The Coward Era of Bethlehem Politics

Opponents of John Callahan’s single hauler trash plan never made any persuasive arguments against the Callahan administration’s claims that it would 1. save most residents on their garbage bills 2. improve the efficiency of trash collection or 3. make the city cleaner. I’m sure they never read Palmer Township’s report on best practices in garbage market design either. They didn’t care that the economics behind single hauler are solid or that other cities save money this way. They voted against it anyway, because they got a couple dozen angry phone calls.

If Bob Donchez or Willy Reynolds gets elected Mayor, you’re not going to have an administration that’s actively pursuing changes to make Bethlehem a better governed, more pro-growth city. You’re going to have a Go Along to Get Along administration that cares first and foremost about ducking controversy at any cost.

It’s depressing. The reason Bethlehem doesn’t look like Youngstown or other dying post-industrial cities is that it’s politicians and civil society were not afraid to take policy risks when the Steel closed. They had confidence in their plan, and enacted it in spite of controversy. That’s leadership – doing what you are convinced is the best thing for everybody, regardless of whether or not it’s popular.

I’m reminded of what Bane’s said while he’s kicking a weakened Batman’s ass in Dark Knight Rises: “Victory has defeated you.” Bob Donchez, Eric Evans, David DiGiacinto and Willy Reynolds are content to laze around in the better world Don Cunningham and John Callahan made for them and aren’t hungry enough to take up the fights that would take the city to the next level of greatness.


  1. Jeez this is about a single hauler for trash, not whether or not to split the atom.

    The fact is Jon, the people of Bethlehem did not want a single hauler. They were willing to pay more to keep what they have, as is their right. And as you know, every politician’s overriding desire is to be re-elected, in such minor matters as this they’ll do what the public wants.

    In your diatribe about how Government saved Bethlehem you forgot that nothing would have happened were it not for the city and BEDCO (Donna Taggart) working closely with John Saraceno, Tony Boyle, Frank Gillespie, Lehigh University, and a host of others. These people put their time, energy, and loads of cash into the city – that’s what saved it, not some bureaucrat or politician.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      This is just the latest indication that Bob Donchez would be a no-growth wuss of a Mayor. I’ve been pointing out other examples all year. His primary objective is to not piss anybody off, and he doesn’t have any fight in him to take on controversial changes that would improve the city.

      You have literally zero evidence to support your claim that single hauler is unpopular. They did a poll. People overwhelmingly were open to the idea, and most didn’t care. Only a small group of people has strong opinions about this. Nobody should mistake a small vocal group for the majority.

      I mentioned civil society playing an important role in changing public policy in Bethlehem. It’s true that political change is rarely directed only by politicians – it does take a coalition inside and outside government to get things done. But ultimately the politicians are the ones who have to vote for the changes, and they need to be willing to put their reelection at risk in order to do things they believe in. People who don’t care about accomplishing anything, and only care about getting reelected over and over don’t belong in public service.

  2. If people care Jon, they show up.

    There has been no visual support for going with Callahan’s plan, and plenty of visible opposition. Again, given the very minor nature of this and a politician’s #1 desire of getting reelected, the cards were stacked against it.

    The resurgence of Bethlehem (especially the south side) was led by private individuals, not government. Started in the 1980s. Politicians were smart enough to get out of the way (or at best be supportive and not a roadblock or glory hog) and it worked because of these facts.

    Next time you’re in town, sit down with Sareceno or Taggart, or better yet both of them. It’ll be an eye opener for you.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Again though, who cares if there was visible support for the plan? Council members have not heard from anything close to a majority of residents. They’ve heard from a small group of opponents. It shouldn’t have any impact on their decision. The only responsible thing to do is look at the best data available (Palmer’s study) and pick the option that gives residents the greatest value for the lowest cost. Palmer’s politicians had a nice dispassionate debate about this based on the facts, and did the right thing for their residents. Bethlehem politicians should take a lesson from them and stop being swayed by the drama.

      I don’t know why you’re obsessed with diminishing the role of good public policy in turning Bethlehem around, but I agree that private efforts were crucial. My hope is that Donna Taggart decides to run against Bob Donchez for Mayor and save the city from 4 years of passivity.

  3. I bring it up constantly because you constantly belittle small businesses and the private sector.

    Jon, it’s incredibly easy spending someone else’s money. It’s incredibly difficult spending yours and trying to get a return so you can afford to live.

    Public policy should be, supportive of the private sector because that’s where the work gets done, the returns get generated, and the economy grows.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I don’t think I “belittle” the private sector at all. I think it’s incredibly important. I just think there’s a difference between being pro-market and being pro-business. My views are pro-market. I support public policies that encourage growth and competition, and specifically new firm formation. You often hear politicians say that small businesses create most of the jobs, but that’s not right – new businesses create most of the jobs, as they grow from small companies to larger companies. So I think that the focus of public policy should be designing regulations with the goal of promoting competitive markets and low barriers to entry.

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