Feb 16, 2012

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.

reprinted from March 2010

photo: The Morning Call

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Love when you write about Emma. While her anti-front porch inside upholstered couch ordinance only brought a storm of slander, neighboring communities now include it among their standards.

Local said...

I counted Emma as a friend and ally here in Allentown.
She is missed.

Anonymous said...

I think the 300 & 400 blocks of 9th Street along with the 800 block of Gordon have sucessfully created a continuous atmosphere as envisioned.

Guy Williams said...

Good post,Remember her growing up, she along with Phil Sorrentino and Jimmy Calisto the barber on union street at top of lehigh street hill were friends of my father.She was not a bigot but the same can not be said of many of her supporters.Always felt she was maligned like Frank Rizzo.Another Allentonian that was unjustly demonized for his views was Leroy Bogert from the south side who opposed the creation of cumberland gardens.

Anonymous said...

Ex-Local, As a former long term resident I can tell you if you had issue with Allentown you could call or stop and talk to Emma.Could you imagine if you did that today the A.P.D. would come a knocking on your door and call it harassment.The voters of Allentown got what they deserved with no say in how taxes are squandered and no show council members