Lehigh Valley primary election: A procrastinator’s voter guide
May 14, 2017 lNicole Radzievich l Morning Call
On Tuesday, Lehigh Valley voters will cast their ballots in local primary races for whom each party should nominate to lead Pennsylvania’s third most populous region.
Republicans and Democrats in Allentown, which is embroiled in a pay-for-play investigation, will wade through a crowded field of council and mayoral candidates to determine who is best to lead the city amid its billion-dollar building boom that started with an arena.
If you live in Bethlehem, relax if you haven’t been paying too much attention. Neither Mayor Robert Donchez nor the four council members up for election is being challenged — by Republicans or Democrats — and there aren’t any competitive primary races in Northampton County government either.
And then there is a handful of races for state judges, district judges, school boards and other localities.
Any of this ringing some bells? No? Well, maybe it’s time for a little cramming in the days before Election Day. Here is a rundown of some hotly contested races in The Morning Call’s Procrastinator’s Guide to the 2017 primary races.
Making his case to win a fourth term, Democrat Mayor Ed Pawlowski has touted the downtown resurgence spurred by a one-of-a-kind taxing district called the Neighborhood Improvement Zone.
But his administration is also embroiled in a political corruption scandal. Seven people have admitted to roles in pay-to-play schemes that implicate Pawlowski, who has not been charged.
The federal investigation has brought out two Republicans and six Democratic mayoral challengers who believe the city should be under new leadership.
Pawlowski faces six Democratic challengers:
- Charlie Thiel, an Allentown School Board member and former security company executive;
- Joshua Siegel, a recent college graduate;
- David Jones, a pastor and Lehigh County commissioner;
- Siobhan “Sam” Bennett, a bed and breakfast owner and former CEO in Washington;
- Ray O’Connell, president of city council and a former Allentown School District administrator;
- Nathan Woodring, a bus driver and former Wilson councilman
The winner will face one of two Republicans fighting for the GOP nomination:
>> MORE: Our Allentown mayor’s race stories, candidate profiles and issues guide at themorningcall.com/allentownmayor
Meanwhile there are competitive races to determine who will fill the seats of a council that will keep a check on the next mayor. There are three incumbents running for reelection and six challengers on the Democratic side.
The Democratic candidates for Allentown City Council are:
- Eugene McDuffie, a motivational speaker from Center City Allentown and vice chairman of the Allentown Human Relations Commission
- Jessica Lee Ortiz, a Realtor who is chairwoman of the Allentown Human Relations Commission
- Daniel Buglio, a Slatington police officer and medicolegal senior investigator for Lehigh County
- Ed Zucal, a retired Allentown police sergeant;
- John Rosario, owner of B&R Enterprises on Seventh Street
- Kenneth Heffentrager, vice president of the Allentown Tenant Association
- Julio Guridy, 56, an incumbent member of council who has served on the board since 2001;
- Cynthia Mota an incumbent member of council who has served on the board since 2012;
- Daryl Hendricks, a former Allentown police captain who has served on council since 2013.
An additional two-year seat being vacated by appointed Councilman David McGuire also has attracted interest. Rosario is also running for the two-year seat, facing Courtney Robinson, an account manager for Meier & Dutch Wholesale Distributors, for the Democratic nomination. The winner will likely face Louis Hershman, who is running unopposed on the Republican side.
Executive Tom Muller is not seeking reelection, leaving an open seat at the county’s top post, but throwing his support behind Whitehall Township Commissioner Philips Armstrong, who is running unopposed on the Democratic ticket.
Armstrong will face the winner of a Republican primary that pits County Commissioner Brad Osborne against Controller Glen Eckhart.
They agree on a major issue, keeping Cedarbrook Nursing Home, and are contrasting themselves by their experience.
Osborne has cast himself as having the business experience the county needs to keep it going and a public record of cutting taxes while a county commissioner. He been a small business owner and plant manager for GEO Specialty Chemicals in Whitehall Township.
Eckhart is making the case on his long public experience, having served as a county commissioner, Salisbury Township supervisor, school director and now controller. He said he knows the county operations intimately and would be a consensus-builder.
