Mar 9, 2010

The People's Candidate

In the late 1970's, neighbors would gather in the market on 9th Street to complain and receive consolation from the woman behind the cash register. Emma was a neighborhood institution. A native Allentonian, she had gone through school with mayor for life Joe Dadonna, and knew everybody at City Hall. More important, she wasn't shy about speaking out. What concerned the long time neighbors back then was a plan to create a Historical District, by a few newcomers.

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 too large, it has failed, to this day, 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, who then could have expanded the area.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Molovinsky,
As an Allentonian who knew Mrs. Tropiano, you words in this essay are accurate.
There was not a day, not a day, folks could not call Emma that she would not return that call. She was right about the sofas that attract rats and the inside furniture placed on outside porches, and yes, she was labeled a racist because she wasn't part of the "in" crowd.
A few years later, Bethlehem was to enact such anti-sofa legislation. Does that mean all Bethlehem residents are racists?

Bernie O'Hare said...

She also must have been quite an attractive woman.

Anonymous said...


I remember the couch controversy quite well.

Excellent question about Bethlehem and their anti-sofa legislation.

Doubtful any of the anti-Tropiano crowd will oblige you with even the weakest of weak answers, though.

It would be so much easier to bash anyone even remotely not critical of that scourge of Allentown, Tropiano, as a racist.

Racism-mongering and race-baiting are quite fashionable these days, you understand.

Anonymous said...

Michael, I still miss her big cadillac driving up the alley behind my home. Also when I was on the zoning commission watching Emma sit down in front carrying a 4 inch thick stack of computer printouts containing all the non taxable buildings, ie., not for profit buildings, in allentown.
Emma was a real person. God love her.
Bob Romancheck

michael molovinsky said...

i received a comment critical of emma which i will paste up on the previous blog about emma. this post is a tribute to her

Anonymous said...

I met her when I was about 12 or 13. can't remember. it was a meeting where people were generally rude. she was listening as a participant. when things got heated, she turned to me and whispered something to the effect "next time your mother tells you to behave like an adult, try not to behave like these people."

she did have a point: public discourse is unnecessarily hostile sometimes. I'm not sure if her words to me reflected her behavior, but I've learned that being labeled a "racist", "liberal", "radical", or any other label in the midsts of disagreements serves no purpose but to distract from the merits of the conversation.


michael molovinsky said...

i have rejected a comment directed toward geoff which seeks his opinion about a post on o'hares blog.

beyond being off topic, this post is a tribute to emma. geoff reads bernie's blog, and the question should be placed there