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Mayor primary candidates Q&A

Bethlehem’s mayoral race has already begun, with two Democratic candidates vying for the primary nomination next week.

Dana Grubb is a retired city employee who served in the grants, housing and community development departments. In 1999, he was one of four former officials to create the Tax Increment Financing district and the resulting rehabilitation of former Bethlehem Steel Corporation properties on the Southside. He also owns a small business in photography.

J. William Reynolds became the youngest-ever member of city council in 2007 and has helped create the city’s first Human Relations Commission, Climate Action Plan, and is a champion of fairness and equity as well as transparency and technological innovation in governance. He is a social studies teacher for the Allentown School District.

The Press asked the candidates the same set of questions regarding their qualifications for office and their plans for the city.

Responses are edited for style and length.


Why do you want to be mayor of Bethlehem?

I am concerned that the wishes of residents are often ignored at the expense of the interests of the largest developers, and that residents’ voices are being muted. I’m running for this office to serve those residents first. I ‘Believe in a Better Bethlehem,’ and feel that as mayor, I can give residents a voice in the governance of Bethlehem: I am not part of the political class that tends to shut them out.

What do you appreciate most about this city? The Lehigh Valley?

The history and the recreational opportunities tie for me when it comes to things I appreciate most.

Bethlehem’s colonial history from 1741 and its more recent industrial history with the Steel give it a unique and fascinating place in the story of the United States. The tangible artefacts of that history, such as architecture and neighborhoods largely unchanged from their inception, must be preserved and protected.

Bethlehem has 568 acres of green space within 39 parks, a real treasure in a city of this size. I have walked, run and biked the trails and park pathways for years, and am happy to see them being used more by families as well as individuals.

What would be your short-term goals in office? Long-term?

Short term, I intend to reconstitute the department of Parks and Recreation; more attention and better maintenance need to be given to our green spaces. I’ll create the position of sustainability coordinator within that department to begin addressing environmental issues in Bethlehem.

I also plan to move the day-to-day operation of the Bethlehem Parking Authority into a Department of Parking so that it is more responsive to residents.

I will establish a Small Business Concierge to directly assist existing and new businesses. My mayor’s office will be bilingual, and I will advance an ordinance that closes the window of opportunity for the use of consumer grade fireworks.

Long term, I’ll be vigilant about diversity within city hall and on authorities, boards and commissions that are under my aegis to populate. I’ll also be firm but fair with developers – which is why I am not taking any contributions from the major developers. Projects will stand on their own merits, and not be rewards for contributions.

What challenges do you most want to tackle and why?

Growing and supporting a fair, firm and responsive police force and ensuring excellent fire and EMS services are a very high priority for me.

Improving public infrastructure and facilities such as streets, parks and trails is also important, and preventive maintenance saves costs in the long run.

Finally, my middle-class background has primed me to find solutions to the affordable housing issue, and to limit gentrification.

How do your experiences and ideas make you a good candidate?

Twenty-seven years working for the city in a variety of capacities has given me an excellent knowledge base of how city hall works best, and how it needs to be run to achieve that. I have experience working with and across all departments and levels. Streamlining and reorganizing some areas of city hall will make it more efficient and have the added benefit of saving the city and taxpayers money. Aggressive pursuit of outside funding and appropriate development will further enable the city to keep taxes down for its residents, and keep services at a high rate of delivery. My ideas first and foremost are crafted to ensure the best quality of life possible for residents, and I listen intently to what residents and business owners tell me needs to be done.

In just a few sentences, describe your ideal Bethlehem of 2031.

