In a news release, Mary Grant, a Food & Water Watch researcher who specializes in water privatization issues, called the solicitor’s ruling “outrageous.”

“The city didn’t impose such a restriction on earlier referendum efforts,” said Grant. “And why does it matter who circulates the petitions? The signatures are the important factor, and only those of Allentown voters are counted.”

Asked about the solicitor's opinion which was prepared for City Council, Mike Moore, Pawlowski’s spokesman in City Hall, said, "I can’t speak to the petition requirement. The petitioners have not had any discussions with our office."

A Food & Water Watch spokesman said others were distributing pro-lease materials on behalf of the mayor at the same polling stations where referendum petition signatures were being sought Tuesday and that Pawlowski himself visited at least a couple of them.

Sam Bernhardt, Pennsylvania organizer of Food & Water Watch, said he witnessed Pawlowski asking people not to sign petitions at one polling station.

“In coming out to polling places today and personally trying to dissuade voters from signing a petition that would allow for a referendum on his city water privatization plan, Mayor Pawlowski has demonstrated a clear fear of the will of the people he serves,” said Bernhardt. “If the mayor were confident in the virtue of the plan he espouses, he would be eager to put it up for a vote. Clearly he isn’t, or he wouldn’t be so desperate to avoid a public referendum on the matter.”

“The mayor might have had a right to do that,” said Eichenwald, “but it was not the right thing to do.”

In a written statement, Mayor Pawlowski told 69 News, “I haven’t organized any opposition to the referendum petition. Four people are observing various polling places to make sure that the petition process is done in the proper manner. We have gotten reports that circulators are telling people that the city will be selling the plants. We have spent nearly four months educating people about a proposed Lease/Concession. We can’t allow a distortion of the facts. We are seeking to make sure that individuals are getting the correct information.”