Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

6 Candidates, 1 Question: Where do Harrisburg City Council candidates see the city going over the next four years?

Ah, May. Flowers bloom, birds sing and, if you live in Pennsylvania, candidates canvas and campaign.

Harrisburg almost always has interesting races, especially in off-year, municipal elections. Since the city is overwhelmingly Democratic, the primary is usually where the action is, and this year is no exception, as no Republicans are running for citywide office.

For City Council, six Democratic candidates are vying for their party’s nomination for three, four-year seats. The candidates include three current office-holders, Danielle Bowers, Dave Madsen and Westburn Majors, and three challengers, Christina Kostelecky, Dionna Reeves and Brianna Smith.

To get an idea of where the candidates stand, we asked all the same question, requesting that they keep their answers to 500 words. We hope that these responses offer insight into the candidates’ visions for the city and how they hope to achieve them. Responses are listed in alphabetical order and have been lightly edited to conform to our style and grammar guidelines.

The primary is May 21. Please vote to make your voice heard on the future of your city.


Danielle L. Bowers

Question: The term for this Harrisburg City Council seat runs for four years. What one or two major goals would you like to see Harrisburg accomplish over the next four years? Why? How would you, as a council member, try to accomplish these goals?

Answer: Over the next four years, I would like to see the City of Harrisburg accomplish the following two goals:

  1. Affordable Housing
  2. Economic Development

Affordable housing can be achieved through inclusionary zoning and blight reduction. The city conducted a housing study in 2018 to determine housing needs over the next five years. The study determined that there is a need for affordable housing in every area of the city over the next five years.

I believe the city should take a proactive approach to meet the impending need. Inclusionary zoning can be implemented to achieve affordable housing. Inclusionary zoning requires developers to designate a percentage of their housing units for low to moderate-income residents.

Blight reduction could also assist in achieving affordable housing. By reducing blight, I believe the city will have more viable sites for affordable housing. The city has a Harrisburg Property Reinvestment Board. The board meets monthly, and its sole purpose is to address blighted property throughout the city.

The goal of economic development can be achieved through promotion of equitable development, support of local entrepreneurs, and spurring job creation for local residents. Equitable development assists in achieving the goal of economic development within the city. Equitable development ensures that minority-owned business enterprises (MBEs), women-owned business enterprises (WBEs) and disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs) are active participants in the city’s procurement and contracting opportunities. Equitable development could be achieved through participation in business workshops offered by the city, partnerships with the local chambers of commerce to identify businesses for contracting opportunities and targeted community engagement.

By supporting local entrepreneurs, the city will not only improve the local economy, but improve neighborhoods as well. Through local development, the city will provide access to goods and services available in their communities. Finally, economic development within the city will spur job creation for local residents. The city has a strong talent pool in an increasingly competitive labor market. Through increased development, the city should see more available jobs in various industries being filled by city residents who are qualified to succeed in these roles.

As a council member, I will work to ensure the city meets the two major goals of affordable housing and economic development. I believe these goals can be achieved through social innovation, effective research and collaboration between council and the administration. Should I be elected to serve a full term on City Council, I will continue to work to achieve these goals over the next four years.


Christina Kostelecky

Question: The term for this Harrisburg City Council seat runs for four years. What one or two major goals would you like to see Harrisburg accomplish over the next four years? Why? How would you, as a council member, try to accomplish these goals?

Answer: I’m Christina Kostelecky, and I’m running for our community. My goals focus on improvements for all residents rather than just a select few.

Economic development throughout the city. It’s time to focus on neighborhood development throughout the city. Evidence shows that costs are lower and returns are greater when we focus on small projects throughout neighborhoods. So, I’ll work with community groups and the planning commission to develop projects that our neighborhoods want that will benefit all Harrisburg residents. Imagine your neighborhood with wide sidewalks, clean streets and a locally-owned business just a few doors down.

