Meet the candidates vying to be Bethlehem’s next mayor

Written by on October 29, 2021

Meet the candidates vying to be Bethlehem’s next mayor

By Megan Frank

October 29, 2021

Democratic city Councilman J. William Reynolds [Left] and his Republican candidate John Kachmar [Right]. Courtesy photos.

Next week, Bethlehem residents will vote for a new mayor. 

Current Mayor Bob Donchez has reached his term limit.  Republican candidate John Kachmar is a newcomer to city politics. Democratic City Councilman William Reynolds’ political career spans over a decade.  

Listen to the story.

On the bleachers at Bernie Fritz Park, about six blocks from the house he grew up in, Reynolds said the neighborhood hasn’t changed much since he was a kid. 

“I played a lot of basketball on that court right there in front of us. I played basketball for Liberty and played basketball for Moravian. I took a lot of jump shots over there with my dad rebounding for me.  And those are memories that are very special to me,” Reynolds said.

In 2007, Reynolds became the youngest person ever elected to Bethlehem City Council. 

“I’ve definitely learned over the past 14 years that nobody does anything alone,” Reynolds said.

Now he’s 40, and Reynolds said he’s ready to lead the city he grew up in and never really left.  He’s a William Allen High School teacher, and he bought a home with his wife two blocks from the park. Reynolds said people who call Bethlehem home are “resilient.”

“I really believe that Bethlehem is at the dawn of its next great day. Take a look at just how investment is coming into the city, how much interest there is in living in Bethlehem,” Reynolds said.

He said he wants to steer the city towards further development, expand tourism and keep housing affordable. 

“Rent is a huge, huge piece of that,” Reynolds said. “If your wages aren’t going up, but all of your bills are going up, that’s going to put a further dent in your pocketbook. Bethlehem’s always been a place that people have been able to move no matter what your income level is, no matter what your education level is.”

That sentiment is one that Reynolds’ opponent, Republican John Kachmar, shares. 

On a recent Monday morning, he was in the city’s South Side at Santiago Cigar Lounge, which is owned and operated by a Dominican woman. He points to this community as one that was developed with care towards the people who live here.

 “I think we need to watch our development here on the South Side and what we allow to develop,” Kachmar said. “We need to make sure that we’re putting in buildings and complexes and businesses that fit.” 

Kachmar has never held elected office, but said he has the chops required. He’s worked in government for more than 25 years, and served as an administrator in Lehigh County

“So, I’ve supervised everything from animal shelters to very sophisticated large public works departments,” Kachmar said.

Kachmar said he wants to lower taxes and rein in city spending. 

“They’ve raised taxes three out of the last four years. They also increased the water rate 8% for homeowners and 12% for commercial properties. All in a pandemic year,” Kachmar said.

But Bethlehem hasn’t had a Republican mayor in 25 years.  

Don Cunningham was mayor of the city in the late 90s. He now heads up the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation.

“The last Republican mayor was Ken Smith, who I succeeded,” Cunningham said. “But prior to that, you know, Bethlehem was a city that liked Republicans and Democrats, and certainly that’s possible again.”

He said the next mayor needs to keep development going, and balance the city’s checkbook.

“The job of mayor is first and foremost keeping the city safe and clean. And keeping the finances in order, which requires balancing the things you want to do with the cost of them,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said coming off the pandemic, the region needs to rebuild its downtowns, bring tourists back and restart the economy to help Bethlehem get back on track.

Voters make their choice on Tuesday, Nov. 2. 

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