ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — After a rules fight, a deadlock and a dozen rounds of voting, a former president of the City Council has been chosen as the interim mayor to replace a former mayor convicted of trading city contracts for campaign cash.
Council members on Thursday night chose former president Ray O’Connell, who will serve through the end of next year, the day before the city’s next mayor elected by voters will be sworn in.
“I will run city government with openness and transparency,” O’Connell said. “I will talk to all the stakeholders. No one will be shut out from my administration.”
The city’s solicitor had issued a legal opinion that O’Connell, who mounted two campaigns for mayor last year, couldn’t be selected due to a charter provision barring members from taking paid positions for a year, but council members voted 4-3 to override the decision.
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Former mayor Ed Pawlowski stepped down earlier this month following his conviction on charges including bribery, attempted extortion and lying to the FBI. The Democrat, who denied wrongdoing, was only two months into his fourth term. He remains free pending sentencing.
O’Connell, an eight-year council member and former school administrator, came closest to beating Pawlowski in May’s seven-way race for the Democratic nomination for mayor. He waged a write-in campaign in November.
O’Connell has vowed to look for more revenue sources for Allentown, the state’s third-largest city, and says the city should push for payment in lieu of tax agreements with tax-exempt nonprofits. He said he wants to fill the soon-to-be-vacant police chief position with an internal candidate but would be willing to look outside the police department if necessary.
The first 11 rounds of voting ended in a tie between O’Connell and Charlie Thiel, president of the Allentown school board. Thiel had vowed to seek changes to the city’s ethics ordinance, study the city’s financial picture and work with Allentown school officials to increase literacy.