The primary race for Allentown Mayor heats up

Written by on May 17, 2021

The primary race for Allentown Mayor heats up

By Brad Klein and Genesis Ortega

May 17, 2021

“Vote!” by kgroovy is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

WLVR’s Brad Klein and Genesis Ortega talk about the state of the Allentown mayoral Democratic primary race. Four candidates, including incumbent Ray O’Connell are seeking the nomination to face off against Republican, Tim Ramos in November. Reporter, Genesis Ortega says the race has become increasingly divisive and personal.

Listen to the story.

Brad Klein

“Genesis, thanks for joining us.” 

Genesis Ortega

“Thanks for having me, Brad.”

Klein

“Let’s start with an outline of the race. The incumbent is Democrat Ray O’Connell. He’s seeking reelection after completing the term of Ed Pawlowski, who was convicted on corruption charges. Who are the three Democratic challengers trying for his job?”

Ortega

“Well , you have two incumbent city council people, Ce-Ce Gerlach and Julio Guridy, and then you also have Matt Tuerk who’s a former economic development official.” 

Klein

“As a careful observer of the race and of politics in the Valley, what are you seeing on the Democratic side?”

Ortega

“Well, as of late, people have noticed that the race has just become so divisive and so personal. It’s gone so much further than policy and who’s raised taxes in the past. It’s much more a personal attack on people’s character and integrity.”

Klein

“Is it fair to say that some of the tension that we’re seeing in the race is reflecting changing populations and even the power structure of Allentown?” 

Ortega

“I think it’s definitely interesting to know, you know, this is a historic year for Allentown and Lehigh County politics. We’ve seen just so much diversity in the pool of candidates that are throwing their hat in the ring for these elected positions. And you look at the candidates running for city council, the majority of them have diverse roots are African American or Latino, even county commissioners, which is a position that really no one really talked about and there wasn’t a focus on. And then when we talk specifically about candidates for Mayor of Allentown, it’s interesting because this is a city that’s always been led by a white male. And so this year in this race, we’re seeing that four of the five candidates have diverse roots.” 

Klein

“And we should say it’s a really diverse population in the city. In fact, its majority is Hispanic.” 

Ortega

“That’s correct. So 53% of the city’s population is Hispanic or Latino, and close to 30% is African American.”

Klein

“So this divisiveness, these personal attacks that you’re talking about, how have those manifested in the race?”

Ortega

“It’s progressed gradually. So you have a candidate who was accused of using his Latino identity to get votes to pander to the community, but not doing enough for Latinos.” 

Klein

“And that’s Julio Guridy.”

Ortega

“That’s correct, right. And then you have another candidate who was accused of actually pandering to the community by saying that he was raised by a single Black mother, and that’s Matt Tuerk.” 

Klein

“And pivoting to Ce-Ce Gerlach, she’s taken a certain amount of heat for positions she took during the protests last year for racial justice in the Lehigh Valley.” 

Ortega

“That’s correct, Brad, yeah, she’s taken on a significant amount of heat. It’s also important to note here that she is the only woman in the race and she’s the only woman of color. I had the opportunity to host a debate last week with all five mayoral candidates and after the debate, I went up to her, you know, to give her a fist bump and say great job like I did to all the other candidates. And I just looked in her eyes, Brad, and I could see, you know, and this might be the woman’s intuition that I have, but I could feel the pain that she had. I could see it in her eyes. And I know it hasn’t been easy. It’s never easy being a woman in politics, but I could tell that she is garnering a lot of heat in this race.”

Klein

“So no spoilers, of course. And it’s not really possible anyway in politics, but do we have an idea how the primary may turn out how the general election may go?” 

Ortega

“There’s no advance polling at this point, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s anyone’s race at this point. The Morning Call did release an article earlier this week about what it will take to win the Democratic mayoral nomination in Allentown. And I think it’s interesting that they project that 6,000 voters will come out to the polls on May 18. So it’s possible that Allentown’s next mayor will win by a couple of hundred votes, really, if you divide them by the four candidates. And so what really it comes down to is that the West End of Allentown might be the one to decide this race historically. They’ve just been out to the polls in the primaries in larger numbers and other parts of the city.”

Klein

“And the West End is wealthier, whiter and older than Allentown in general.”

Ortega

“That’s correct. They even said in the article that the median age of voters is 62 years old.” 

Klein

“Thanks so much for joining us, Genesis.”

Ortega

“Thank you, Brad.”

Klein

“WLVR’s Genesis Ortega covers politics and much, much more.”

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