November Surprise?

City Council candidate Lou Hershman was one of the first to report today that the City’s Finance Committee, led by Jeff Glazier, is cancelling its meeting tonight.  If true, that means we won’t be seeing a budget this week.  That means we won’t be seeing a budget until AFTER the election next week.

Just saying.

The rumblings of a tax hike are getting louder.

Saying No to the Pawlowski Method

I’ve been thinking about the implications of the WFMZ story that puts a firm’s name and face to what seem to be the same sweeps for listening devices at City Hall as those described by the FBI.

I’ve been thinking about what needs to happen if we’re going to create a new Allentown, a new tone, a new way of doing things out in the open and for the community.

I’ve been thinking about what the City Council meeting one day after the upcoming election will bring, and I’ve been thinking that regardless of who remains on the dais, we all have some serious work to do.  I hope the folks who ran in the spring with Ed Pawlowski’s PAC are upset politically, not because I have anything against them personally (I don’t), but because of the choice to so closely align with him in the first place.  Yes, these decisions were made before the FBI raid.  But one of the things I have railed against as an activist in Allentown is what I’ll call “the Pawlowski Method.”  Triangulation. Alienation.  Poker games as policy meetings.  Seeking to control City Council through campaign donations, through access, maybe, to Democratic king makers.  Lashing out at even the most mild forms of constructive criticism.  Lashing out at the audacity some citizens have to even ask questions. Even while employed in legal ways, the method makes for bad government and bad feelings.  It also lays the groundwork for what the FBI thinks is here.

Emily Opilo has a piece in today’s Morning Call showing that PAC candidates who were bringing in thousands of dollars int he primaries have raised only hundreds of dollars for the general election.  With under a week to go to the election, Allentown voters have real choices.  Elect PAC candidates or don’t.  Given Candida Affa’s recent talk of “what the mayor needs now is more support,” she should already be disqualified from your list.

A month or so ago I asked the PAC candidates at Council to yank their PAC yard signs and pay for new ones.  I understand now why that hasn’t happened.  There’s no money to do it.

Don’t vote for the Mayor’s former PAC-mates, Jeff Glazier and Candida Affa. Write in Rich Fegley. You only need to read Emily Opilo’s twitter accounts of City Council meetings to understand why.  You only need to meet him once, and not even over one of his excellent beers at one of his amazing brew pubs to understand why.  Write in Shane Fillman, well-known and respected leader in Old Allentown who has pledged to be a watchdog for Allentown’s citizens.   These men will vote their conscience and uphold their commitment to reform Allentown.

For School Board, I endorse Ce-Ce Gerlach without reservation.  I’ll probably also vote for Bob Smith, simply for the gumption he showed in going public with the Mayor’s moves to charge the ASD for police.  Had the Mayor not employed the patented Pawlowski Method, I might feel otherwise.  Among the other candidates are two from the former PAC who, but for their alignment with it, would have had my support.  I am not an “if you’re not for us you’re against us” kind of person, but I feel very strongly about the negative impact Citizens For a Better Allentown, the official name of the Pawlowski PAC, has already had on our politics.  It was the codified extension of the Pawlowski Method, and it sought to lock up his control over City Council and the School Board, netting less democracy, less dissension, less conversation, fewer alternatives, and, finally, fewer solutionsThe Pawlowski Method sold our water.  It sold our air.  It sold our land and sold out our community.  While developers stand to make hundreds of millions of dollars on 8 public dimes for every 2 these barons “risk,”  there’s still no Community Benefits Agreement, no real plan for improving the actual neighborhoods that make up the so-called Neighborhood Improvement Zone. The Allentown School District is still broke, and this Mayor wants to charge it for School Resource Officers even while he tries to pick the School Board’s newest members.

What about the urban renaissance downtown?  Empty storefronts.  Phony brands. Massive corporate welfare.

Living Here In Allentown

For readers who don’t know, I live in Allentown, County Seat of Lehigh, in the Lehigh Valley region of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Allentown has been getting all kinds of attention lately for two reasons.  First is the urban redevelopment program happening here.  It is, I presume, the largest-ever public-to-private transfer of wealth in the history of Pennsylvania besides the Walking Purchase.  You can read about it all over The Morning Call in articles by Scott Kraus and Emily Opilo.

The second reason relates to the first.  Allentown’s Mayor, a sometime would-be governor and/or senator, is being investigated by the FBI.  You can read all about that at The Morning Call, too, and on the local blogs.

