As of Monday, January 23, there are six announced Democratic candidates for the Mayor of Allentown. There is also one Democrat turned Republican now in the race.
With so many candidates, the number of votes needed to secure the nomination is not that easy to discern, but I have given it a shot.
First, let us take a look at Mayoral primary turnout since 2005. In 2005, there were three Democrats on the Ballot. There were 6670 ballots cast in the Democratic primary. Ed Pawlowski won the nomination with just 2692 votes (40.4%). Sam Bennett came in second, garnishing 2154 votes (32.6%). Louie Belletieri came in a very competitive third with 1824 votes (26.9%).
At that time there were about 41,500 registered Democrats in Allentown, which means barely 16% of the eligible voters participated in choosing the mayoral nominee. When you really look at it, the mayor was chosen by less than 7% of the Eligible Democratic voters, 2692 of approx. 41,500.
In 2009, Pawlowski was challenged by Dick Nepon, who was easily defeated 3571 (86%) to 577 (14%). There were only 4048 votes cast that year in the Democratic Primary. In 2009, there were just over 42,000 registered Dems, so less than 10% of the Dems made the decision that Pawlowski get another term.
Moving on to 2013, Ed Pawlowski was unopposed, and turnout dropped even lower, as he received 2583 votes. No one was on the republican ballot, and his campaign ran a mailer asking Republicans to write him in, He needed 100 to do that, and he received 139 write in votes. So Ed was in fact, the candidate of both Republican and Democratic parties. He was challenged by former Councilman Mike Donovan as an Independent in the November general election, in which he eked out a surprisingly small victory of 5845 to 3602 votes over an underfunded opponent. Imagine that, winning a third term with less than 8 % of the overall registered voters in Allentown voting.
Which brings me to my projection for the 2017 mayoral primary turnout. It can be argued that when voters don't think they can make a difference, they will be indifferent. And with Ed Pawlowski having no true challenger in the primaries since his first run in 2005, It is no surprise that the number of participating voters in local municipal elections has kept sloping downwards since 2005. It didn't help that his lack of challengers enabled him to keep a slate of bobbleheaded followers on City Council during that time.
But 2017 is going to be different, I believe the number of voters is going to rise after more than a decade of gradually dropping. Having six candidates on the Democratic side really opens up the choices for prospective voters. I will start with the longestshots and work my way up from there.
Five of the six candidates have run for office or been elected before. Only newcomer and recent Seton Hall graduate Joshua Siegel is a political virgin who will have to build a voter base from scratch. Nathan Woodring once served on Wilson Borough in Northampton County, and despite getting a few dozen write in votes in recent municipal elections over the last decade. will also be fighting a battle to make a name for himself. I would put Siegel ahead of Woodring at this point, as he brings fresh young energy to the race and it would not surprise me closer to election day if the top contenders attempt to take some of his ideas as their own.
Next comes District three County Commissioner David Jones. Four years ago he had a tough challenge to keep his Commissioner seat, I believe his intentions are good and that he would be a capable Mayor due to his experience at the County Level. I just don't believe he can garner the City wide support outside district three to win the nomination. Next comes Sam Bennett. While she has never been elected to office, She has worked tirelessly locally and nationwide to further the opportunities of woman in elected office. She is separate from the stain of Pawlowski, but also has the connections to raise the money needed to get her message across. Does she have baggage? Yes, but it is nowhere near as heavy as that of our next contestant, Incumbent Mayor FED ED Pawlowski
How does one facing an impending indictment find the gall to announce a re-election campaign for an improbable fourth term? In all of the Mayor's previous campaign announcements over the last decade, (and there were many, for many different offices) he was always surrounded by his family and dozens, if not hundreds of supporters in a public place. This time he did it on facebook, all by himself. It was a litany of accomplishments in Center City, ignoring the fact that all he really did was make a millionaire named J.B. Reilley into a Billionaire. It is telling to me that he is standing as a man apart from the rest of the field. I don't believe he is going to have the money to bankroll the campaign needed to drive off challengers like he did the last two times out. But I won't count him out, and at the end, you will read why.
So now we come to the two candidates with the best shot at unseating the Mayor, Allentown School Board member Charlie Thiel, and City Council President Ray O'Connell. O'Connell has seized the high ground as a foil to Pawlowski, and he helped negotiate a truce in the budget battle. O'Connell will have support from the public sector Unions which is critical to being a viable candidate. Charlie Thiel has the backing and resources of behind the scennes mover and shaker Jennifer Mann. Mann made a name for herself in the State legislature and has a hide that is tough as nails. She doesn't take a lot of crap from anybody and she plays to win. She will get Thiel the resources he needs to compete. That's why I put him at the top with O'Connell, because both have the stones and backing to go toe to toe with the mayor.
I honestly think it is a four person race, with Bennett, Pawlowski, Thiel, and O'Connell the best players, but having one of the others crack that top four or burst through is entirely possible.
So in a six person contest for one seat, how many votes will the winner need?
I project that Turnout by Democrats in Allentown will likely be between 13 and 15%, or approximately 5200 to 5600 voters. Remember, only 6670 turned out in the last real contested primary in 2005, and Allentown's Demographic has shifted sharply in the last decade, There are more rental units than ever, and renters are the least likely of all voters. Throw in growing voter dissatisfaction with government at all levels, and I kind of think I might be shooting too high, but I think I am about right. I would like to say that having so many candidates will bring many new voters out in May 2017, but I don't see it.
To win a six person dogfight like I expect this to be, The winner will need 1450+ votes. That is approximately 28% of projected turnout. I expect the top four to all break 18%, and get close to 1000 votes. Remember, you don't need a majority, just a plurality. That is how the current Mayor won with 40% in 2005.
The last item is this: Ed Pawlowski has an extremely loyal, if not all that large base. He is already playing the victim card in the local communities portraying himself as a victim of media distortion and vindictive government officials. Kind of reminds me of a guy who just won a national election.
Anyway, I predict that Ed Pawlowski gets at least 1150 votes. He could win this thing, even if he gets indicted before election day. I don't have faith in Allentown voters, because they have a history of being complacent sheep. If Washington D.C could elect Marion Barry Mayor again after he was caught on tape smoking crack, I have no doubt that phone tapes of Ed Pawlowski soliciting contributions won't mean a damn thing.
Coming up Next Time: What does Nat Hyman do for this race?