This article is part of a series of The Brown and White to profile current Bethlehem council members running for re-election in November 2019. To read more in this series, visit thebrownandwhite.com.
Bethlehem Councilwoman Paige Van Wirt, a Democrat, is running for re-election on the city council.
Van Wirt was appointed in March 2018 when previous council member Eric Evans vacated a spot after becoming the city’s business administrator. Van Wirt’s strong write-in campaign in the general election of 2017, which garnered 1,700 people to write her name in, was one of the reasons the council voted for her in a 5-1 tally.
“The first year, it’s pretty difficult to actually introduce ordinances yourself or do anything,” Van Wirt said. “I think I spent a large part of my time trying to understand how the city functions and how to use the city council as a strong form of check on the power of the mayor.”
She said an important issue that has been highlighted of late is parking in Bethlehem. Van Wirt asked a lot of questions about the logistics of parking, such as questioning parking authority finances and the reason to raise fines.
“What we should be doing is lowering the parking fines to attract more people,” Van Wirt said.
Adam Waldron is also a council member and voted to appoint Van Wirt last year. Waldron said he will continue to support her during the next election.
“I think Paige (Van Wirt) brings a great deal of experience based on what she’s done in the past, as well as a very thoughtful approach to the council,” Waldron said. “I think she does an excellent job researching and thinking outside of the box.”
Councilman Michael Colón, who is also seeking re-election along with councilman William Reynolds, also voted to appoint her last year and respects that she always comes in to any topic with knowledge and relevant information.
Van Wirt said she is reconceptualizing how the city could look in 20 years. She said she doesn’t think building more parking garages is the solution, and proposed a “circulator bus” that runs from the South Side to the North Side that is free or costs one dollar and is funded by the Chamber of Commerce.
Van Wirt and Colón are also both supporters of the pedestrian bridge project.
“It’s an idea that has been kicked around in Bethlehem for a long time,” Colón said. “Right now, the city is looking to do a feasibility study for it to see how that would work. Something like that could potentially be expensive.”
While he hears more people talking about road conditions than sidewalk issues, Colón said Van Wirt is serious about improving Bethlehem walkability.
“During the most recent budget hearing, the mayor (Rob Donchez) is proposing to take a large amount from the tax that we get from the sale of the casino, it’s a one time cash infusion, and using that to catch up with street paving which is behind,” Van Wirt said. “I advocated for taking a small portion of that money and using it to help our sidewalks. That was not seen as an important thing for the mayor.”
Issues aside, Van Wirt stressed the importance of civic engagement and getting involved. She said she doesn’t consider others running for council as challengers.
“I have nothing but good things to say about the people who are running,” she said. “I’m just so happy that the people of Bethlehem have a choice.”