Mayor: Trash, police, districts
Bethlehem mayoral candidates J. William Reynolds and Robert Donchez debated each other in an April 30 forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Northampton County.
The debate was held in the ESSA Community Room at PBS 39 and was moderated by League of Women Voters of Northampton County President Joan Dean.
Donchez has been on Bethlehem City Council since 1996 and served as president of council for eight years. He is a former U.S. Government teacher at William Allen HS and currently serves as the chief of staff to Representative Daniel McNeill.
Reynolds became the youngest ever member of Bethlehem City Council when he was elected in 2008. He is currently the vice president of council and is a social studies teacher at William Allen.
Donchez said his top priority is public safety.
"We are a safe city but we need to maintain that safety," Donchez said. "A safe city leads to economic development. "
He added that he is concerned that the number of police officers has dropped from 160 to 149 and said he would like to see that number come back up to 155.
Reynolds was critical of his opponent's plan to add police officers.
"To say we need to add police officers without coming up with a plan to pay for them or come up with additional revenue sources is disingenuous," Reynolds said.
As part of his safety plan, Reynolds said he wants to make sure police officers know the city's neighborhoods and expand security cameras in high crime areas. He added that the way to make the city safer is to get to the root of the problem.
"If we don't find things for our teenagers to do and we don't find ways to make people a part of our community, we'll lose them," Reynolds said.
Both Reynolds and Donchez agreed that the key to economic development in the city is through safe neighborhoods.
Reynolds said he wants representation on city council from all parts of Bethlehem. West Bethlehem for example, has not had a representative since Don Cunningham in 1995. Reynolds wants a mixture of at-large bids and districted seats.
"Things are different in each part of the city," Reynolds said. "If you look at trash, economic development, safety and the way people want to walk around, you have a different city. It's the way school districts do it, other municipalities do it, Easton is much smaller than we are and they just went to this system four or five years ago."
He added that campaigning in districts, as opposed to the whole city, could be cheaper and allow more people to run.
Donchez, however, does not support districted seats.
"If we change to districted seats, I'm concerned that during budget time we'll become very parochial," Donchez said. "I could see scenarios where we have 'well how much money is going to be going to overlay my streets in District A versus District B or District C?' I don't want parochialism; I don't want districts fighting against districts."
Donchez also said that he is not sure that districted seats would bring down the costs of campaigns.
"What happens if you have a certain district where two people have means?" Donchez said. "They're going to be raising money and campaigning and you might escalate the cost. There's no guarantee that it's going to bring the cost down, we've seen that happen in other districts through both counties."
On the issue of trash hauling, neither candidate said they supported switching to a single hauler system. Reynolds said he would like to keep the private hauler system but would like to add "zoned pickup," where haulers could only pick up trash on designated days.
Donchez also supported zoned pickup.
"If you broke down the city into five different zones for five days then you would only have trucks going down your street once a week, but you would still have choices," Donchez said.
There are no Republican candidates running for mayor, meaning the winner of the May 21 primary between Reynolds and Donchez will likely be the next mayor of Bethlehem.