Meet the candidates running for Bethlehem’s next mayor

Written by on May 11, 2021

Bethlehem will have a new mayor by the end of the year

By Megan Frank

May 11, 2021

Bethlehem City Hall. Photo | Courtesy of The Brown and White.

Mayor Bob Donchez is wrapping up his second term and term limits prevent him from running again.

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The sole Republican candidate is former Lehigh County Administrator John Kachmar.

Democratic candidates include Dana Grubb, a former city finance specialist and Bethlehem City Councilman J. William Reynolds.

Democratic candidate for mayor Dana Grubb says one of his favorite spots in the city is the former Bethlehem Steel site now known as SteelStacks

His grandfather and other family members once worked at the mill.

“When I walk over here, I can feel and I can see those steelworkers,” Grubb says.

Grubb, 70, was born and raised in Bethlehem. He spent 27 years working in the city’s Grants and Community Development departments. 

“I used to go out and ride with the paramedics twice a year to familiarize myself with the operation. I had Code Enforcement, Housing Inspections, Housing Rehab and the city’s Recycling Bureau,” Grubb says 

He says his work helped to secure tax increment financing for the linear park over the SteelStacks. If elected mayor, Grubb says he’d like to scout for more tourism-boosting projects for the reclaimed industrial site.

“I mean, there’s still a lot of work to be done over here at the plant site,” Grubb says.

Some people remember Grubb for a 2004 scuffle with the city’s Environmental 

Health Director Harvey Joseph. Police charged both men with disorderly conduct. The mayor at the time, John Callahan, told them they could retire or be fired.  

“We were held accountable. Do I wish it wouldn’t have happened? Absolutely,” Grubb says. 

Grubb supports police reform and wants to re-establish the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. 

Republican candidate for mayor John Kachmar said in a phone interview that If he is elected, he would be the first Republican mayor of Bethlehem in 24 years. 

The former Lehigh County administrator says he wasn’t initially interested in politics. At the age of 15, he entered a seminary.

“I was there for maybe 18 months [and] found out what they were talking about when they said celibacy and I discovered the opposite gender,” Kachmar says.

The 73-year-old has served as a U.S. Marine and worked as an aide to formerU.S. Rep. Don Ritter (R-Lehigh)

“I’ve got the experience and the leadership ability,” Kachmar says. 

He wants to take a closer look at city spending. 

“I would hire a forensic accountant to do an informational study on their finances and what they have been doing, and I would make that report public,” Kachmar says.

The other Democratic candidate for mayor, City Councilman William Reynolds,  recently was canvassing the neighborhood around Moravian College wearing a blue “Reynolds for Mayor” face mask.

In addition to being on city council, Reynolds, 39, is also a full-time teacher at William Allen High School. He says he has picked up a lot of insight from his students.  

“What I’ve learned from them is what they think works in the world and what they think doesn’t work in the world. We are a diversified community, and our identity as a city is going to be a place where everyone is welcome,” Reynolds says. 

This is Reynolds’ second bid for mayor. He has the support of some political heavyweights in the region, including Mayor Bob Donchez and U.S. Rep. Susan Wild (D-Lehigh).

Reynolds says his focus as a candidate is helping the city recover from the pandemic. 

“When Bethlehem Steel closed, Bethlehem was at an inflection point. We have the same type of moment coming out of the pandemic. We need to attract new jobs, we need to invest in our downtowns, we need to get more people living downtown,” Williams says. 

The primary election for Bethlehem’s mayoral race will take place on Tuesday, May 18.

WLVR and sister station PBS39 will simulcast a debate between the Democratic candidates at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 13. 

The event is a collaboration among PBS39, WLVR, Lehigh Valley Live and the Hispanic Center of the Lehigh Valley and will be co-moderated by WLVR News Director Jen Rehill and veteran Lehigh Valley Live journalist Kurt Bresswein.

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