Bethlehem mayoral candidates clash in campaign’s only televised debate

Written by on October 29, 2021

Bethlehem mayoral candidates clash in campaign’s only televised debate

By Hayden Mitman

October 29, 2021

From left, Bethlehem mayoral candidates J. William Reynolds and John Kachmar are questioned by co-moderators Sara Satullo and Jen Rehill in a televised debate Oct. 28, 2021, organized by PBS39, WLVR News and lehighvalleylive.com. Photo | WLVR News

Candidates for Bethlehem mayor sparred Thursday night in a televised debate organized by PBS39, WLVR News and lehighvalleylive.com.

Listen to the story.

Democratic city Councilman J. William Reynolds and his Republican opponent John Kachmar clashed on a number of issues, including how Bethlehem should spend more than $30 million in federal funding the city expects from the American Rescue Plan.

Asked how they might use federal funding to help the city rebound from the pandemic, 

Kachmar said he wants to be cautious about spending it. He worries taxes may increase as a result and he argued that city officials weren’t correctly informed on how that money could be used. 

“They’ve got to be careful what they do with that, or, quite frankly, they are going to lose it.” said the 73-year-old newcomer to city politics.

Reynolds, 40, has spent 12 years on city council and praised the federal plan. He said that he would ensure the city balances the immediate needs of the most vulnerable members of the community with paying off existing holes in the budget. 

“If we are able to save money in the long term, it allows us to invest in our neighborhoods, our parks and our people,” Reynolds said.  

The two also disagreed on how to make the city more environmentally friendly. 

Reynolds argued residents want to live in a more walkable and sustainable environment. 

“One of the things that our community wants is to make sure that, when development is going on in the city of Bethlehem, it is smart growth and we have buildings that will help reduce our carbon footprint,” he said.

Kachmar said walkability is only possible in dense, larger cities — and that green building materials don’t cut air pollution and only add to building costs. 

“Bethlehem is 20-plus-some square miles,” Kachmar said. “Walkability might be admirable, but it’s not do-able and you need to look at the cost of creating that walkable community.” 

The candidates also discussed a range of topics such as engaging the city’s Spanish-speaking population, plans for local passenger rail and how to combat homelessness in the city. 

Reynolds and Kachmar are running to fill a seat that will soon be vacated by Mayor Bob Donchez, a Democrat. In his eighth year as mayor, he has reached his term limit. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 2.

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