He criticized the tax cuts Osborne touted because they weren’t paired with spending cuts. He argued that isn’t fiscally prudent when the county faces borrowing millions of dollars to rebuild Cedarbrook. The self-insured county, he argued, could lose its financial footing with a few medical emergencies.
The Board of Commissioners are guaranteed at least three new members. District 3 has the most crowded race, where three Democrats will compete for the seat Jones left to run for Allentown mayor. They are Basilio Bonilla, the former Bethlehem Area School Board director; Dennis Pearson, president of the East Allentown Rittersville Neighborhood Organization; and Amy Zanelli, a former case worker for the state of New Jersey. The winner will go on to face Allentown School Board Director Robert Smith, who is unopposed for the Republican nomination.
Commissioner Michael Schware, perhaps Muller’s most consistent opponent on the board, is stepping down from the District 5 seat after six years. His successor will likely be decided in the Republican primary as no Democrats filed to run. The Republican running in District 5, which covers southern Lehigh County, include Emmaus Borough Councilman Nathan Brown and John Donches, a tea party member and a regular attendee at commissioner meetings.
Easton Democrats have two races to keep an eye on this year.
Incumbents Sandy Vulcano, who has served District 3 since 2002, and James Edinger, who has served District 2 since 2013, face challengers who question their support of the proposed DaVinci Science City, which would include an aquarium.
Supporters tout the center as the next piece of Easton’s transformation into a family fun destination. But Taiba Sultana, who is challenging Volcano, and Terrence Miller, who is running against Edinger, argue the money is better spent on infrastructure.
The city has said it would pay its share of the cost through various taxes and fees generated by the project, i.e. parking fees and amusement tax on the tickets. City officials are undertaking a year-long feasibility study before they commit to the final cost.
Sultana is an American Cancer Society volunteer who describes herself as a Democrat with progressive ideas. She said she wants to develop more resources for residents looking for jobs and to create a community watch that will promote neighborhood safety.
Vulcano has said she wants to make sure the downtown resurgency reaches into the South Side and West Ward and touts her record on the city’s Vacant Property Review Committee, which is identifying blighted properties and going after the owners.
Edinger, a former carpenter, has volunteered on community projects and had served on the city’s Zoning Hearing Board for 20 years. With a focus on improving neighborhoods, he said he supports the introduction of a “quality of life” ordinance that targets electronic litter left on the curb.
Miller said he believes neighborhoods have largely been neglected and would like to create a full-time quality of life advocate who would work with the city’s four neighborhoods. Miller has served on various local boards, including the Easton Gang Prevention Community Board (former chairman), Easton Ethics Board and Northampton County Drug and Alcohol and a West Ward Neighborhood Partnership committee.
There is no primary race for the Pennsylvania’s highest court. Dwayne Woodruff of Allegheny County is running unopposed on the Democratic ticket, and Sally Mundy on the Republican ticket.
Democrats will have to chose four of the five candidates for Superior Court judge: Carolyn Nichols of Philadelphia, Geoff Mouton of Montgomery County, Maria McLaughlin of Philadelphia, Debbie Kunselman of Beaver County and William Caye of Allegheny County.
Republicans also have to vote out one on the GOP slate: Emil Giordano of Northampton County, Craig Stedman of Lancaster County, Wade Kagarise of Blair County, Mary Murray of Allegheny County and Paula Patrick of Philadelphia.
Democrats will have to choose two of five candidates running for Commonwealth judge, and Republicans have just two choices.
And, if you live in Northampton County, pay attention to the district judge races. There are 24 candidates running for six district judge seats there in the first election since the court districts were realigned in a cost-saving move by the state.
Looking for more sources of information to help you make a decision in the judicial races? Here are some suggestions.
At the polling place
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Not sure where to vote? Go to votespa.com/pollingplace to locate your polling place.
After the polls close
Check back at themorningcall.com throughout the evening for live results, updates and analysis.
VotesPA.com – state voter assistance site
Reporters Pamela Lehman, Emily Opilo, Tom Shortell and Christina Tatu contributed to this story.
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