In a city where 25 percent of the population is Hispanic, should an Hispanic be appointed the next member of Bethlehem City Council?
Or, in a city where almost half the population is age 50 and older and as many as 25 percent are 65 and older, does City Council need an advocate for its older residents?
On a City Council where all members live north of the Lehigh River, should council appoint a resident who lives in south Bethlehem?
Or should it appoint someone with Wall Street caliber international financial experience to help guide Bethlehem for the next two years?
Those are some of the tough questions members of City Council are wrestling with this week, after hearing from a dozen applicants for one vacancy during its committee-of-the-whole meeting Monday night.
"This is nearly an impossible decision for us," said new council president J. William Reynolds after the 12 candidates spoke.
One man or woman will be appointed sometime within the next week. He or she will serve through 2015, completing the last two years of the term of former council member Robert Donchez, who was elected Bethlehem's new mayor in November.
Although Donchez is a Democrat, Reynolds said city residents of any political party were able to apply for the vacant seat on council.
Each applicant was given up to five minutes to speak Monday night, a rule carefully enforced by Reynolds. Only a couple of them still were speaking when their time ran out on the red digital clock facing them.
After all the candidates spoke, Reynolds invited anyone in the audience to also speak for five minutes.
The most popular candidate of the night was Sonia Vazquez, a Bethlehem native who is principal at Donegan Community Elementary School in the city.
Seven of the nine people who spoke at the end of the meeting encouraged council to pick Vazquez. They praised her as a talented teacher, a creative administrator, a tireless problem-solver, a community builder and an inspiring leader.
Because the candidates made their pitches in alphabetical order, Vazquez was the last to speak to council.
She said she will provide a perspective that has been missing on City Council.
"Bethlehem reached a 24 percent Latino population during the last census and the number continues to rise, but Latino people remain a disenfranchised group," said Vazquez. "I can provide the perspective you are presently lacking."
Five of council's six current members are male. Five of the candidates to fill the seventh seat are women.
Town Hall was filled with friends and families of the 12 candidates.
Reynolds asked the audience not to applaud until everyone had spoken.
Reynolds said none of the candidates being considered ever served on City Council before, but three have run for council -David Sanders, Stephen Melnick and Ronald Heckman. He said Heckman ran in 2007 and Sanders and Melnick ran last year.
Although council members already had their resumes and cover letters, some candidates stressed their professional and community qualifications more than focusing on what strengths or ideas they will bring to City Council
"Because a large segment of our population is elderly, I would like to give a voice to the elderly," said candidate Marlene Burkey, the first candidate to speak. She said she is an advocate for senior citizens and active with the Steelworkers Archives.
Burkey got the best laugh of the night when she thanked city police and ambulance personnel. "They always come to our high-rise and they're very courteous to us when they are carrying us out...either to the hospital or the morgue."
Michael Colon, coordinator of volunteers at Northampton County's Gracedale nursing home, said he is bi-lingual, which he stressed will be an asset in communicating with Spanish-speaking residents. He said he would not have a problem walking into any neighborhood and knocking on any door to talk to people about issues they may not feel they can bring before City Council.
"I'm a young guy who fell in love with the city he grew up in," said Colon. "I like to show young college graduates that there is opportunity here in the city. They don't have to worry about moving to Philadelphia or moving to New York after they graduate. They can make a life for themselves here."
Colon said he will be effective legislator on behalf of those who live in every corner of the city, as well as those who work in or visit Bethlehem.