Familiar names, Joshua Siegel, Robert Smith Jr. in race for 22nd state House seat
Thanks to redistricting, the 22nd state district has no incumbent, meaning the winner will be a new voice in the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a healthy majority.
In addition, the winner will add a third voice to the Allentown delegation, joining the 132nd and 134th in the ability to bring grants and funding to the state’s third largest city.
Jockeying for the seat are two familiar names in Allentown: Democrat Joshua Siegel, an Allentown City Council member, and Robert E. Smith Jr., a former Allentown School Board member.
The district includes all of East Allentown and Salisbury Township east of South 4th Street. It also includes neighborhoods in Center City Allentown, including all areas east of 12th Street and north of Hamilton Street.
Nearly 70% of the 22nd’s residents registered as Democrats.
Siegel, who has described himself as a visionary and progressive, said he has been a tireless advocate for the people of Allentown as a city councilman.
“We deserve a representative who is qualified, capable, and ready to do the job on day one,” Siegel said on his Facebook page.
Smith told Armchair Lehigh Valley he is running because he wants to give voters a second choice. He also said on Facebook, “we are in desperate need of leaders [such] as myself to combat the cost of living and who understand the issues our community faces.”
Smith told Armchair Lehigh Valley that he is a “moderate” and a “maverick,” saying he doesn’t automatically support his party’s stances on issues but studies them before making a decision.
Smith described himself as “very conservative” on his profile on iVoterGuide, a group that profiles candidates and says it “stands up for conservative principles,” and is “Grounded in God” and “Rooted in Research.”
His positions on issues such as abortion and guns on iVoterGuide leaned toward more traditional conservative views while positions on the same issues in an interview with Armchair Lehigh Valley were more moderate.
When asked, Smith acknowledged the differences might lead some to think he is trying to appease both political sides.
“I should never have filled it out,” he said of the iVoterGuide questionnaire. “This is probably going to be my last race.”
The Friends of Joshua Siegel raised $42,529 in the first two reporting quarters of the year, including $4,010 Siegel loaned the campaign, according to campaign finance reports.
Smith had $135 in cash on hand as of June 6, according to the most recent campaign finance report. He said he didn’t realize how much money was raised in state representative races and was planning to hold fundraisers.
Joshua Siegel lives in Allentown’s East Side. He graduated from Phillipsburg High School in New Jersey and earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations in 2016 from Seton Hall University in New Jersey. He is pursuing his master’s degree in public policy at Lehigh University.
He speaks elementary Russian. While in college he spent two months in Ryzan, Russia, teaching English as part of Crossroads Eurasia. He is a volunteer assistant coach for the Phillipsburg High School Debate Team.
Siegel worked as the Public Information Officer for Lehigh County from December 2017 to February 2020. He became the assistant operations manager for Lehigh County in February 2020 under Controller Mark Pinsley, the Democratic candidate in the state Senate 16th District race. Siegel was an intern for the Democratic Committee of Bergen County, N.J., in 2016.
Foray into politics
Siegel first ran for office in 2017 when he was among seven candidates, including then-Mayor Ed Pawlowski, seeking the Democratic nomination in the Allentown mayor’s race. Siegel finished sixth with 4.89% of the vote. Pawlowski would go on to win in November, but resigned the next year after being convicted in what was called a pay-to-play scheme involving city contracts.
At age 25, Siegel was elected to a four-year term on Allentown City Council on Nov. 5, 2019. He finished second in the field for three seats on council with nearly 27% of the vote. He had gotten onto the November ballot finishing third with 88 votes in the May primary.
Siegel announced plans to run for Allentown mayor in 2021, but his name did not end up on the primary ballot. He threw his support behind candidate Ce-Ce Gerlach. The winner among the four Democratic challengers, Matt Tuerk, went on to win the Nov. 2 election.
In the May Democratic primary, Siegel defeated Saeed Georges, a mental health case manager, with 63.9% of the vote to win his party’s nomination for the 22nd state House District.
Siegel, who goes by @Siegel4Progress on Twitter, has advocated for progressive causes while on council.
In August 2020, three council members sought a censure and no-confidence vote against him for his participation in a July 2020 protest and comments over an eight-second video clip showing a man being restrained with a knee to his head area during an arrest by Allentown police.
Siegel denied making inappropriate remarks, but defended those who did make them, according to WLVR.
On Twitter, he said he was “disgusted and outraged” and called for action. “Terminate the ones who violate use of force,” adding the hashtag “BlueLivesMatter” to his post.
The Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office cleared police in the restraint, Lehigh Valley Live reported. Council member Ed Zucal pulled the matter off the agenda before a vote could take place, The Morning Call reported.
In November 2021, Siegel, spurred by Pawlowski’s arrest, proposed an ordinance that would limit campaign contributions for candidates running for city office to no more than $2,900 from an individual or $5,000 from political action committees. He said he does not believe that campaigns should be for sale or go to the highest bidder or the highest donor. The measure failed to pass in a 3-4 vote.
In August 2021, four months after the guilty verdict of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, Siegel and Gerlach penned an op-ed calling on the Allentown Police Department to invest in an alternative crisis management system.
In February 2022, Allentown Council unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Siegel that grants six weeks of paid leave to non-union employees who give birth, father children or adopt children as long as they have worked for the city for a year. Union contracts prevented the city from extending the benefit to union employees.
On March 30, 2022, Siegel pulled a bill he sponsored that would have required contractors on large city projects to participate in apprenticeship programs.
Siegel said apprenticeship programs would have helped the city guarantee that it had enough trained workers to handle its contracts. The measure would have made it impossible for some long-time city contractors to meet the requirements unless they joined a program and waited five years.
Education: Supports the state’s fair funding formula, a system that funnels basic education through a student-weighted method that accounts for poverty and other measures. Believes Pennsylvania’s public universities and community colleges should be tuition-free.
Abortion: Supports a woman’s right to choose. Was endorsed by Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates and Vote ProChoice.
He is among five council members sponsoring four abortion rights bills in Allentown He is the prime sponsor of one of the bills – which would create a buffer zone at hospitals, medical offices and clinics and thus protect patients entering or leaving the Planned Parenthood in Allentown. Votes on the measures were delayed earlier this month, The Morning Call reported.
Constitutional amendment: Called the GOP-led constitutional amendment package “malicious and craven. The proposal would clearly state women have no guaranteed rights to abortion or public funding of abortion..
Other amendments would require voter ID at the polls, mandate the auditor general to audit elections, allow gubernatorial nominees to pick their own running mates, and allow the Legislature to reject state regulations, such as environmental rules, without facing governor vetoes.
According to The Associated Press, proposed amendments must pass both the House and Senate in a two-year legislative cycle, after which they must be advertised. The amendments must then pass both chambers in the following two-year session before going to the voters.
Guns: Wrote a June op-ed in The Morning Call in which he advocated for banning assault-style weapons, banning civilian purchase of body armor, prohibiting high-capacity magazines, mandating the reporting of lost or stolen firearms, instituting universal background checks and allocating more mental health funds to prevent suicides.
Voting: Supports no-excuse, mail-in voting. “It's secure, easy and convenient and I believe that we should encourage more residents to vote by mail.” Supports the use of drop boxes and opposes efforts to eliminate them.
Transgender athletes: Supports transgender students playing in the league that matches their gender identity. “My sister is a trans woman, and preventing discrimination against the LGTBQ community is a high priority,” he said.
Housing: Supports increasing funding for the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency to help subsidize the creation of new units, construction of social housing, and additional support for first-time homebuyers. Supports creation of right-to-counsel programs to prevent evictions and displacement. Supports investment in energy efficiency of homes to save families from exorbitant heating and cooling costs.
Gift, fundraising limits: Supports a total gift ban for all elected officials in Pennsylvania, an immediate limit on campaign contributions from PACs and individuals, public financing of state elections, and stronger transparency laws for political action committees.
Workers and unions: Supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and indexing it to inflation. Supports passage of paid family and sick leave for all workers. Supports strengthening the right to organize. Supports the proposed federal Pro Act, which preserves the right to unionize. “Union power is people power and people power means holding corporate power accountable, it means safe working conditions, better training, better wages, better healthcare and a better tomorrow,” he wrote on Facebook.
ROBERT E. SMITH JR.
Smith, 60, was born in Queens, N.Y. He attended Middlesex County College in New Jersey and New York University. He and his wife Eva moved to the East Side of Allentown in 1992 with their three children. Smith, a grandfather of five, is director of operations and pre-vocational coordinator for Newvitae Wellness and Recovery. He works at Newvitae’s Quakertown House, a licensed personal care home, and has been with the company for 15 years.
Foray into politics
Smith became a member of the Allentown Human Relations Commission in 1994, serving four years. He ran for Allentown City Council in 1995 and 1997 and lost. In 1998, he was appointed to a vacant seat on council. He served 14 months before losing a primary election to Republican Pam Varkony in 1999. While on council, Smith proudly joined the majority in voting to fluoridate the city’s water to help prevent tooth decay – ending 40 years of opposition. He ran and lost the Republican primary for mayor of Allentown in 2001.
