Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Community Comment: TheBurg unfairly overlooks Steve Reed’s many accomplishments.

Whitaker Center in downtown Harrisburg, cited by the letter-writer as one of former Mayor Steve Reed’s many achievements.

I enjoy The Burg and appreciate both your professional standards and ethics, and the constructive intentions underlying your work with it.

That being said, I must ask you to consider more thoroughly your statements re: Steve Reed’s tenure as mayor and its aftermath noted in your February article, “The Next Phase.” (“The Next Phase: Harrisburg Breaks with ‘City Discontented,'” February 2018). I have no horse in this race–I don’t really know him and have nothing to gain or lose by sending you this. It’s just a matter of fairness.

Your comments were the latest of many proclamations of the kind–i.e. writing off his 28-year tenure in condemnation. It is not fair. I’ve seen few balanced views of this subject in the rolling bandwagon, not to say stampede, of criticism of him and his tenure.

This inertial chorus completely overlooks the tremendous transformation of the city that he accomplished, as well as the incredible devotion to the city exhibited in his 16-hour days, seven days a week for 28 years.  And it must be said that there is no possible rational contention that he was doing it for personal gain.

Yes, there are very legitimate questions about financial management, especially the mystifying incinerator deal, but it is a disservice not only to him but to history, the truth and balanced reporting to ignore his accomplishments.

I don’t know if you were around in 1980, but I would consider that, not 2011-13 cited in your article, as the city’s nadir. I grew up in Allison Hill in the 50s and early 60s near Reservoir Park, a fantastic time and place to grow up in.  I left town and moved elsewhere in the world for many years, coming back in 1980 to find a city that not a soul in the region considered anything but a hopeless basket case.  Into this miasma of despair Reed walked.

His vision was astonishing (yes, even while not batting 1.000) and his more visible accomplishments equally so, considering the starting point. The Hilton, City Island, Harrisburg University, the Whitaker Center, Restaurant Row and development of Second Street from a dangerous gauntlet to a thriving commercial district, and no doubt others I am missing were beyond unthinkable when he started.  And yes, these all do involve the central commercial district. I am less knowledgeable about changes elsewhere in the city, like Allison Hill and Uptown.

But much more important than these was the psychological transformation of the city that he affected, from a universal perception of a lost cause to a place of energy, progress, potential and investment where people, suburban families even!, came for enjoyment.

The city is paying a price now for the financial “mismanagement.” I put that in quotes because, while it is technically correct, I sometimes wonder if it was deliberate, a considered decision in often no-good-choices circumstances, that it would be worth the future cost if it could lift the city out of its grave.

In short, despite the errors (not bad faith intentions) and seemingly counterproductive decisions visible in retrospect, the very arguable view is that he began and, in fact, assured Harrisburg’s resurrection, and the city now has a chance–the “Next Phase”  in your article–because of him. The pejorative commentary also chooses not to recognize the selfless and total dedication to the city that more than anything defines his tenure.

Please consider this a letter to the editor for printing in The Burg. I believe it is more in accordance with the laudable standards of your magazine than the unbalanced commentary on this subject so often seen in the region’s media.

Thank you for your good work in advancing our community.

Jim Heckman
Wayne Township (Halifax area)

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