The extent to which Allentown’s revitalization is working is hard to pin down.  There are new restaurants, some new retail (not the hoped-for 30 new stores by Labor Day), and some new jobs. There is a (licensed) Starbucks where workers receive none of the benefits Howard Schultz gives to Starbucks employees.  Frankly, I’m surprised he allows these kinds of arrangements.  But hey, I get it.  Enlightened as he may be, he’s no Bernie Sanders.

I mention Fauxbucks because of what its presence says about reality.  Median incomes are simply not high enough downtown to convince national retailers to come here.  They’re not even enticed by free rent.  No Trader Joe’s.  No Whole Foods.  Not even an Aldi’s.  Three City Center can’t even fill out its storefront space with local merchants.

On one hand, Allentown’s even-less-than-hesitant gentrification is great.  I’d prefer local retailers and service businesses in a heartbeat over the pre-fabbed national chains.  The problem is that like those phony hipster-havens, and like the phony brick facades of all of our new buildings, the downtown phase of Allentown’s renewal hinges on gentrification.  Commercial is supposed to beget residential, and residential is supposed to beget more (“better”) commercial.  But with no real economic infrastructure to speak of in most of the downtown neighborhoods, it’s not clear what’s exactly begetting what.

One scenario is that local merchants, enticed by free or near-free rent, will set up shop downtown and provide the kind of authentic, local, walkable vibe middle-class millennials eat up with a spoon.  Having proven the concept, even through some lean years, these local merchants will be rewarded with higher rents they can’t afford.  The Green Pepper will become Chipotle, and so on.

This scenario assumes that these new merchants find sustained success even with all of the obstacles and even with the built-in competition looming on the Waterfront.

One thing I know.  The City’s school district is broke. It’s not yet broken, but it’s broke. Where are the plans to fund it?  Where are the millennial residents of Strata supposed to send their kids to school?  No year-round gym, no year-round music or year-round art for kids living above the so-called Arts Walk?  You can’t fix the City without fixing the schools.  And you can’t fix either of them by forking over tax dollars to a handful of developers.

If the downtown phase of Allentown’s renewal fails, look to the total disregard by developers and some City leaders for the school district, the lack of real living wages, and the ascendance of the mixed-use Waterfront as some reasons why.

The Valley Has 7 Top 100 Companies! Huzzah! Valley Wages are Down! Huzzzwhat?

The Lehigh Valley now boasts 7 of the Top 100 Employers in PA.

Wages are down in the Lehigh Valley.

These stories were posted within hours, and paint the picture: we are supposed to be grateful for whatever crumbs we manage to catch from the table of the power elites.

Alan Jennings, we know all about the Mayor of Allentown’s inner-life because of your pipeline to the Morning Call. Where are you on this?  It seems to me that the “edge of poverty” is more than a name for your organization’s blog.

D’etre and D’etat: The Difference Between Jesus and Church

I worked at a big fat church for a few years once.

For about five minutes of those few years, the staff was charged to “live in the republic of ideas.”  I wrote what follows earlier today, but it strikes me as the difference between the Kingdom of God’s raison d’etre and the raison d’etat so many churches live and ultimately die by:

It occurs to me that our use of terms like “industrial” or “industrialized” nation reveals rather efficiently the willingness of our power elites (political and economic) to sacrifice most of us for personal gain; to spiritually, emotionally, and economically destroy the creative, academic, merchant and truly small-business class (let’s call it the bourgeoisie) right along with the cynically styled “working class.” We bourgeoisie and/or proletarians freely mingle, and not-so-freely mimic the choices of the power elites (be they Clintons or Romneys) with what we’re told are consumer “choices” but are really the gasping acts of hanging-on desperately performed by human agents too exhausted from surviving to enact true human agency. This is purely diabolical; if there is a God in heaven, that God must not endorse this system. Surely, the central Christian image of God not in heaven but on a cross is in reaction to the system that enslaved Judea, that murdered John the Baptizer, that found Jesus guilty of blasphemy and sedition. That Christ’s message — God is for the margin and not for the power structures we worship — brought about his death at the hands of those power structures isn’t only a sort of proto-theological poetry, it is the essential Christian fact, the essential Christian witness, the essential Christian claim about the nature and person of God. That Jesus spoke of a kingdom different from those of the Sanhedrin and Rome and Washington and Wall Street and Seattle isn’t some spiritual-only conceit. What Christ called the Kingdom of God is not so-called Christendom, not the so-called Church; it is a physical network of willing rebellion.