The Democratic candidates for Bethlehem City Council – including two incumbents – swept the three seats up for grabs, despite a spirited challenge from Republicans who made the city’s recent financial struggles the center of their campaigns.
In the end, however, all of the GOP candidates lagged more than 1,000 votes behind their Democratic foes in an “off-year” election, which had predictably poor turnout.
The two incumbents – Council President Robert Donchez and Councilman J. William Reynolds – were the top vote getters, according to the unofficial results gleaned from the websites of Northampton and Lehigh counties.
For Donchez, 61, this will be his fifth term on council. For Reynolds, it will be his second.
Newcomer Michael Recchiuti, who was the Democratic nominee picked to replace retiring Councilman Gordon Mowrer, picked up 4,231 votes to finish third, according to the unofficial results. Donchez picked up 5,153 votes, while Reynolds had 4,447.
Thomas Carroll was the top Republican vote-getter. The attorney and nephew of Councilwoman Jean Belinski finished with 3,032 votes. Tony Simao had 2,802 votes, while Al Bernotas had 2,607.
The results are not official until they are certified by the Boards of Elections in both counties.
Throughout most of the city, turnout appeared to be poor. In West Bethlehem’s 13th Ward, 7th District, at , there had only been 60 voters by mid-afternoon. Only 59 voters had turned out in South Bethlehem’s Second Ward by 6:30 p.m.
“Typically, when there is no race at the national level, turnout is very poor,” said Rob Messenlehner, the judge of elections in the Second Ward.
Back in West Bethlehem, at , the turnout in the 1st and 5th Districts of the 13th Ward was better – combining for more than 500 voters, but it was still a disappointment to some.
“When you bring out only 25 or 30 percent out to vote, that’s pretty sad,” said Paul McDonald, judge of elections for the 13-5.
It has been more than a decade since a Republican held a seat on City Council.
The Republican candidates campaigned largely on fiscal matters, criticizing the recent handling of the city’s debt and accusing their opponents of enabling financial mismanagement by Mayor John Callahan.
Early on, they also came out as defenders of the city’s – which enables multiple private operators to contract with city residents, when it appeared that the mayor may have been exploring the possibility of switching to a single-hauler system. However, the Democrats have never seemed supportive of changing the garbage hauling system either.
Carroll, Simao and Bernotas were also critical of the city’s system of selecting members to boards and commissions, which is largely dependent on the mayor. Bernotas, in particular, has been an