating the Market Street area produced public outcry because it  seemed designed only to benefit a stockbroker whose attorneys were major contributors  to the Mayor’s campaign. As a result, two new council members, Olga Negron and Michael Col√≥n, were slated to take office in January 2016, promising to deliver an ethics ordinance that would disrupt the practices between wealthy donors and public officials which were degrading citizens’ trust in local government.

It became clear that the two new candidates running for Council were not as likely to vote for the Martin Tower ordinance as those who had been defeated in the 2015 election. I advocated for the tabling of the Martin Tower ordinance so that the new City Council could weigh in on it. I believed that bringing this ordinance before the new Council was something that the citizens expected and deserved. Instead, Council President Reynolds rushed the ordinance through, while aggressively belittling anyone who even raised the question of political favoritism at play due to the campaign contributors made to him and others on Council by the Martin Tower developers. At the time, Reynolds proclaimed that a speedy vote on the ordinance was necessary so that the developers could demolish Martin Tower. Reynolds promised to fix the problems with the ordinance after the fact.

With six years behind us, Reynolds’ proclamations still look like nothing more than a made up excuse to benefit developers who gave him large campaign contributions. We all know how long it actually took for those developers to demolish the Martin Tower and we all know that even that amount of time was, apparently, insufficient time for Willie Reynolds to follow through on his promise of fixing the ordinance.

So it’s not surprising that just this month those developers are back for another bite of the apple as they are well aware that they will be able to get whatever they want from this administration and Councilman Reynolds. Indeed the current issue regarding the developer’s request for even more ordinance changes to allow them to evade the normal processes for project approval was tabled last week on a motion by an ally of Councilman Reynolds. How convenient that the delay allows him to avoid making another embarrassing vote that favors his campaign donors just before next week’s primary. Indeed, in the Mayoral debate on Thursday night Reynolds said he is opposed to the change. One is left to wonder why this change of heart couldn’t have been communicated to the public in his official capacity at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Reynolds has developed a skill for performative politics. There are plans and task forces and commissions for every problem, but never a solution in the form of an ordinance to benefit the people of Bethlehem. People say he has changed. People say he no longer takes money from developers. People say he is now in favor of the ethics ordinance that would limit campaign contributions.  Some people are buying this. I cannot. I prefer results and actions of conscience. He is in the middle of a term on City Council. I believe that the citizens of Bethlehem deserve to see action not promises before they turn over the most important job in the city to him. He should await seeking higher office until he’s learned to elevate the interests of the people of Bethlehem over those of the developers.


Anonymous said...

Jim is so right. Unfortunately the big city turnover to developers started with Mayor Callahan. They had the cash and he wanted it. Sadly, many thought Bob Donchez while not a top manager was a nice, decent guy and would not need the promise of big money to win and fulfill his destiny as Mayor. Wrong, Bob brought in his carpetbagger crew of Directors and the sell off of the city was in full race form. His Economic person Karner just handed over the city to the big developers. As some neighborhoods are falling apart, Karner and crew had deplorers write the zoning regs. Bob didn't seem to care as long as he was called Mayor and shook hands. Many expected much more.

So after the close call in the first election the deal was made and Willie did not oppose Bob in the NeXT election as the machine was promised to Willie for 2021. Word is part of the deal is Bob's carpetbagger team will all keep their jobs.

Sadly, as well most of the city council positions are held by developers pawns. Check all the big contributions for a city council seat??

The new progressives are dopes who are impressed with being woke and buzz words as opposed to working for the people of Bethlehem.

Better face it, Reynolds is probably going to win and the new monster buildings will rule the Bethlehem skyline. Beautiful neighborhoods are toast as every open space will be "luxury" apartments or offices.

Many wish it doesn't happen but Bedlam is blinded by its own inbreeding and greed.

Just an opinion

Anonymous said...

While this is indeed a condemnation of Willy, where is the advocacy for Grubb? Why is Grubb better for Bethlehem?

Anonymous said...

"Why is Grubb better for Bethlehem?"

He is not Willie Reynolds, probably the most unqualified Mayoral candidate for Bethlehem ever.

Anonymous said...

Why is everyone afraid to say Lou Ronca's name?

Patriot2 said...

Grubb is a listener & has consistently supported neighborhoods against developer intrusion. Secondly, Grubb really does understand zoning & economic development as he was deputy director.

Third & perhaps most importantly Dana is not a Marxist like Reynolds & the bulk of the Council to be.

Anonymous said...

"I advocated for the tabling of the Martin Tower ordinance so that the new City Council could weigh in on it."

Fiorentino actually canceled a Planning Commission Meeting in a thinly veiled attempt to disrupt the process, little did he know that the planning commission's input was not a necessary requirement for Council to pass the ordinance, and all he really did was deny input from the planning commission.

Someone is just sour at Donchez (and Reynolds) for failing to re-appoint him to the Planning Commission. Gee, I can't imagine why Donchez would not reappoint him.

Anonymous said...

Patriot2, aka Bruce Haines. If Grubb has your support, every Democrat should vote for Reynolds. You are a Trump supporter and you even hosted an insurrectionist running for County Executive at the Hotel Bethlehem last week. Good thing you don't actually vote in Bethlehem!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Very close to half the people in this country voted for Trump. Your rejection of a person simply bc of how he voted betrays the lack of inclusiveness we'd see in a Willie Rerynolds admin.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The last time I checked it was the Democratic Primary in City that overwhelmingly voted for Biden. Pointing out that one guy is supported by people who supported a guy who lost your city by 3-1 is fair.

One can still govern with inclusiveness after one is elected.

Anonymous said...

Having Trump stink upon one's self is a legitimate issue in a town so demonstrably opposed to Trumpism politics. Legitimately guilty by association. What's good for northern townships is good for Bethlehem. Insurrection sympathizers are hereby canceled.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Your spurious argument was rejected by Reynolds himself at a debate on WLVR last week. He himself said his Trump comparison was a tad over the top, which it was. If Dana were a secret Trump supporter, I can assure you that someone like Jim Fiorentino would never support him. You know this and are just throwing mud bc you must be worried.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I refuse to publish what I know to be lies about Dana here. You must really be worried to resort to this Trumpian tactic of lying about him.

Anonymous said...

As a city tax payer it is obvious as to know who has more experience. And for that and that only speaks volume.

Anonymous said...

If you truly know him, Reynolds will tell you anything you want to hear, then turn around and tell someone else the complete opposite! He will never give you a straight answer!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...points 1 and 2 seem rational. Point 3 is hyperbolic and therefore calls your points 1 and 2 into question.

Anonymous said...

Democrat progressives' are not progressives at all, they are elitists. Make great speeches do nothing, then retreat to their cozy liberal echo chamber never to dirty their hands with the unwashed masses. Give me a compassionate blue dog democrat any day of the week over these phonies!