Don Cunningham

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Don Cunningham
Chief Executive of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania
Assumed office

Donald "Don" Cunningham is the current Chief Executive of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. He is also the a former Secretary in the Pennsylvania Department of General Services, as well as Mayor and Councilman of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.[1] A Democrat, Cunningham was also a rumored candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania in 2010.[2]

Personal History[edit]

Cunningham was born on December 13, 1965. After 13 years in the Bethlehem school district, Don was educated in the Pennsylvania System of higher education where he went to Shippensburg University and earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism and a minor in government (1987). He then worked his way through graduate school, finishing summa cum laude with a Master of Arts Degree in political science from Villanova University (1991).[1]

Before Politics[edit]

Before seeking public office, Cunningham worked in the private sector where he served as Senior Information Specialist at PPL in Allentown and Media Relations Director at Moravian College in Bethlehem. Prior to that, Cunningham started his career as a newspaper reporter working for the former Bethlehem Globe Times and as a suburban correspondent with the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Bethlehem Council and Mayor[edit]

In 1995, Cunningham was elected to Bethlehem City Council. He successfully sought the office of Mayor in 1997 and was inaugurated in January 1998 as Bethlehem City's 9th Mayor. He was re-elected to a second term in 2001.[3]

Cunningham was inaugurated during a particularly difficult time in Bethlehem's history. At the time, Bethlehem Steel had just closed, resulting in a 20,000 job loss and the loss of a significant portion the city's tax base. During his tenure, Cunningham guided more than $1 billion of new development and the creation of 2,500 new jobs into the city.[3]

As Mayor, Cunningham proposed five city budgets with only one small tax increase (5½%) and developed new and innovative programs to improve public safety and the delivery of neighborhood services. He was recognized for his innovations in the delivery of local government services by both the U.S. Conference of Mayors (1999) and former Governor Tom Ridge (2001). The Democratic Leadership Council named Cunningham one of the top ten state and local "rising stars" in the Democratic Party in 2000.[3]

In 2003, Cunningham resigned as Mayor of Bethlehem to become Secretary of the Department of General Services under Governor Ed Rendell.[4]

Secretary of General Services[edit]

As Secretary of DGS, Don was also responsible for the management of more than 11,000 state-owned buildings, including the State Capitol, as well as 1,400 Commonwealth leases. He oversaw the design and construction of the state’s non-highway capital construction projects, the state’s minority and women-owned business contracting program, the Capitol Police Department, the Bureau of Commonwealth Media Services and served as the state’s real estate agent and insurance broker.

As Secretary, Cunningham oversaw $4 billion of the Pennsylvania budget. He ran the Governors management & productivity initiative and saved the state $500 million in operating costs. Furthermore, DGS doubled the Commonwealth’s property insurance coverage while slashing premiums nearly in half, saving more than $4 million a year.

In the area of real estate, Don led the initiatives to save Pennsylvania’s taxpayers money by competitively selling off unneeded surplus state property and putting property back on the tax rolls, creating community and economic development in communities across Pennsylvania.

Cunningham also led the effort to more aggressively help local governments and school districts to realize purchasing savings by “piggyback” buying from state contracts on everything from vehicles to personal computers. Don’s business consolidation efforts also eliminated the redundancy of state warehouse facilities in the Harrisburg area, reducing the number of warehouses and supply centers from 17 to 4 and saving $4 million a year.

While in state government as Secretary of DGS, Cunningham served on the State Public School Building Authority and Pennsylvania Higher Educational Facilities Authority, as well as the Board of PENNVEST, the Capitol Preservation Committee, the Governor’s Homeland Security Advisory Council and the Agricultural Land Preservation Interagency Committee.[4]

Lehigh County Executive[edit]

In 2005, Cunningham returned to Lehigh County, PA to run for County Executive. During its history as a home rule County, Lehigh had never elected a Democrat as County Executive. Ultimately, Cunningham defeated incumbent Jane Ervin, 62-38%, or about 13,000 votes.[5]

In office, Cunningham has touted fiscal responsibility as one of his key strengths. Cunningham has presided over Lehigh County for three years with no property tax increase, and his administration has created a plan to prevent property tax increases for the foreseeable future, at least the next five years.[6] Cunningham's administration also saw an increase in the bond rating for Lehigh County.[7][dead link]

Cunningham's administration has also been witness to a variety of new programs in Lehigh County, including:

  • Creation of the Lehigh Valley’s first “Congress of Governments,” designed to help control growth and development, which allows shared services and enhanced cooperation across regional boundaries.
  • Spearheading new efforts to assist in farmland preservation. Under Cunningham, Lehigh County rose to third in the state in farmland preservation.
  • Working towards the development of the Lehigh Valley Autism Resource Community Hub and a “safe house” which provides safe waiting area to comfort children who have been removed from their homes and are waiting for foster care placement.[7][dead link]

In 2007, Cunningham endorsed Hillary Clinton for President. In April 2008, Cunningham was the top vote-getter (in the 15th congressional district) to serve as a delegate Hillary Clinton to the 2008 Democratic National Convention.[8]

Gubernatorial Speculation[edit]

In what was described by one reporter as "one of the worst kept-secrets in State Politics," Cunningham announced in August 2007 that he was considering a run for Governor in 2010.[9] A self-described "fiscal conservative", Cunningham had the potential to run well in the state's moderate electorate.[9]

On June 25, Cunningham dropped out of the Gubernatorial race, saying in a statement that "neither the time nor circumstances are right for me at this time."[10]


See also[edit]

Cunningham's campaign website
Lehigh County's website