From Moravian Student to Mayor of Bethlehem: For William Reynolds, It’s All Local


Photo courtesy of Mark Harris

On a cold January morning this year, J. William Reynolds woke up like it was any other day and put on a royal blue suit, white shirt and blue tie. 

But this was no ordinary day. In a few hours, Reynolds would stand in City Hall and be sworn in as the 16th mayor of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. 

He decided to walk to his new place of employment. Leaving his house near his alma mater, Moravian University, Reynolds took a route that carried him through his past. 

First, he walked past Liberty High School, across the street from the house where he grew up.

A couple of turns later, he came to Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. Passing the building, he remembered being in first, second, and third grade when the things he cared about were recess and Little League games and not five-year economic models. 

As he approached City Hall, Reynolds was filled with gratitude for having grown up in Bethlehem and from being raised by parents who instilled in him an ethic of civic engagement.

“Caring about the world absolutely came from my parents,” Reynolds said. ”When I was growing up and in college, I wanted more of a direct impact. I wanted to be in the middle of [things].” 

Politics has been his route to getting there. 

Reynolds began his career by interning for State Representative Steve Samuelson, eventually joining his staff. In 2007 he won a seat on Bethlehem City Council. 

Two years later he went back to Moravian University to obtain his teaching certificate, after which he got a job teaching social studies at William Allen High School in Allentown.

He held his seat on City Council for 14 years, until his replacement, Wandalyn Enix, was appointed after Reynolds won his mayoral election. 

Reynolds said he was a curious and sensitive kid who was a bit shy. As he got to middle school and high school he began searching for his place in the world. In his search for his identity, he found that basketball was something that challenged him to prove himself to not just those around him but to himself as well. 

Growing up, Reynolds said his parents put him in several different positions where he wasn’t always the center of attention and wasn’t always individually successful at things. 

Despite Reynolds’ shyness, he had a lot of friends and was part of different social circles. He liked music, sports, and just plain hanging out. Although he was part of these different social groups, he said, he was still looking for his place in life. 

“There was always something restless about me that was kind of like, there was something else out there for me, and I don’t know what it is yet,” said Reynolds. 

Doing something for a reason outside of yourself and doing it with other people are two things that Reynolds focused on as a teacher and as a member of city council – and that he now focuses on as mayor. 

 “How do you work in a way that gives you those two things?” Reynolds asked. “The happiness of working with other people to accomplish goals and the idea of doing something for a reason beyond yourself.”

Reynolds said he feels strongly about these ideals, which he learned from his father, a former professor of political science at Moravian, from his personal life situations, and from his time at Moravian College. 

Reynolds’ involvement in the city of Bethlehem does not stop with city government. 

According to Moravian University President Bryon Grigsby, Reynolds had an active role at the school as the chair of the Moravian University Alumni Board and that he regularly attended trustee meetings. “[Reynolds] wants to be an active participant in government,” Grigsby said. “He wants to be in. He’s fine with people not liking his decisions, but he’s going to try to change Bethlehem for the best.”