Lehigh Valley

Allentown Council continues search for next mayor

Four more candidates interviewed

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Allentown City Council continued interviewing prospective mayors at a special meeting on Wednesday.

Council interviewed four of 16 prospective candidates who are seeking to be appointed interim mayor until the November 2019 municipal election is held. 

The interviews are being held in the wake of Ed Pawlowski’s recent resignation as mayor after being convicted of 47 counts related to trading favors and city contracts in exchange for campaign donations.

Council will hold more interviews of candidates at 6 p.m. Thursday, among them Allentown School Board member Charlie Thiel.

Dan Kroll

"[My] main interest is serving the city,” said Dan Kroll, who runs a web-based business.

Kroll said he does not “accept anything less than success” and always accomplishes everything he sets out to do. 

Regaining trust of city residents and employees would be a top priority, Kroll said.

Kroll said he would seek to foster a sense of cooperation between the mayor and Council members, saying that the relationship should be more “collaborative and less combative.”

Kroll emphasized that he does not foresee any conflicts of interest if he is appointed mayor. 

Kroll said he would give his earnings during his first 30-45 days as mayor back to the city. 

He also said he would be willing to conduct a nationwide search for a new city police chief, but would prefer hiring somebody who knows the city. Current police chief Glen Dorney recently accepted a new position as South Whitehall Township’s new chief. Dorney’s last day with the Allentown Police Department will be April 6.

An incident in which Kroll was attacked on the Philadelphia subway “forever changed my life,” leading him to develop a heightened appreciation of the police department, he said.

Noting that the city potentially faces up to an $8 million budget deficit, Kroll said, he would look for other solutions before considering raising taxes to bring in revenue.

Citizens should see that the city is “exhausting every single possibility” before raising taxes, Kroll said, noting that he would go through “every single line item” in the budget to ensure there is no waste. 

Kroll said his experience in handling operating budgets and weighing the needs of individuals versus those of an organization would guide him in running the city.

Ray O'Connell

Candidate Ray O’ Connell, who served eight years on Allentown City Council, would restore trust in city government by reforming the ethics board, developing relationships with city staff and by “making sure that our fiscal house is in order,” according to his cover letter to City Council.

O’Connell said in his cover letter that the city Ethics Board should be run by impartial members, and not by people selected by City Council.

“Serving the people of Allentown has been my life’s work,” O’Connell said. 

City families should have easy access to playgrounds, spray parks and green space, O’Connell said.

City employees are the “lifeline” of the city, O’Connell said. If appointed mayor, he would implement an employee of the month program for every city department to show appreciation for their hard work, O’Connell said.

O’ Connell would establish a committee that would find ways to cut costs to deal with the city’s deficit and reduce healthcare and pension costs.

Cooperation between the mayor and City Council members is “essential to the success of this great city,” O’ Connell said, saying he would work to develop a good relationship with Council.

Council asked O’Connell about city solicitor Dan McCarthy’s ruling that he was not eligible to run because a year had not passed since his term as a City Council member expired.

O’Connell said the solicitor’s ruling was an opinion, a suggestion, and that Council had a right not to agree with it, O’Connell said. 

When asked how he would deal with people who believe that he should not have been interviewed, O’Connell said he would simply “look people in the eye and say, ‘let’s move forward.’”

When asked whether he would seek to run for mayor in the 2019 election, O’Connell said “I can’t give you an answer” to that question, but could only say that he loved the city, and that is why he is seeking to be appointed by Council.

Council member Ed Zucal said that O’Connell deserves the right to be interviewed by Council in light of his service to the city. 

O’Connell said he would like to see City Council hold meetings in various city neighborhoods, rather than in City Hall.

In response to a question of whether he would give preference to local residents in searching for a new city police chief, O’Connell said he would like to see “homegrown” people running city departments. 

O’Connell said he would not be in favor of conducting a nationwide search for a new police chief. 

“Our best days are ahead of us,” O’ Connell said in concluding remarks. 

Cheryl Johnson Watts

Candidate Cheryl Johnson Watts, a member of the Allentown School Board, said she wants to see Allentown become a “world-class city.”

Watts said that, as a financial advisor, she learned about disparities in employment and income throughout the city by sitting down with hundreds of families and helping them through financial difficulties.

Many children have parents working two or three jobs and therefore do not get the attention that they deserve, Watts said.

Watts said she would create several task forces to deal with various situations facing the city, including pension costs and public safety.

Instituting a summer youth employment program would be a priority, Watts said. 

Watts said she would go through the budget and cut nonessential spending to deal with the city’s deficit.

When asked whether she would raise taxes, Watts said she would look for other ways to deal with the deficit before she considers that possibility.

Watts said she would run again in 2019 if she were appointed mayor. 

Everett Bickford

Candidate Everett Bickford said she has served the city in many capacities, such as being a block watch captain and a Third Ward judge of elections.  

Bickford said she was the first elected transgender person in the Commonwealth.

Her experience in public life gave her the opportunity to get to know city residents well, Bickford said. 

Bickford said she had been serving the public pro bono for about 50 years and has had political experience.

When asked how she would improve public safety, Bickford said that she would try to find funding to hire more police officers.

Bickford said she would sit with department heads and ask them what their needs and goals are.

Bickford said she would raise taxes if needed, but would raise them across the board so that no one income group bears too much of a burden. 

“Fair and equitable taxation” should be a city goal, Bickford said.

Video report by WFMZ's Josh Rultenberg

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