Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Burg Blog: In a Race

Campaign signs outside of HMAC, where many of the candidate debates were held.

If you’re a regular reader of my columns and blogs, you may be aware of an annual complaint of mine.

When an election comes around, Harrisburg candidates, too often, run what I’ve called “invisible” campaigns. Local races have tended to start late, been low energy and even have featured candidates who never seem to show up for their own campaigns.

As I’ve said many times, if you’re not going to make the effort, why run at all?

This year, though, has seen a marked improvement.

With less than a week to go before the primary, I thought I’d give a quick nod to a number of candidates who have been running solid campaigns—showing, through their actions, that they want the votes and the office.

By far, the most energetic race has been for city school board. However, all that energy has been on one side—the challengers for the five seats at stake in the May 21 primary.

So, kudos to challengers Gerald Welch, Jayne Buchwach, Cory X. Williams, Lewis Butts Jr., Steven Williams, James Thompson and Doug Thompson Leader. They attended every debate that was held, were respectful of one another and gave the public hours of engagement and thoughtful commentary.

Hundreds of people heard the candidates explain, live, what they would do as school board directors—from Buchwach’s insistence on transparency and accountability to Welch’s emphasis on graduation rates to Butts’ predictably imaginative proposals.

Indeed, attending a debate was like taking an advanced course in possible ways to fix the Harrisburg school district. And, while the press coverage (including ours) tried to capture the essence of the events, a few 700-word stories simply can’t do justice to all the information conveyed in the lengthy, two-hour sessions.

Many of these candidates also have campaigned vigorously outside of the debate hall, going door-to-door, engaging voters and showing, through their time and effort, how much they want to serve the district, its students and its residents.

Not all of the candidates have demonstrated equal commitment through their campaigns. Incumbent Lionel Gonzalez burst onto the stage for about 15 minutes of the last debate, then disappeared just as suddenly, and incumbents Patricia Whitehead-Myers, Lola Lawson and Ellis Roy didn’t attend any.

Candidate Welch recorded the final school debate, which was hosted by Friends of Midtown. I strongly urge all Harrisburg voters (who are Facebook users) to watch it before heading to the polls next week.

The Harrisburg City Council race hasn’t been as high profile, but several of the candidates have been actively campaigning and engaging voters.

Arguably, the highlight of the council campaign was the Friends of Midtown debate, which was attended by four of the six candidates: current office-holders Westburn Majors, Dave Madsen and Danielle Bowers and challenger Christina Kostelecky.

All four, in my opinion, showed considerable knowledge of the issues, concern for the city and a desire to play a role in moving it forward.

I believe that the next four years will be a critical time in the history of Harrisburg, as the city shakes off the last of its post-industrial funk and firmly enters a new, more promising era. Progress, though, comes with its own challenges, with inevitable concerns over growth, housing, traffic, fairness and, of course, finances and taxation (among other issues), especially as the city exits Act 47.

Through their campaigns, the candidates have addressed these issues and many others. In my opinion, it’s too bad that there are only three seats at stake, meaning that one of these qualified candidates will not be able to serve on council–at least not until the next election two years from now.

I’ll conclude this blog with something I’ve said in similar posts before. High-quality, conscientious, energetic candidates often make high-quality, conscientious, energetic office-holders. I stand by that.

Lawrance Binda is editor-in-chief of TheBurg.

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