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County controller called out for statement

Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley, speaking on a video conference call with the Legislative Redistricting Commission (LRC) in charge of producing redistricting maps, opposed the LRC’s proposed map, which lumped Allentown and part of Bethlehem into the same congressional district.

He likened the LRC’s proposed map to creating a “ghetto.”

In the context of his comments, it seems clear that he was using the emotion-laden word as a way of suggesting that the board was trying to cut out a voting block of Black, Brown and Asian voters.

“Nor should you allow a map that creates one district that packs Allentown and Bethlehem into one super district,” said Pinsley in his objection to the LRC’s proposed district map. “You don’t need a ghetto.”

Pinsley, who said he is Jewish, used the word “ghetto,” with its historical connotation of a WW II Warsaw-style, walled-off Jewish compound subject to persecution by the authorities.

Following the “ghetto” phrase, Pinsley also said, “My hope is that you will make a single district in Lehigh County that includes all of Allentown and puts western Bethlehem back with Bethlehem. Without democracy working, the minorities you are fighting for will have no power and no vote.”

“A lack of democracy is bad for Black people, Brown People, Muslims, Jews and really any minority,” Pinsley said in his remarks to the LRC. “Democracy starts here with creation of fair maps that shouldn’t be influenced by incumbency.

“I’ve worked with Lehigh County citizens to create a compromise map we believe fixes many of our concerns. It isn’t perfect and it doesn’t bring all of Allentown together, but I think it accomplishes what Democrats and Republican leaders are trying to do.”

Pinsley’s use of the emotion-laden word was seized upon by fellow Democrats, who decried the word being used in its most pejorative sense.

A standard dictionary defines ghetto as “a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure.”

“I did use the term ‘ghetto’ and I used it in the way probably others have used in the past in terms of the Warsaw ghetto,” Pensley said in an interview with a local television news station.

“My goal is to make sure that we use this opportunity to explain to the people what’s happening because they are going be stuck with [redistricting] for 10 years.”

Rep. Peter Schweyer (D-Pa 22), said in a television newscast, “That’s hurtful and it continues to drive home the narrative that Allentown is something other than it is.”

Rep. Michael Schlossberg (D-pa 132) reportedly said, “When you characterize an entire neighborhood as a ghetto, a neighborhood that is overwhelmingly lived in by Black and Brown folks, you’re making a statement whether you realize it or not.”

Mayor of Allentown Matt Tuerk reportedly said, “We sincerely hope that the controller will take this opportunity to recognize his error and learn from it.”

Calls to Pinsley asking for comment were not returned.

PRESS PHOTO BY DOUGLAS GRAVES Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley called out the Legislative Redistricting Commission for proposing a legislative map that created a “ghetto” of Allentown and a portion of Bethlehem.
The Legislative Redistricting Commission's proposed map, which Pinsely describes as “not perfect.”
Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley's proposed map. “Democracy starts here with creation of fair maps that shouldn't be influenced by incumbency,” he said.