“I want to be mayor of all of Harrisburg.”
So said Gloria Martin-Roberts as she threw her hat into the ring last November, a phrase she repeated, in varying ways, umpteen times over the following months. In fact, you could say it was the theme of her campaign for mayor.
So, did she do that? The numbers say no.
Martin-Roberts did well where everyone expected her to do well—in Uptown and much of Allison Hill. However, she got clobbered in the so-called “river wards,” and that proved to be her Achilles’ heel in the election.
Let’s dig into some data.
Martin-Roberts did best on her home turf (no surprise) in Uptown Harrisburg. In the four precincts of sprawling Ward 10, she tallied 498 votes, nearly one-quarter of her total of 2,048. In contrast, incumbent Mayor Eric Papenfuse limped in with 314 votes, winning just one small precinct that borders the river. She also did well in wards 7 and 8, industrial and residential areas of northern Allison Hill.
Papenfuse, though, killed it down by the river. He won by more than 100 votes in Ward 4 (northern downtown), and wards 5, 6, 11 and 12 (all of Midtown from Forster to Maclay streets) and Ward 14 (Riverside/Italian Lake). His overwhelming margins in these wards swamped his challengers, proving to be far too much ground for Martin-Roberts to make up.
While, in her concession speech, Martin-Roberts blamed the media and, weirdly, the electorate for her loss, she really can only blame her own campaign’s flawed, Trump-like strategy—digging deep into her base, trying to squeeze every vote from a handful of precincts and wards.
It is certainly fine if, as a candidate, you base your campaign in certain parts of the city or certain demographics, but you can’t stop there. That’s basically what Martin-Roberts did, never really reaching out to voters outside of her core constituency, thus ceding wide swaths of Harrisburg to her opponents.
Her low-energy campaign also did not help, since trying to unseat an incumbent requires months of vigorous, sustained effort. Lastly, she did nothing to court new voters in Harrisburg, too often invoking that tired “us vs. them” attitude that means nothing to newcomers.
Interestingly, challenger Jennie Jenkins seemed to spread out her support best of the five candidates. She only received 506 votes, but they came from all over the place—a little here, a little there.
In the end, Martin-Roberts lost by more than 600 votes to Papenfuse, a substantial margin in the light-turnout election. If she had run to represent all of Harrisburg, as she repeatedly promised, she might have stood a chance. But she didn’t do that. She was basically invisible from Shipoke to Riverside, giving people in the growing, diverse neighborhoods along the river little reason to vote for her.