Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan gets emotional addressing business leaders breakfast

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Fresh off an upset loss in his race for Northampton County executive, outgoing Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan delivered an emotional valedictory to a group of Lehigh Valley business leaders Thursday morning.

Callahan, who was defeated in Tuesday's election by Bangor Mayor John Brown for the top county post, spoke for 50 minutes at Prosser Auditorium in Moravian College's Haupert Union Building.

The occasion was the 13th annual Business Leaders Breakfast with the Mayor organized by the Bethlehem Chamber.

Addressing the group for the 10th time, Callahan choked up at the beginning of his talk, when he asked his staff members to stand and be recognized for their behind-the-scenes work in making the city a success, saying, "They make it happen every day. ... I'm very proud of you."

Emotions welled up again at the end, as Callahan spoke about never wanting to be a career politician. From the outset of his political career, "I always did what I felt was right. ...

"[In the beginning,] I governed as a one-term mayor. ... Serving three terms was gravy," he concluded, barely holding back tears.

The crowd responded with a prolonged standing ovation.

In his address, Callahan's recapped the fiscal accomplishments of his time in office, a time he called "the most rapid period of growth in [Bethlehem's] history."

The accomplishments included paying down the city debt; using the host fee paid by the Sands casino to bring pension costs under control, thereby averting a potential 44 percent real estate tax hike; leaving the city with a $2.2 million cash balance, and paring fire department overtime.

Callahan noted that revenue from the earned income tax is at a all-time high, and revenue from the business privilege mercantile tax is also up -- both signs, the mayor said, of Bethlehem's improved economy.

He also pointed to crime statistics showing Bethlehem has been rated for the last nine years as the safest city in the state with a population of more than 30,000, and his efforts to create "an open and transparent police department" adept in the use of social media.

Finally, he cited numerous projects as concrete signs of economic progress -- including several new restaurants, the artists lofts being built at the site of the former Saint Stanislaus Polish Catholic Church and warehouse, office, commercial and space that is transforming brown field properties and rundown structures.

Callahan said that Bethlehem has planned for the future by taking advantage of programs such as Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance, Tax Increment Financing and City Revitalization and Improvement Zone, which delay property taxes for developers for a period of time.

"By denying ourselves some revenue now," Callahan said, "[those sites] will be the motherlode of taxes" in the next decade.

"Bethlehem has always been a community that invested in itself," he added. "While we always respect our history, we have never been afraid to embrace our future."

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