There are six candidates running in the spring 2021 primary for four available Bethlehem City Council seats.
Rachel Leon, Hillary Kwiatek and Kiera Wilhelm are the new faces in the race. They will run against one another in addition to current City Council members Bryan Callahan, Grace Crampsie Smith and Olga Negron, each of whom are running for re-election.
Voting for the primary will take place on May 18, 2021.
The Brown and White spoke with the new candidates on their running platforms and goals for the City Council.
Rachel Leon was born and raised in South Bethlehem, a background she said made her fall in love with the city.
Leon said she is passionate about ensuring all Bethlehem residents’ voices are equally heard, regardless of which part of the city they live in.
“Every part of the city is important and needs to be represented,” she said.
Leon said she believes communication is a vital component in making sure all Bethlehem residents have the opportunity to know and discuss what’s going on in their city.
“I believe people would show up to these Zoom meetings about development, if only they knew about these Zoom meetings about development,” she said.
After graduating from Freedom High School, Leon joined the United States Navy. She said her family’s history of service was a motivating factor in her decision to enlist.
Leon said her 10 years in the Navy gave her a unique perspective on navigating interactions with others.
“It really shaped who I am, because at the end of the day, you have to get the job done and you have to be able to work with people,” she said.
Following her service, Leon spent three years working for a non-profit in Hawaii before returning for Bethlehem.
Leon is currently pursuing a global studies degree, with a focus on environmental sustainability from Northampton Community College.
She recently collaborated on the City of Bethlehem Climate Action Plan, and says she has plans to increase sustainability efforts in Bethlehem.
Leon said she is passionate about ensuring affordable, accessible housing, and that she would take a proactive approach to combating the homelessness issue on the rise in Bethlehem.
Hillary Kwiatek is a communications specialist at Lehigh University.
While this is her first run for City Council, Kwiatek is not an entirely new face to Bethlehem politics. She unsuccessfully ran for Lehigh County Commissioner in 2009.
“Bethlehem is the first place I’ve ever lived where I felt truly connected as a community member, where I felt that my actions could have impact,” she said.
Kwiatek said she has been active in politics the entire time she’s lived in Bethlehem, supporting other candidates and serving as a member and officer of the Bethlehem City Democratic Committee. She said she had been thinking about running for office again for quite some time, and that the inequality exposed by the pandemic and the events surrounding the murder of George Floyd in 2020 were catalysts for her renewed effort.
Kwiatek said she views many of her ideas as interwoven in terms of working towards a more equitable community.
She said she wants to make sure Black and Latinx Bethlehem residents are offered equal access to sustainable amenities such as parks and green spaces and ensure that local Black and Latinx-owned businesses are offered the same resources as white-owned businesses.
Kwiatek said she is committed to examining public safety as not just a policing issue, but also as a human services and mental health issue. She said she hopes to work towards fostering an anti-racist police force.
Kwiatek also said she has ambitions to increase access to affordable housing and end homelessness in Bethlehem.
“I love Bethlehem and I’m very optimistic about it,” she said. “I think it can be even better than it is now, and I’m just excited and hope folks will vote for me.”
Kiera Wilhelm began attending Moravian College in 1989 and she said Bethlehem has been in her heart ever since.
After receiving an M.A. in Education from Harvard University and furthering her career in education and nonprofit arts administration in the Boston area, Wilhelm returned to Bethlehem. She has been the Director of Fig Bethlehem, a local magazine publication, for the past four years.
Wilhelm said her position at Fig has given her the opportunity to work closely with local small businesses. She said continuing to ensure small business owners have the resources they need to survive and succeed is a priority of hers.
Wilhem said she also has plans to increase diversity, inclusion, racial justice and equality in Bethlehem, promote sustainability and increase Bethlehem’s accessible and affordable housing options.
Wilhelm said encouraging communication between Bethlehem residents and City Council is important to her. She said her vision for future communication includes “a user-friendly, digital presence that doesn’t just wait for people to come to it, but lets people know that it’s there and exactly how they can use it.”
In addition to Fig, Wilhelm has extensive volunteer experience within Bethlehem, which she said motivated her to become more involved in the community.
“Regardless of whether it’s the YWCA, or the IceHouse, or the Bach Choir of Bethlehem or any of the other projects that I’ve been involved in, I think it’s the opportunity to meet with people who live here, work here, play here, invest their time here, that has been the greatest inspiration,” she said.
Wilhelm said running for Council felt like a natural next step to take her dedication to the community to the next level.
“The more I got to know what was going on here, the more I wanted to know,” she said. “And the more involved I got, the more involved I wanted to get.”