I’ve spoken with Andrea, Shaun and Julia, local entrepreneurs frustrated with the hoops they’re jumping through while trying to start or expand a business in Harrisburg. I’m committing to the time and energy required to go through current legislation, line by line, to find outdated policies, to draft new language, and to build the coalitions necessary to reform the laws. Big, out-of-state developers don’t suffer from our tedious regulations; they simply hire expensive legal teams and pass costs along to the customers. Meanwhile, small business owners can’t afford to delay an opening (and therefore revenue) by several months. Our goal must be to encourage local businesses, not discourage them with antiquated, costly regulations.

Improve our schools. Undoubtedly you’ve heard about the state of our schools. Whether you’re a parent or are planning to have children, a business looking for a qualified workforce, or a long term resident of Harrisburg, you understand the importance of great schools and care deeply about their improvement. The quality of our city depends on the quality of our schools, and it’s time for City Council to play an active role in giving our city’s youth the positive learning environment and promising future they deserve. Simple steps like attending school board meetings can go a long way in making sure we stay on track with the administration and necessary improvements.

I recently met Kim and Yamaris, both parents of two who share my view that the solutions to our school problems are complex and will take time. Kim talks about walking a bunch of kids to school to make sure they stay safe, but she worries when she’s not around to do that. Yamaris dropped out of school and doesn’t want that for her own kids. While City Council members can’t change the schools overnight, we can hold the school board accountable. To that end, I commit to attending at least four school board meetings each year. Roughly two-thirds of our taxes go to the school system—I’m willing to pay that much when there’s some return on our investment.

Other goals include private-public partnerships for our community spaces (e.g. allow businesses to sponsor parks and paths), addressing affordable housing (e.g. reduce lot size restrictions), and increasing civic engagement by encouraging participation in citywide events. I invite each of you reading this to reach out to me; let’s start that engagement today—for our community!


Dave Madsen

Question: The term for this Harrisburg City Council seat runs for four years. What one or two major goals would you like to see Harrisburg accomplish over the next four years? Why? How would you, as a council member, try to accomplish these goals?

Answer: The goal is to improve the quality of life for our citizens. By making sure the budget reflects the health, safety and welfare of our community. We will accomplish this by continuing to invest in our police, fire and public works departments.


Westburn Majors

Question: The term for this Harrisburg City Council seat runs for four years. What one or two major goals would you like to see Harrisburg accomplish over the next four years? Why? How would you, as a council member, try to accomplish these goals?

As a lifelong resident of the City of Harrisburg, I am excited about the opportunity to continue to serve my community on City Council. Over the next four years, my focus on City Council will be:

Continuing the work of improving public infrastructure and addressing blight.

In my role on City Council as chair of the Public Works Committee, over the last four years I listened to the needs of our community to improve the conditions of our neighborhoods. We know that as a city if we are going to be able to grow, attract new business and encourage existing businesses to expand, we must continue the work to repair our infrastructure and address blight.

Blight and trash discourage people from investing in our communities and neighborhoods. Last year, we went to the community to hold a series of meetings on ways to address these matters. The result was the adoption of a sanitation ordinance that increased fines and penalties for violations (including illegal dumping) and holds property owners accountable. Over the next four years, I remain committed to supporting increased enforcement and aggressively holding the responsible parties accountable for the cost of cleanup—instead of taxpayers. By improving the condition of our neighborhoods, we can restore a sense of pride in the city and attract more people to reside in the city while making it more attractive for businesses to locate in the city, which leads to jobs and improved living conditions for everyone. Over the next four years, I will work to develop policies that will encourage redevelopment.

Continued financial recovery and economic development.

Harrisburg has come a long way over the last four years. When I was elected to council in 2015, the city was in state receivership through Act 47. Council has worked with the administration to develop balanced budgets and stabilize our finances. Now the city is emerging from Act 47 and working with the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority to develop a plan to improve our finances over the next five years. The law passed by the General Assembly gives the city five years, with our increased taxing authority under Act 47, to stabilize our finances.

