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Northampton County executive candidates spar off

By John Craven, Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published On: May 14 2013 09:59:14 PM CDT

NC Exec candidates square off

Bill Clinton once said, "It's the economy, stupid." For the four men running for Northampton County executive, that's very true.

"What are the most important issues to individuals? Almost universally, jobs, employment, economic development come near the top," said Muhlenberg College political scientist Chris Borick.

This week, all four executive candidates pitched their experience, and their plans for job growth.

Three Democrats are vying to run against the only Republican in the race.

Glenn Reibman previously held the job for eight years, from 1998 to 2006.

"The Reibman administration not only talked about economic development, it delivered," he said at a Monday night forum at DeSales University.

Reibman said he laid the groundwork for the Bethlehem Steel redevelopment, the Bethlehem Commerce Park, and the Trader Joe's facility.

Bethlehem mayor John Callahan is also running in the Democratic primary, and has raised far more money than his competitors. Callahan reminded the crowd that he brought in the Sands Casino.

"In the last 10 years, we've had over two billion dollars of economic investment in the city of Bethlehem," he said.

But opponents argued that the Sands is nice, but hasn't brought in many high-paying jobs. Current county commissioner Lamont McClure, the third Democrat running, said Lehigh County has snagged most of the region's higher-paying jobs. He said Olympus' North American headquarters and Ocean Spray's new plant in Upper Macungie Twp. are examples.

"What we need to do is focus on those better-paying jobs, and I think the way to do that is by creating a stable tax structure," said McClure.

The sole Republican running agreed.

"Why is it that we are not being selected by some of these companies?", asked Bangor mayor John Brown.

Reibman said he supports the controversial idea of a regional health department, as well as looking at a regional rail line to New Jersey. All agreed the struggling Lehigh Valley International Airport must be saved.

Brown also said roads and bridges must be upgraded too.

"These are long-term, we'll call them assets, that quickly can become liabilities," he said.

Each of the three Democrats will face-off in next Tuesday's primary for the chance to run against Brown.