Friday, May 17, 2013

Bethlehem mayor race

Disclaimer: This post doesn't represent the views of my household or my employer. It's just a Bethlehem resident talking.

I've avoided political issues in this space for the most part, but I want to say something about the race for Mayor. We vote on May 21 (find your polling place), and we'll have a new mayor for the first time in several years.

I'm voting for Willie Reynolds, and rather than get into the specifics on issues and such I feel it's important to note that my stance is more based on my new perspective as a father than it is any one issue. As a homeowner, I've had a stake in Bethlehem's future for almost four years now. Now that I have a son who will need a thriving city to grow up in long after I'm gone, the stakes feel higher for me every time I cast a ballot.

Bob Donchez probably had my vote at the start. He seemed a good enough guy and his positions on many issues weren't far from mine for the most part. The fact that he'd served a long time on the City Council was part of that too. It seemed like a good vote.

Then the negative ads started. One estimate from Reynolds says Donchez has spent $100,000 to tear down Reynolds, a fellow Democrat, in the primary. Aside from wondering where that money comes from and who Donchez owes for just that part of the advertising push, I have to wonder about the wisdom of the ads themselves. The ads use false claims about Reynolds' attendance at meetings and positions on the issues, and they're laden with attempts to mislead and scare seniors. Donchez seems to be running a classic playbook-style campaign to turn voters off to politics, knowing that negative ads disgust people into staying home and that a suppressed vote historically means generally it's a vote dominated by seniors (and thus good for him). Why else would he keep stressing the word "mature" in his ads? The whole thing drips of ugly.

Reynolds, for his part, has parried the ads and run a campaign of ideas. I have yet to see a negative mailer from Reynolds. It's about vision. The more Donchez filled my mailbox with negative ads, the more I started to look at Reynolds. What was Donchez so afraid of that he had to run a scorched-earth campaign? And the more I looked at Reynolds, the more I liked what I saw on both issues and tone.

It's quite a contrast. One is someone stooping pretty low just to win a primary, the other is about ideas. If I needed reason to solidify my position, it came in this exchange from Thursday's debate:

It's politics.

Donchez accepts that distortion and negative campaigning are part of the game. And perhaps it is, but I really don't like that a candidate will cynically buy into this as part of his public approach. Maybe it is politics, but that doesn't make it right.

Candidates for office are supposed to take us new places, tell us of a future we should be striving for and goals we should try to achieve, even if it feels impossible. Donchez talks about leadership and Reynolds' readiness, but he has missed a golden chance to lead on campaign tone. Even if it is "just politics," Donchez isn't forced to play by that rulebook. He could lead instead by running a different kind of campaign.

The kind of campaign Reynolds is running.

To be honest, I have no idea if Reynolds is ready for this. I don't think anyone really can know if they're ready for such a complex job until they're in the hot seat, not even the candidates themselves. He certainly isn't aligned with me on every issue (a single hauler for garbage services certainly is one of them). But if I'm going to vote, it's going to be for someone who has a vision for where they want to go, not a vision on how to win a race at any cost.

What will Donchez do when as Mayor he needs young people to help on important initiatives? He's already talked about youth in terms of immaturity and unreadiness. Young people will be an important part of moving this city forward. How can he work with them after poisoning the well like this? How are we going to convince young graduates at Lehigh and other higher ed institutions to stay and help us build something great here in the Lehigh Valley when the entire message is "wait your turn?"

I like Reynolds' proposal for equal representation. It's ridiculous that the South Side and West Side have nobody on the Council to speak for them. I like his goals for neighborhoods for economic development. Mostly I just like that he's talking about working together without tearing people down.

I'm not going to tell you how to vote. But I have skin in this game now that we have a family, and I am certainly going to vote my hopes and not my fears.

If you're turned off by negative campaigning, the last thing you should do is stay home. We need to go to the polls and stop rewarding people who run a campaign from the gutter and shrug it off as just being about politics, and we need to get behind and support those who strive to live up to higher ideals.

To me, that means a vote for Willie Reynolds.

1 comment:

  1. I know that this has been a tough road for many of my friends and I am so appreciative of you making the switch from independent to a party (once you decided Reynolds was your choice) - This is a one party town and if you want to make a real difference in politics at least you have to be a Democrat.

    I believe that Willie Reynolds will make you proud of your vote.