What concerned Emma wasn't so much the concept, but the proposed size of the district, sixteen square blocks. The planners unfortunately all wanted their homes included, and they lived in an area spread out from Hall Street to 12th, Linden to Liberty.* Shoving property restrictions down the throats of thousands of people who lived in the neighborhood for generations didn't seem right to Emma. As the battle to establish the district became more pitched, Emma began referring to it as the Hysterical District.
Emma eventually lost the battle, but won the hearts of thousands of Allentonians. Emma Tropiano would be elected to City Council beginning in 1986, and would serve four terms. In 1993 she lost the Democratic Primary for Mayor by ONE (1) vote.
Her common sense votes and positions became easy fodder for ridicule. Bashed for opposing fluoridation, our clean water advocates now question the wisdom of that additive. Although every founding member of the Historical District moved away over the years, Emma continued to live on 9th Street, one block up from the store. In the mid 1990's, disgusted by the deterioration of the streetscape, she proposed banning household furniture from front porches. Her proposal was labeled as racist against those who could not afford proper lawn furniture. Today, SWEEP officers issue tickets for sofas on the porch.
Being blunt in the era of political correctness cost Emma. Although a tireless advocate for thousands of Allentown residents of all color, many people who never knew her, now read that she was a bigot. They don't know who called on her for help. They don't know who knocked on her door everyday for assistance. They don't know who approached her at diners and luncheonettes all over Allentown for decades. We who knew her remember, and we remember the truth about a caring woman.
* Because the designated Historical District was so large, it has struggled to create the atmosphere envisioned by the long gone founders. Perhaps had they listened to, instead of ridiculing, the plain spoken shopkeeper, they would have created a smaller critical mass of like thinking homeowners.
reprinted yearly since 2010
UPDATE: Although it has been almost two decades since Emma passed, she still incites controversy. A Republican supporter of Heydt still resents her opposition to the Rental Inspection law. Some Hispanics still wrongly believe that she was a racist. I could tell both of them that Emma was a Democrat, when Allentown was still a two party town, and that voters were much more engaged then than they are now.