The Morning Call (Sunday)

Allentown Councilwom­an Gerlach to run for mayor

- By Andrew Wagaman Morning Call reporter Andrew Wagaman can be reached at 484-553-7413 or awagaman@ mcall.com.

A year after being elected to Allentown City Council, Ce-Ce Gerlach is back on the campaign trail.

The Democrat held a drive-in event downtown Saturday afternoon to formally announce she is running for mayor in 2021.

Gerlach, 34, of Center City, has been a prominent community activist the past decade and served on the Allentown School Board from 2012 through 2019. The mental health therapist and former substitute teacher promises to build on her progressiv­e record by fighting for “structural, systemic” reforms related to affordable housing, racial justice and public safety.

“The challenges we face are real, but they are not insurmount­able,” Gerlach said in a news release. “We can house the homeless and ensure that every community has access to fresh food, recreation­al and educationa­l opportunit­ies. We can keep our neighborho­ods safe while also taking a more holistic approach to public safety with a focus on mental health and drug addiction.”

Gerlach has long been critical of the Neighborho­od Improvemen­t Zone and its unique tax subsidies, which have enabled City Center Investment Corp. and other developers to transform downtown. The revitaliza­tion has not lifted lower-income residents in the area, and in many cases, has increased their cost of living, Gerlach has argued. She has advocated for more checks on developmen­t and for inclusiona­ry zoning, a city planning strategy that requires a percentage of new residentia­l developmen­t to be set aside for residents with low to moderate incomes.

Gerlach was a vocal opponent of longtime Mayor Ed Pawlowski and in 2017 actively campaigned on behalf of Ray O’Connell as he made a losing bid to unseat Pawlowski.

The following year, O’Connell was appointed interim mayor after Pawlowski was convicted on nearly 50 corruption counts. In 2019, O’Connell was elected to fill out the final two years of Pawlowski’s fourth term.

Along with freshman city Councilman Joshua Siegel, Gerlach has pushed O’Connell’s administra­tion to embrace a more ambitious social justice reform agenda. Gerlach and Siegel proposed a slew of police reforms following the death of George Floyd by police in Minneapoli­s, and joined local protesters who felt Allentown police officers used excessive force to restrain an intoxicate­d man in July outside a hospital. Among other things, they want more citizen oversight of the police department and a reallocati­on of some police funding toward social workers who would handle mental health and drug-related calls.

Gerlach also spearheade­d a new commission to address issues faced by people experienci­ng homelessne­ss.

O’Connell has not yet decided if he will seek reelection, but regardless, the Democratic field of mayoral candidates is expected to get crowded. Siegel will formally launch his campaign Sunday, and Council Vice President Julio Guridy is also preparing to run.

Matthew Tuerk, a longtime Lehigh Valley economic developmen­t official, announced in October that he would seek the nomination, and Leonard Lightner, O’Connell’s community and economic developmen­t director, said he is considerin­g a run. Nat Hyman, a developer, costume jewelry chain owner and former mayoral candidate, is also expected to throw his hat in the ring. Jessica Lee Ortiz, a former City Council candidate, says she will run as well.

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