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Bethlehem Democratic mayoral candidates differ sharply only once

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Apr 11 2013 10:57:32 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 12 2013 06:14:46 AM CDT
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

The two Bethlehem Democratic mayoral candidates who participated in a "Meet the Candidates Night" event at the Fowler Hispanic Youth Center in Bethlehem were told in advance by organizers they were not expected to debate the issues.

Robert Donchez and William Reynolds scrupulously followed that ground rule Thursday night as they outlined their views to about 55 people -- including 14 candidates running for various city, county and state offices in the May 21 primary.

Donchez and Reynolds disagreed openly only once as they answered nine prepared questions put to them by various members of Bethlehem's Latino community.

The issue that drew the sharpest contrast between the two members of Bethlehem City Council was whether the seven council seats should continue to be elected at large, or be made into seats representing various parts of the city.

While not specifically saying he favored the regional approach, Reynolds said the city needs to continue "pushing for change," and pointed out that "in the last 20 years, most council members have lived in one or two sections of the city."

He said that the electorate would become more involved if they had an emotional connection to candidates. Reynolds noted that he became "fired up" about the presidential race in 2008 because of Barack Obama was running, "and that's what America looks like."

Donchez said he does not support elected officials representing specific districts in cities or school districts with populations of less than 100,000.

He said that setup works fine for the city of Allentown and the Allentown and Bethlehem Area school districts, where the populations represented are more than 100,000.

"But Bethlehem has 74,000 people and [council members] should be representing the interests of the whole city," Donchez said. "Otherwise, you run the risk of pitting parochial interest against parochial interest at budget time."

Reynolds seemed a bit sharper with his answer to a question about how changes in the city codes and ordinances could be better communicated to residents.

Donchez said he would "revamp, revise and upgrade" the city's Internet capability, get the word out through organizations such as CACLV and the Hispanic Center, and include updates in city water bills.

Reynolds said he, too, would use the Internet, but would also see that the changes were disseminated through block watch and neighborhood meetings and also by going into neighborhoods with department heads and other city officials to answer questions."We have to take city hall to [the people]," Reynolds said.

Donchez was a bit more specific with his answer to a question about developing affordable housing.

Reynolds mentioned that he addressed the issue with his Winning Our Neighborhoods program, but elaborated very little.

Donchez, who said he planned a news conference on the issue in two weeks, revealed two key components of his program -- strong code enforcement, which, he said, "brings stability to neighborhoods," and "de-converting" apartments back into single family homes.

The candidates were told by Bethlehem Area School Board member Aurea Ortiz that youth violence is escalating in the area of 6th and Lynn streets -- on Thursday afternoon, she said one Liberty High School student had to be taken to the hospital after being knocked to the ground and kicked him in the head by another when they fought after leaving the school bus. What, Ortiz wanted to know, would Reynolds and Donchez do to end the violence?

Reynolds said there was a "law and order aspect" to ending the problem, and that "being reactionary is not as successful as being proactive." He also said there is "a lobbying aspect" to being mayor, and that he would join Mayors Against Illegal Guns to learn about ways to reduce violence that are being developed nationally.

Donchez replied that "very good communication" between the police department and the school district is essential to cutting down on violence. He also suggested increasing the number of cameras through the city, more community outreach and more center for children to go to after school.

Both candidates agreed the city should strive for greater diversity among its city employees -- Donchez promised he would be "very aggressive" in recruiting minorities -- and both men said they would appoint qualified Latinos and other minorities to city boards and commissions.

Both Reynolds and Donchez acknowledged the importance of the South Side branch of the Bethlehem Public Library to the people who live nearby and in Fountain Hill and they both promised to do all they could to keep it open. "It's our big fight," said Reynolds.

But neither candidate would guarantee it would remain open at any cost, noting that Lower Saucon, Hanover and Bethlehem townships often target their contributions to the library system when their budgets need cutting.

Summing up, Reynolds said now is "a key time," with all of the strides made recently in Bethlehem. "We've got to keep that progress going," he said. "The city has changed and we've got to change with it."

