Allentown voters weren’t surprised when federal prosecutors finally indicted Mayor Ed Pawlowski in a pay-to-play scheme last week after a four- year investigation. But they’re wondering what’s next and whether the popular mayor will step down.
It seems like everyone in Allentown agrees: Ed Pawlowski has done a lot for the city, especially the downtown.
Today, hip eateries and craft beer breweries dot the west end of Hamilton Street not far from the $177 million PPL Center, home to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the American Hockey League. But not too long ago, this area was a ghost town.
Miguel Morales owns 904 West Restaurant & Lounge downtown. He credits Pawlowski’s push for development for his establishment’s success.
“We’ve come a long, long way,” Morales said. “I would say four or five years ago, if you wanted to eat something good, you would have to go to Philly. Now we can actually go downtown. I’m not saying it was all Pawlowski but he was mayor when it was happening.”
Rose Craig, vice president for development and communications at Communities in Schools, said she felt “a great deal of sadness” when she heard the 52-year-old mayor had been indicted.
Craig and Pawlowski go back more than 20 years. When Pawlowski first arrived in the Lehigh Valley from Chicago, Craig was one of the people who introduced him to influential politicians and business leaders in Allentown.
“He was a guy who had a lot on the ball,” said Craig, whose nonprofit helps students graduate high school. “He opened communities for minorities in town. He had a natural instinct for building community.”
Pawlowski has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to run for a fourth term. But many in local government, including Lehigh County Commissioner David Jones, have called on him to step down.
“I believe in innocent until proven guilty. That’s the law. But politics has always been about the arena of public opinion,” said Jones, who ran against Pawlowski in the May Democratic primary.
Jones said Pawlowski would be making a huge mistake if he stayed in office.
“It’s a violation of trust,” Jones said. “I don’t think he has the moral authority to lead the city any longer.”
But Morales says Pawlowski has built up so much good will in Allentown that if he does run against Republican challenger Nat Hyman in November, he could possibly win in a city that’s solidly Democratic.
“He’s well-liked,” Morales said, “except for the people who are Republicans.”