Ten years from now, Bethlehem will be a leader in appropriate development that is compatible with its deep historic roots: cities like Philadelphia, Boston and the rest will look to us as a model for their expansion plans. The quality of life for all Bethlehem residents will be something to be proud of, and our well-maintained green spaces will provide residents and visitors with peaceful areas for play, exercise and reflection. Our public safety services will continue to be among the finest in Pennsylvania. We will be known as a small business Mecca and our varied and thriving shops and stores will attract thousands of visitors each year, which in turn will boost profitability for area restaurants and hostelries. Bethlehem’s identity as a creative city that supports the arts will continue to grow. Our history and vibrant multicultural vibe will enrich annual festivals such as Musikfest and Celtic Classic, as well as many additional offerings of art and culture. I ‘Believe in a Better Bethlehem,’ and I ask voters to believe with me, put their trust in me on May 18, and help me bring about this positive, bright future for all of our residents, and for our city – whose symbol, after all, is a shining star.


Why do you want to be mayor of Bethlehem?

Our city recovered from the closing of Bethlehem Steel because we had forward thinking leaders who placed an emphasis on a revitalization of our community through economic redevelopment. We need a mayor coming out of the pandemic that has a vision to create an economically vibrant and dynamic city. That vision must be based on increased economic investment, diversity and equity.

Our campaign has broad support from families, progressive organizations, small businesses, environmental advocacy groups, public education advocates, organized labor, and elected officials at the local, state and federal levels. That cross-section of support will be the same citywide coalition that the next mayor will need if Bethlehem is going to emerge from the pandemic an even stronger community.

What do you appreciate most about this city? The Lehigh Valley?

Bethlehem is a community in the truest sense of the word. We have a common identity about what it means to be from Bethlehem. We have community organizations that reflect that identity and make our city a wonderful place to call home and raise a family. Very few communities have that quality and it is a result of our residents’ dedication to making their home a special place to live.

What would be your short-term goals in office? Long-term?

The first priority for my administration would be to focus on our city’s recovery from the pandemic. The past year has upended our community in many ways and we need to emerge from the pandemic as a stronger and more vibrant city. Since the Steel closed, we have attracted new businesses and jobs and we must continue to do that. We must invest in our downtown commercial areas, our neighborhood and our community organizations that define who we are. Investments in affordable housing, expanding economic opportunities for all of our residents, and improving our already high quality of life are all vital as well if we want to build a city that works for everyone.

What challenges do you most want to tackle and why?

The pandemic made clear that there are systemic problems in our city involving affordable housing, homelessness and economic insecurity. We need to solve these problems as a community. We must bring together our school district, nonprofit sector, affected residents, and social service providers to build better systems.

I am also looking forward to mobilizing our residents to help city hall prioritize investments in our neighborhoods. Our Northside 2027 initiative gives us a blueprint for how to bring together families, small businesses, institutions and service providers to improve our neighborhoods and our quality of life. I plan a similar initiative for the west side of Bethlehem to go along with our current Northside 2027 and Southside Vision 2024 plans.

We also have to continue our economic redevelopment and revitalization. The former Bethlehem Steel site has seen incredible progress but hundreds of acres remain unused or underutilized. We need to work to attract family-sustaining jobs to the rest of the site. Our economic revitalization has allowed us to avoid the economic peril and difficult choices that other cities have had to face.

How do your experiences and ideas make you a good candidate?

During my time on city council, we have worked to economically revitalize our city and helped to lead Bethlehem to our strongest financial position in decades. I have also introduced and implemented initiatives related to neighborhood revitalization (Northside 2027), economic redevelopment, sustainability, equality, technology and transparency. Every one of those initiatives has been designed around organizing, listening and bringing people together to create change. We have brought together our families, small businesses, institutions including our colleges and universities, the Bethlehem Area School District and community organizations to respond to the priorities and goals of our city. Coalition building is the most important part of the mayor’s job and I have done that during my time in public office.

In just a few sentences, describe your ideal Bethlehem of 2031.

Bethlehem will continue to be a vibrant, economically prosperous, and diverse community with a high quality of life. We will be a Bethlehem that balances a respect for our history with new economic investment that will keep providing family sustaining jobs as we always have. Most of all, Bethlehem in 2031 will be the place we are still proud to call our home.