Five candidates run for vacancy on city council

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Five candidates are running for an open seat on the Bethlehem City Council. The newly elected council member will be appointed on March 1.

The six-member council is looking to fill the vacancy of Eric Evans, who was chosen to become the city’s new business administrator by Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez.

Michael Colón, a councilman elected in 2016, said the council is looking for someone who is open-minded with strong ideas but is still willing to compromise.

“(Each of us is) one of seven, so no decision is made unilaterally,” Colón said.

Colón said the open seat on the council has not stalled business or interfered with approving the budget, which he said is the council’s most important job.

The five candidates include Gregory Klepeis, a chemist at Ungerer and Co.; Carol Ritter, an executive coach and motivational speaker; Clyde Thomas, a property manager and the current chairman of the Bethlehem Democratic Committee; Paige Van Wirt, a physician in Allentown; and Lynn Rothman, a former chairwoman for the city’s Environmental Advisory Council who reviewed projects for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Klepeis, a lifelong Bethlehem resident, said his experiences as a scientist and an organizer of a Lehigh Valley meet-up group would allow him to make a distinct contribution to the council.

“I have had great success in the community connecting over 2,700 people new to the Lehigh Valley to make new friends, network and feel at home,” Klepeis said. “I want to bring that success to the city council.”

Ritter, who also has strong ties to North and South Bethlehem, said she wants to be on the council to get closer to the community.

“I already have strong, trusting, loyal relationships in both downtowns,” Ritter said. “Those relationships can bring more action from the community in terms of volunteerism and serving on committees.”

Ritter’s primary goals include making Main Street safer and promoting economic development.

Van Wirt, a write-in candidate in last year’s city council election, is also focused on economic development. She said after meeting with thousands of Bethlehem citizens for her previous council bid, she wants to improve walkability, transparency and accessibility in Bethlehem in order to engage more citizens.

Rothman did not return requests for comment.

Although candidates are pressing for change, some feel the community needs to remember Bethlehem’s roots.

“We are in an important part of the history of Bethlehem,” Thomas said. “I want to see a lot of changes, like sustainable growth and more affordable housing. We need to maintain the charm and quaintness that we all love about Bethlehem, while still growing.”

Thomas ran for government positions in Somerville, New Jersey, before moving to Bethlehem 10 years ago. He was the treasurer for the city’s democratic committee before becoming chairman.

Van Wirt, a physician and an entrepreneur, serves assisted living facilities and nursing homes across the Lehigh Valley.

She said she hopes Lehigh students and young adults push for the changes they hope to see in the political system.

“Democracy in action is an energetic experience,” Van Wirt said. “I can’t emphasize enough that the young people are the most important thing in Bethlehem’s political future”

Colón said Lehigh students are an undeniable part of the culture and community of South Bethlehem.

“Students pay attention to what goes on in the Bethlehem government, and many stay in our city after graduation,” Colón said. “I’ve seen a lot of involvement between the campus and the community.”

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