Bethlehem’s mayoral candidates are fighting over finance, development and… the 2020 elections?

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The two Bethlehem mayoral candidates shared their different visions for the future of the Christmas town on Thursday evening, answering questions during a televised and live-streamed debate.

J. William Reynolds, a Democrat on his record as a city councilor, and John Kachmar, a Republican who has worked in city offices in five states, were mostly cordial during their confrontation. At a particularly frigid time, however, the candidates raised pointed questions, questioning each other’s ambitions and stance on the 2020 presidential election.

SEE THE DEBATE: English | Spanish

Reynolds, a lifelong Bethlehem resident and local high school history teacher, in 2007 became the youngest person ever elected to city council. Now 40 years old, he is committed to continuing initiatives on climate change and pursuing partnerships to continue the post-steel revitalization of Bethlehem.

Kachmar, a semi-retiree from Bethlehem, worked as a city and county administrator in Lehigh Valley, Minnesota, Maryland, South Carolina and Georgia, returning home in 2016. The 73-year-old wants to be Bethlehem’s first Republican mayor in about 25 years, operating on a platform of tight spending and pushing out alleged nepotism at City Hall.

Thursday night’s hour-long debate was moderated by PBS39 and moderated by WLVR Chief Information Officer Jen Rehill and lehighvalleylive.com journalist Sara Satullo.

Here are some of the topics they touched on.

It was a topic that came up often – both directly in questions about Hispanic representation and inclusion, and indirectly in questions about policing and climate change.

Reynolds said he would have a bilingual equity and inclusion director to help disperse pandemic recovery funds and raise the profile of town hall with community outreach. He commended the Bethlehem region school district for its efforts in this area and said broad program support with an eye on long-term spending would help equity.

“For too long we’ve been a separate community when it comes to identity,” Reynolds said. He later added that each department in the city should reflect the makeup of the city. “What the town hall looks like, it’s not what our community looks like. And that’s my priority on the first day.

Kachmar said there was systemic discrimination against Latinos, and later, speaking more broadly, said the problem was generational. He opposed the idea of ​​”quotas,” but said all city departments should at least be able to communicate with anyone entering, possibly with computer translation programs.

“We are in 2021, why are we talking about it now? Kachmar asked at one point. “It should have happened a long, long time ago. “

The problem was linked to policing protests calling for police funding for racial discrimination.

Kachmar said that as mayor he would act as a buffer between city council and the police, that he wanted to provide more support services to officers, and said the funding would be “stupid”.

Reynolds said the job of police officers should be made easier and less dangerous, in part by building communities by starting with school funding and services, and working with Northampton County to have health workers mental carry some of the burden of officers.

CANDIDATE PROFILES: 2 candidates for mayor of Bethlehem, 2 ideas for the future of the city

It was Kachmar’s signature issue, citing tax increases and directly questioning his opponent about Bethlehem’s financial stability.

Kachmar said the city’s current plan to use $ 34 million in COVID-19 recovery funds to fill budget holes is based on bad advice, that the money is to be used for needs directly related to the pandemic and suggested temporary housing for the homeless. He has often cited his work in government, saying he would try to partner with other organizations to fund projects.

John Kachmar, 2021 Republican candidate for mayor of Bethlehem.Courtesy photo

Reynolds has also often said that he too seeks partnerships on projects. He said relief from the pandemic should be split between short-term uses helping vulnerable populations now and long-term improvements. Responding to a question from Kachmar on the city’s bond rating, he said Bethlehem was in better financial condition than the other two major cities in the Lehigh Valley after two decades of “impressive economic revitalization”.

“You don’t have to ask me about this. You decided to come back here after living all over the country, ”Reynolds retorted.

Both candidates have said they want to direct short-term funding for the pandemic to local nonprofits.

It was Reynolds’ signature issue. The Democrat said returning empty sites like the Martin Tower to tax rolls would increase Bethlehem’s coffers, and doing so in a sustainable manner would prepare the city for a cleaner and more desirable future.

Reynolds said he wanted to see pedestrian communities with energy-efficient “green” buildings. He spoke specifically of the Martin Tower site, but also said buildings in the city have saved money.

J. William Reynolds

J. William Reynolds, 2021 Democratic candidate for mayor of Bethlehem.Courtesy photo

Kachmar was skeptical in his rebuttal, saying there is “too much politicization” in town planning, which “green” adds to construction costs. He later called the Bethlehem Climate Action Plan “more based on socialism than anything else”.

“The idea of ​​a pedestrian community is admirable but it is not feasible,” Kachmar said.

Both candidates said they support the idea of ​​a permanent homeless shelter in Bethlehem, with ideas on how best to direct resources. They also like the concept of catering passenger train service to the Lehigh Valley, but want more information on its cost and potential use.

In the most trying moments of the debate, the candidates were allowed to question each other. Reynolds asked Kachmar if he voted for Donald Trump – Kachmar first refused to answer, then relented.

“I didn’t vote for Joe Biden, there’s no way to hell,” Kachmar said. “But I didn’t vote for Donald Trump either. … I didn’t think either was right for the county.

(Reynolds then asked for a follow-up if Kachmar thought Joe Biden legitimately won. “No one could prove anything to the contrary,” Kachmar said. Reynolds said he appreciated the response and called him out. “good for our country”.)

Kachmar, at one point calling Reynolds a “career politician,” asked why Reynolds would run after mayor.

Reynolds said he could go back to teaching but do what’s best for his family: “The office I’m going to run for when I’m 47 is the one Natalie (wife of Reynolds) wants me to introduce myself. “

Kachmar said it was a “good answer”. For his part, Kachmar later said he had “absolutely no desire to embark on a long-term political career.”

MORE CANDIDATES

J. William Reynolds: website | Facebook page

John Kachmar: website | Facebook page

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Steve Novak can be reached at [email protected].


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