Mixed Results for Progressives in Lehigh Valley Primaries (Updated)

I wrote up the statewide primary results of significance for the statewide blog, but over here I’ll drill down a bit into the Lehigh Valley elections and what I think they’ll mean for progressive governance.

John Callahan’s big win in Northampton County was of course the real bright spot, and Deb Hunter winning one of the Democratic slots for Northampton County Council was also excellent, but that’s about where the good news ends for Northampton County.

The rest of the Democratic slate for Northampton County Council is just depressing. You’ve got Christen Borso who seems nice enough, but is rumored to be not the sharpest. You’ve got Ron Heckman, an ex-Reibmanite. And then you’ve got Jerry Seyfried and Tom O’Donnell, who aren’t especially bad or anything but instead of two really old guys, you at least could have had an opportunity with Jason Toedter and Kerry Myers to build the Democratic bench with some younger politicians. But voters went with some familiar good old boys instead, increasing the odds that County Democratic governance will remain a backwater of tired old-school thinking. Hopefully John Callahan and Deb Hunter can develop a progressive governing coalition and shake things up anyway.

The Bethlehem results are worst of all.

I just learned yesterday that Bob Donchez has a stomach condition that flares up fragrantly under the stresses of leadership. No wonder he is always the last to decide on every vote. No wonder the tiniest group of mildly upset people can sway his vote on anything. No wonder so many of his campaign proposals entail outsourcing key policy decisions to this or that panel. John Callahan told me Donchez is constitutionally incapable of making decisions, and this has been quite clear observing his approach to governance on City Council. He’s the worst possible fit for an Executive job. Donchez won not by making any particularly compelling argument for himself or his vision, but by name recognition alone. This is a not-insignificant setback for a city that’s clawed its way back to prosperity through hard choices and creative thinking, and where further gains will come only through sustained persistent experimentation. Willie Reynolds was clearly the better candidate to continue the tradition of bold governance in the post-Steel era.

The good news is that a progressive City Council could potentially fill the pending leadership void, and pass laws that the Mayor does not want to, if the progressive faction can operate as a cohesive governing coalition. The City Council elections appear to have made this strategy more feasible. On net, the progressive faction on Council gained two members – Bryan Callahan and maybe Adam Waldron. Bryan replaces the conservative David DiGiacinto, and it’s now looking like Adam Waldron replaces conservative Jean Belinski. The progressives could govern the 7-member Council with a coalition of Karen Dolan, Willie Reynolds, Michael Recchiuti, Bryan Callahan and Adam Waldron. They will soon need to fill Bob Donchez’s seat, and if another progressive applies for the vacancy s/he would likely be approved by the DRRC faction. That would give progressives a solid 6-1 governing majority, which would allow them to veto bad Donchez initiatives and pass laws without his approval.

In Lehigh County, I am a little terrified of rightwinger Scott Ott’s big victory over sensible Republican Dean Browning. Some Democrats would rather run against Ott, since he’s obviously a clown, but not me! Remember that this barely registered with the Lehigh County electorate in 2009, when they very nearly elected him over Don Cunningham. Ott is a nutcase, but as a professional entertainer, he knows how to make his candidacy pop. Tom Muller, the Democratic nominee, will come with the better policy ideas, and a novel political story to tell, but Ott will be the more interesting figure in the race, and my fear is that enough moderate Republican voters will say to themselves “screw it, how bad could it get?”

For the Lehigh Commission, voters selected a pleasingly strong Democratic slate. Geoff Brace and Wes Barrett are both very sharp top-tier candidates, and while I would have liked to see Juan Camacho replace David Jones, I am satisfied overall with the Brace, Barrett, Jones and Bill Leiner team as the Democratic standard-bearers. On the Republican side, I am pleased to see cosmopolitan Republican Percy Dougherty survived his Wayne Woodman-backed primary challenge from tea person Scott Aquila.

On Allentown City Council, a throw-the-bums-out election would have been appropriate given the level of acrimony over the high-stakes controversies of the past two years, but the small number of voters who turned out were decidedly not in the mood. Jeff Glazier was the only incumbent to lose a seat, which is too bad because I like Jeff, and he was replaced by police chief Daryl Hendricks. Julio Guridy, Cynthia Mota and Ray O’Connell all retained their seats. I don’t know how upset people should be about this. The water lease vote was correctly decided in my view. The Delta Thermo waste-to-energy plant vote would have been a good excuse to throw some incumbents over the side, but unless I missed something none of the challengers really tried to turn this into a campaign issue. Was there something else voters should’ve been upset about? I don’t really see it.

Any other significant races I’m missing? I had to pay close attention to a lot of municipal races across the state for Keystone Politics, so I largely tuned out judicial and school board races this year. Gloria McVeigh told me that the tea people were trying to take over the school district in Saucon, and I am not sure if they succeeded. Were any of the smaller borough races of interest?


  1. There’s still one broken voting machine to be counted in Northampton County, but Waldron has a 70-vote advantage over Sanders.

  2. Waldron passed Lump this morning? We went to bed last night assuming he had lost.

  3. Mike Recchiuti says:

    1. Good to finally meet you the other evening.
    2. The broken machine broke early. I do not think, based on the turnout numbers that more than 15 or so people voted on the machine. I think it is safe to say Adam Waldron will held the lead.

  4. I’ll be curious to see who will apply for the vacant seat on council…

  5. Juan Camacho says:

    Appreciate your vote of confidence Jon. I may have not been successful this time around, but this will not be my last run. Thanks!

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