Donchez said he, too, is looking to the future. "I'm proud of my record [as a long-time council member], but I truly believe we cannot stand still."
The two Bethlehem Democratic mayoral candidates who participated in a "Meet the Candidates Night" event at the Fowler Hispanic Youth Center in Bethlehem were told in advance by organizers they were not expected to debate the issues. Robert Donchez and William Reynolds scrupulously followed that ground rule Thursday night as they outlined their views to about 55 people -- including 14 candidates running for various city, county and state offices in the May 21 primary.

Donchez and Reynolds disagreed openly only once as they answered nine prepared questions put to them by various members of Bethlehem's Latino community.

The issue that drew the sharpest contrast between the two members of Bethlehem City Council was whether the seven council seats should continue to be elected at large, or be made into seats representing various parts of the city.

While not specifically saying he favored the regional approach, Reynolds said the city needs to continue "pushing for change," and pointed out that "in the last 20 years, most council members have lived in one or two sections of the city."

He said that the electorate would become more involved if they had an emotional connection to candidates. Reynolds noted that he became "fired up" about the presidential race in 2008 because of Barack Obama was running, "and that's what America looks like."

Donchez said he does not support elected officials representing specific districts in cities or school districts with populations of less than 100,000.

He said that setup works fine for the city of Allentown and the Allentown and Bethlehem Area school districts, where the populations represented are more than 100,000.

"But Bethlehem has 74,000 people and [council members] should be representing the interests of the whole city," Donchez said. "Otherwise, you run the risk of pitting parochial interest against parochial interest at budget time."

Reynolds seemed a bit sharper with his answer to a question about how changes in the city codes and ordinances could be better communicated to residents.

Donchez said he would "revamp, revise and upgrade" the city's Internet capability, get the word out through organizations such as CACLV and the Hispanic Center, and include updates in city water bills.

Reynolds said he, too, would use the Internet, but would also see that the changes were disseminated through block watch and neighborhood meetings and also by going into neighborhoods with department heads and other city officials to answer questions."We have to take city hall to [the people]," Reynolds said.

Donchez was a bit more specific with his answer to a question about developing affordable housing.

Reynolds mentioned that he addressed the issue with his Winning Our Neighborhoods program, but elaborated very little.

Donchez, who said he planned a news conference on the issue in two weeks, revealed two key components of his program -- strong code enforcement, which, he said, "brings stability to neighborhoods," and "de-converting" apartments back into single family homes.

The candidates were told by Bethlehem Area School Board member Aurea Ortiz that youth violence is escalating in the area of 6th and Lynn streets -- on Thursday afternoon, she said one Liberty High School student had to be taken to the hospital after being knocked to the ground and kicked him in the head by another when they fought after leaving the school bus. What, Ortiz wanted to know, would Reynolds and Donchez do to end the violence?

Reynolds said there was a "law and order aspect" to ending the problem, and that "being reactionary is not as successful as being proactive." He also said there is "a lobbying aspect" to being mayor, and that he would join Mayors Against Illegal Guns to learn about ways to reduce violence that are being developed nationally.

Donchez replied that "very good communication" between the police department and the school district is essential to cutting down on violence. He also suggested increasing the number of cameras through the city, more community outreach and more center for children to go to after school.

Both candidates agreed the city should strive for greater diversity among its city employees -- Donchez promised he would be "very aggressive" in recruiting minorities -- and both men said they would appoint qualified Latinos and other minorities to city boards and commissions.

Both Reynolds and Donchez acknowledged the importance of the South Side branch of the Bethlehem Public Library to the people who live nearby and in Fountain Hill and they both promised to do all they could to keep it open. "It's our big fight," said Reynolds.

But neither candidate would guarantee it would remain open at any cost, noting that Lower Saucon, Hanover and Bethlehem townships often target their contributions to the library system when their budgets need cutting.

Summing up, Reynolds said now is "a key time," with all of the strides made recently in Bethlehem. "We've got to keep that progress going," he said. "The city has changed and we've got to change with it."

Donchez said he, too, is looking to the future. "I'm proud of my record [as a long-time council member], but I truly believe we cannot stand still."