My goal in the next four years is to make Harrisburg a more attractive place for investment. I will work with the business community to encourage reviving vacant commercial properties in our business corridors in Uptown, Allison Hill and throughout the city instead of looking to locate in surrounding areas outside the city. If we are able to grow our tax base through business development and growth in our neighborhoods, we will not need to increase taxes on a community that is already stretched. This includes working diligently with city departments to engage in partnerships with businesses, contractors and employers to provide greater opportunities for employment, job training and entrepreneurial experiences for the citizens of the city.

This is an exciting time for the city of Harrisburg, and I look forward to being a committed voice of the citizens, responsive to their needs and making Harrisburg an example of the benefits that can be gained when community, business and government work collectively for the good of the people.


Dionna Reeves

Question: The term for this Harrisburg City Council seat runs for four years. What one or two major goals would you like to see Harrisburg accomplish over the next four years? Why? How would you, as a council member, try to accomplish these goals? 

Answer: The city of Harrisburg has its share of challenges as I am sure other cities may have. A major goal I would like the city to accomplish over the next four years is the beautification of the city. Throughout areas of Harrisburg, there are vacant or abandoned properties. These vacant or abandoned properties are blight on the entire city, creating safety issues and a negative image.

Tackling this goal will be essential in improving the quality of life for residents. Encouraging revitalization throughout the entire city, not only in targeted areas, is a possible solution as all neighborhoods deserve attention. Community outreach will be a vital task to determine the needs in different neighborhoods around the city. Improving the overall attitude about Harrisburg can eventually create a feeling of hope and pride with city residents. Revitalization and beautification can keep residents living safely and thriving daily.

Other possible solutions to creating the beautification in our city are developing a strategic plan to include new policies and procedures for landlords. Landlord accountability needs to be reinforced, stricter enforcement of the current rules for blight remediation, and strengthening penalties for violations of city codes could all improve Harrisburg’s appearance. The revitalization of Harrisburg would be the responsibility of the city and city residents to rebuild and restore our community.


Brianna Smith

Question: The term for this Harrisburg City Council seat runs for four years. What one or two major goals would you like to see Harrisburg accomplish over the next four years? Why? How would you, as a council member, try to accomplish these goals?

Answer: One goal that I would like to see Harrisburg accomplish over the next four years is to increase job opportunities for today’s youth. For every young person, a job offering decent work is an important step in effecting the transition to adulthood, a milestone towards independence and self-reliance. For young people living in poverty and in other disadvantaged situations, employment is often the main means for achieving a better life. Creating and fulfilling income-generating job opportunities for young people can have a direct positive outcome for poverty improvement in Harrisburg. Youth employment benefits social development. It also benefits economic development by helping the entry of young, skilled people into the productive sectors of an economy and enabling the economy to sustain or increase its productivity and competitiveness in the global marketplace. Also, I would like to create partnerships with local businesses to invest in our youth by hiring them.



School Slate
Harrisburg City Council isn’t the only competitive primary race in Harrisburg this year.

The race for school board is arguably even more contentious, with 12 Democratic candidates competing for five, four-year seats. Like in the City Council race, no Republicans chose to run.

Below are the names of the candidates, with incumbents (elected and appointed) indicated by (I) after their names.

  • Jayne Buchwach
  • Lewis Butts Jr.
  • Lionel Gonzalez (I)
  • Lola Lawson (I)
  • Ralph Rodriguez
  • Ellis R. Roy (I)
  • James Thompson
  • Doug Thompson Leader
  • Gerald Welch
  • Patricia Whitehead-Myers (I)
  • Cory X. Williams
  • Steven Williams

At press time, several community groups were planning to host candidate forums and debates for both City Council and school board. We urge you to attend one of those events to learn more about the candidates.

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