The Allentown Coalition for Economic Dignity has confirmed that there will be a debate with all the candidates running for mayoral and city council positions to discuss issues within the community in Allentown on April 18.
The candidates running for mayor are incumbent Mayor Raymond O’Connell (D), Cheryl Johnson-Watts (D), Patrick Palmer (D), Michael Daniels (D) and Tim Ramos (R).
For city council, incumbents Candida Affa (D) and Courtney Robinson (D) will appear alongside challengers Ce-Ce Gerlach (D), Joshua Siegel (D), John Rosario (D), Joe Hoffman (R) and Luis Acevedo (D).
A press release about the event highlighted the high rent prices in Allentown, stagnant wages and an annual structural deficit of $5 million as compelling reasons for each candidate to discuss his or her priorities and policy agenda.
The debate will be held at the Resurrected Life Community Church, 144 N. Ninth St. The mayoral debate will last from 6:30-7:30 p.m., with the city council debate to immediately follow.
Gregory Edwards, a former Congressional candidate, will moderate the event. At the time of the press release, over 360 potential voters expressed interest in attending the event on Facebook.
“My job is to ensure that candidates are responding to the questions and also to ensure that candidates are responding to each other if they believe a particular candidate says something that could be deemed as questionable,” Edwards said.
According to Allison Mickel, an Allentown Coalition for Economic Dignity media representative, the issues that are going to be covered include economic policy, safety, policing and affordable housing.
“We are also going to discuss how each of the candidates plans on making the city a more inclusive and welcoming place through policy initiatives as well as more general reforms,” Mickel said. “Environment and sustainability and equity and diversity will be more of an overarching theme throughout the debate,” Mickel said.
In efforts to prevent Allentown residents from feeling misrepresented in the debate, the Allentown Coalition for Economic Dignity published a survey on Facebook for the residents to identify which issues that they think should be covered most heavily in the debate.
The survey showed affordable housing was the most important issue to voters, receiving 44 votes. Mickel said Allentown had the highest rent to income ratio in the country in 2017.
The second most pressing issue based on the survey was policing with 26 votes.
Chris Woods of the Allentown Coalition for Economic Dignity emphasized how important it is for Allentown residents to show up and become engaged in the upcoming election.
“The debate is free and open to the public,” Woods said. “And there is no registration — whoever shows up is welcome. The room should accommodate a few hundred people, so we hope everyone who shows up is able to watch.”
Residents will not be able to ask questions during the debate due to time restrictions. Mickel said it was important to give all the candidates ample time for discussion and rebuttal.
“This will help (Allentown residents) be able to see the differences in their platforms, because sometimes when you have audience questions, people end up affirming each other’s answers, and it doesn’t allow for that kind of critical response to one another that we are really hoping to get,” Mickel said.
The Allentown Coalition for Economic Dignity classifies their mission to “address racial and economic inequities currently occurring in the development of the City of Allentown.”
At this point, all candidates for the open positions within Allentown are set, as all candidates had to submit petitions to Lehigh County by March 12 in order to make the ballot for the primary elections on May 21. The general elections will be held Nov. 5.