The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Easton mayoral debate recap
The incumbent mayor, Sal Panto Jr. (left), is facing a primary challenge from Peter Melan (right), a self-fashioned maverick who serves on the Easton City Council. (Photo by Brian Myszkowski for

The two candidates for Easton mayor sparred on the Colton Chapel stage on Monday evening. The hour-and-a-half-long debate, held just over a week before polls open on May 16, covered everything from bike lanes to climate change. Here are my takeaways.

Panto on offense

Several attendees of the debate I spoke to lauded the candidates for their cordiality – both adhered pretty strictly to their time limits – but I felt that the incumbent, Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr., was on the attack for most of the debate. He continually lambasted his rival, City Councilman Peter Melan, on his lack of policy knowledge, an argument made easy by Melan’s default answer being to “listen to the experts” and stating in response to several of the questions that he did not yet have an answer.

Melan’s refrains were genuine, and I appreciated his honesty, but Panto’s point was salient given that Melan is a two-term councilman. 

Point, Panto.

Experience, experience, experience

Panto has been around since the 80s – he served his first two terms as mayor from 1984 to 1992, then four more starting in 2008 – and his experience in city governance was evident. He listed off his connections with local, state and federal officials from State Representative Bob Freeman to former Vice President Mike Pence and brought with him a copy of the city charter. Melan, by contrast, fumbled on a response to the moderator’s question about regional collaboration with other Lehigh Valley municipalities. Again, I appreciated Melan’s modesty and his statement that he would be a people-focused mayor, asking his constituents for solutions, but he appeared out of his element on even the basics: what he would do to lower taxes (non-answer), what he was proud of during his tenure on the City Council (took no responsibility for legislative achievements), what his next bill would be in the Council (“I’ve got nothing on the agenda.”). 

Point, Panto.

“Not my job”

Where Panto lost me the most was his frequent retort that certain issues were “not his job,” instead preferring market solutions. In response to a question regarding Easton’s lower-income residents, Panto appeared to suggest that he could do nothing if the market determined lower-income housing to not be of value. Similarly, in response to a question about homelessness, Panto sympathized with those in encampments along the Lehigh River but failed to offer solutions – Melan, by contrast, emphasized partnerships with local organizations such as Safe Harbor. That Panto concurrently embraced the “strong mayor” form of government and distanced himself from responsibility for certain issues is a contradiction that I simply cannot ignore. 

Point, Melan.

Policy specifics

Actual policy is where Panto shined. Asked about how he’d combat climate change, Panto pointed to increasing solar and electric vehicle infrastructure and working with municipalities and businesses to do as much – Melan simply said that “we can do more.” Asked about parking (Panto’s “P word”), the mayor dived into the specifics of Easton’s parking garage project (albeit while breaking deliberative confidentiality rules) – Melan appeared somewhat befuddled on his own vote against the project. On connecting Easton’s many walking paths, Melan suggested looking into adding bike lanes only for Panto to acknowledge that the streets simply aren’t wide enough, then listing off each of the specific ways in which the city has already worked to connect its walking paths. The list goes on and on, with Melan continually failing to provide specifics and rarely meeting his allotted speaking time, while Panto could hardly shut up about the nitty gritty.

Point, Panto.


Melan opened the debate by saying that he was “an agent for change.” Trust me, I like change, but there needs to be a reason for it. Most confounding to me was Melan’s own statements praising the current administration for all of its successes and then just not elaborating on what he would do differently. I was searching for his reasoning – I wanted it desperately – but just could not find it. 

That said, I did find Melan to be a genuine man. I spoke to the mayor for roughly 20 seconds on his way out of Colton, but he appeared hurried – he was overheard earlier saying that he was hungry and needed to go eat (respectable). Melan stuck around for quite a while after the debate to chat with locals and apologized to me for getting distracted by a constituent.

But Melan’s personal warmth did not translate to his wooden debate performance. Panto had the stage presence of a bulldog (or Red Rover, perhaps) and simply flooded the debate with his intense knowledge of the inner workings of government. Perhaps in four years, after Panto’s self-declared final term as mayor, Melan could fare better.

Winner, Panto.

View Comments (3)
About the Contributor
Trebor Maitin
Trebor Maitin, Managing Editor
Pennsylvania enthusiast.

Comments (3)

If you wish for your response to an article to be submitted as a letter to the editor, please email [email protected].
All Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • D

    Diane terranovaMay 12, 2023 at 7:40 am

    Time for a change

  • R

    Robert MattisonMay 11, 2023 at 7:02 pm

    Really great piece Trebor- congratulations- Prof. Mattison

  • M

    Melody RogersMay 10, 2023 at 12:55 pm

    I believe if you want to be the new mayor instead of waiting for people tell you what they want , you already have a plan to present to people how Easton would be better off if they picked Pete melan. He had seven and a half yrs to decide on what he wants to bring to the table but he gets to they able and nothing , he has nothing just waiting in people to decide for him. My vote is for Mayor Sal Panto. , he is the man who has brought Easton very. Far and remember no taxes for over fifteen yrs!