In 2003, Smith ran for a seat on the Allentown School Board and won. He served for 16 years until being defeated in 2019. That year, Smith, the lone Republican on the board, was unable to cross-file as a Democrat because of a petition challenge by fellow school board member Charlie Thiel, a Democrat. In January, Smith unsuccessfully sought to be appointed to a vacant position on the board.
Smith said among his achievements on the school board were: getting his fellow members to agree to a 1.75% tax hike instead of a 3.5% hike in 2019-20; advocating for an East Side middle school, which is now happening; and pushing for the reopening of the Dieruff High School planetarium. A fiscal conservative, he disagreed with the $230,000 starting salary given to new superintendent John D. Stanford.
Smith said he is a fiscal conservative who, while on the school board, voted against every tax hike. He said he supported former President Donald Trump in the past but said he no longer does so.
Smith said he does not agree with all of his stances but said he supports Doug Mastriano, the GOP candidate for governor.
Armchair Lehigh Valley learned of iVoterGuide after interviewing Smith over the summer. Smith recently talked to Armchair Lehigh Valley about the differences in his answers. He said iVoterGuide allows yes or no answers on questions and gives little room to explain positions.
“I probably could have done a better job,” he said of filling out the questionnaire,, adding he stayed up late filling out multiple questionnaires because he felt it was required of him.
Smith noted he was given a conservative conditional rating by ivoterguide, which means the group is 85% to 94% sure he will vote conservatively.
“That should tell you right there they don’t consider me very conservative,” he said.
Guns: On iVoterGuide, Smith said there is no need for any new law restrictions.
For Armchair, Smith said he believes semi-automatic weapons should not be available for sale to persons under age 21, believes in commonsense background checks, including for concealed carry permits. He also said he feels some cities should be able to have stricter gun control laws. Smith confirmed his answers to Armchair as his positions but said he would have to read proposed legislation before voting on measures.
Abortion & contraceptives.
On iVoterGuide, abortion should only be allowed “in rare cases to save life of mother.” For Armchair, Smith said he is against the proposed constitutional amendment that would state women have no rights to abortion in Pennsylvania. He said he does not favor changing the current abortion law, which permits abortion up to age 24 weeks, except for gender selection, and bans it after that except if the woman’s health or life is in danger. He doesn’t doesn’t think the state does enough to help parents who choose to have children. He opposes the idea of banning contraceptives. Smith subsequently explained that as a Catholic, he opposes abortion but does not oppose abortion as a legal option. He also said he thinks abortion should be available in cases of rape and incest.
No-excuse, mail-in voting: For iVoterGuide, Smith said he supports voter ID and supports only allowing ballot drop boxes on Election Day. He also said all votes should be counted on Election Day. For Armchair, Smith said he supports mail-in voting but is concerned about people dropping off more than one mail-in ballot in designated ballot boxes. “I think you need safeguards,” he said. He is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by a legal group led by Trump allies Stephen Miller and Mark Meadows to to get Lehigh County to have human monitors at ballot dropboxes. Smith subsequently told Armchair Lehigh Valley that he is OK with drop boxes as long as they are monitored by video cameras.
Education: On iVoterGuide, Smith said he supports school choice, including voucher programs, tax credits, charter schools, private schools, and home schools. He said CRT (critical race theory), which Republicans use to describe lessons on diversity and inclusion, should not be taught in school. For Armchair, he said he has mixed feelings about requiring school districts to post curriculum online, saying it would require hiring someone to handle the job. He thinks parents should be in charge of teaching sex education until fifth grade, but after that it’s OK for school districts to teach it. He is in favor of school choice, saying Allentown is big enough to have both public and public charter schools. He said his support for vouchers is limited to students going to charter schools or changing schools within a district.
LGBTQ/gender: On iVoterGuide, Smith said he agrees that marriage is the legal union of a woman and a man. He said gender identity should not be a protected class. For Armchair, he said he is unsure of his position on transgender sports. He says the Allentown School District has transgender students but isn’t sure whether they should compete with non-transgender students. “This is all new. We have to adapt,” he said. He subsequently told Armchair Lehigh Valley that he is against transgender women playing in college sports. He also said as a Catholic, he believes marriage is between a man and woman but supports legal marriage between persons of the same sex.
Correction: Candidate Robert E. Smith is against transgender women playing in college sports. An earlier version of this story omitted this position.
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