Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Mayoral Candidate Q&A: Candidates outline visions for Harrisburg.

Many issues sit on the shoulders of Harrisburg voters: financial recovery, neighborhood development, habitable housing, safety, to name a few. Come Tuesday, May 16, the city’s registered Democrats can weigh in on these issues by voting for mayor in the primary election.

To help inform your decision, we gave candidates the opportunity to outline their visions for our city. TheBurg asked the five mayoral candidates—Lewis Butts, Jr., Anthony Harrell, Jennie Jenkins, Gloria Martin-Roberts and incumbent Eric Papenfuse—three questions about city issues and their background.

We printed candidate responses in full, editing lightly for grammar and, in some cases, word count. We encourage you to attend upcoming debates, learn more about the candidates, and, most importantly, vote.

Candidate responses are listed in alphabetical order.


Lewis Butts

Q: In the next four years, the city will face significant financial challenges as it tries to exit Act 47. How would you lead the city in choosing an option related to the taxing powers granted by Act 47, whether that is creating a home rule charter, staying in Act 47 or something else entirely?

LB: Since 2013, I understand from this current administration that going into your term without a comprehensive plan or a draft of a comprehensive plan does the community which you serve no service.  The community without a plan doesn’t know where you want to take them.

Harrisburg under Act 47 requires a comprehensive plan. Not a promise that one will be composed within the next several years. This administration has had enough time and money to create one. I say, “Times up.” It’s important to send a message that this administration never had a vision for Harrisburg.

My Harrisburg First Plan will enable the city to rise out of Act 47 by equipping our city with the components required for a prosperous city of the future. Harrisburg can take advantage of Act 47 by creating better revenue engines throughout the city, while creating jobs for residents that are currently lacking. This will raise the morale of our citizenry and put hope and prosperity to residents.  

Harrisburg inability to create adequate revenue to repair roads, reduce taxes, satisfactory schooling, blight-ness, crime and city connectivity. This administration hasn’t created a more communicative administration to assist residents.

Below is listed several infrastructure components that will create adequate revenue to rise from Act 47:  

Voith Hydro Generation Plant: This superstructure will provide the municipality a power and revenue stream that could balance the scales of Act 47.  The power generated will reduce the electrical bill of the common resident. This project will generate 700 local jobs and over $150 million annually.

Wi-Fi Municipal Commutation Infrastructure: This infrastructure component will enable the Harrisburg School District to offer a year-round educational curriculum.  This component will allow children, students and residents to participate in higher education courses to improve job qualifications. The autonomous car industry (Volvo, Tesla, Mercedes Benz, Audi, Toyota and General Motors) is waiting for Harrisburg’s Dome.

Taxing residents is not an option. The only option is creating jobs and rebuilding our failing infrastructure through a comprehensive plan supported by the Act 47 management team. This will enable for best practices and outcome base criteria to be established and achieved.

My platform consists of the erections of the Harrisburg International Aquarium (HIA) located at the old post office on Market Street. This will attract millions of visitors. The advantages are that it’s on the rail line and the aquarium will offer more than 500 jobs. I will create more heritage parks that illustrate our contributions to the Civil War in the Uptown districts. I will also create a PennDOT Plaza; it will have nine eateries and 17 retail shops and will attract patrons of PennDOT, as well as state employees.

Harrisburg bridges were built as toll bridges. I would like to activate that component that can create close to $40K on a weekday.

The overall objective is to create jobs and revenue by holding international events in Harrisburg. For example, Harrisburg’s Motor Week will bring Indy Car Style Racing to the City.  A week of racing and will yield to the tune of $5 million in tourist revenue.

Q: Apart from Act 47, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing Harrisburg, and how would you address this issue as mayor?

LB: The most pressing issue facing Harrisburg is moving blind throughout the years wasting time without a comprehensive plan. Residents are willing to work “together” with the administration if there was something that we could hold on to. When empowering residents to take part in the plan, inclusiveness must be the priority. Crime will be lower if our leaders could connect with all citizens, not just the downtown and midtown populations. I am the candidate who can transcend all demographics of the Harrisburg population. I can communicate within all city dialects and promote unification through community investment.

Q: How have you prepared for this position?

LB: My experience as a Harrisburg native, state employee, city small business owner, city committee member, and founder of several environmental organizations enables me to have a unique perspective regarding environmental issues and natural environmental best practices. I will establish several municipal watchdog organizations to monitor the health of the Susquehanna River from non-point source pollution, since there is a real threat our Federal EPA will be deregulated.

I know how important relationships are between the media as well as stakeholders like the Civil War Museum. A leader must know how important it is to build the bridges of communication instead of lines of conflict.

Anthony Harrell

Q: In the next four years, the city will face significant financial challenges as it tries to exit Act 47. How would you lead the city in choosing an option related to the taxing powers granted by Act 47, whether that is creating a home rule charter, staying in Act 47 or something else entirely?

AH: As far as Act 47 goes, it will run out by 2018 and there will be no relief for the City of Harrisburg, unless home rule is in effect. After careful consideration and a lot of research, I am in favor of home rule. The main reason being that the citizens of Harrisburg can now have an input into how the city is run and being funded. After all, my main goal for running was to give the government back to the citizens who live here and out of the hands of the federal government and outside investors.

Q: Apart from Act 47, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing Harrisburg, and how would you address this issue as mayor?

AH: There is no one issue I can say is the most pressing one, that the citizens of this city would think is above any. The young citizens killing each other, the sinking of some streets, the addicts doing drugs in abandoned buildings, the lack of jobs and business in areas apart from downtown. Not one candidate speaks about the homeless and job rates of the veterans in Harrisburg except me. I was told just the other day while getting a haircut on sixth street (Uptown) that a hardware store would be an excellent addition to the neighborhood. The other neighborhoods in this city don’t want some to have and others to not have. We all flourish as a city when we all benefit the same. All they have ever said is, “Don’t leave us behind.” I have heard them and stand with them. I will stand and fight for them until all of Harrisburg is standing up, to show what a beautiful city looks like when everyone is fighting for one common cause.

Q: How have you prepared for this position?

AH: From the beginning, I will state that I am not a politician. I have not held any political positions, PTA, school board, City Council. I don’t have the pedigree that the usual politician has, nor do I want it. I have not received nor do I want any endorsements from any PACs, or political persons. I do not ask for campaign funds, nor do I want any, from PACs or outside money that wish to contribute to my campaign. I do not ask for money from the citizens of Harrisburg either because the people here are struggling to make ends meet and that would not be acceptable for a person calling themselves a servant of the people to take from them. I saved up my money to support my campaign and I buy my signs, my buttons, postcards and wardrobe. The citizens of Harrisburg want a candidate that is willing to spend his own money, knock on the doors and shake their hands personally. They don’t want 30 to 40 volunteers wasting their time.

At the last election, the people had two choices: one was horrible and the other, less horrible, but they both were not what the people wanted. That’s why only 7,000 people showed up to vote. I voted because, as an American citizen, it’s my duty to do so, even though I didn’t support either of the candidates. It was at that time I decided to put forward my vision, my view of what issues trouble citizens and myself. My children go the elementary and middle schools here and I have gone to HACC. I decided a long time ago to make an investment in this city. I have seen the streets eroded in some areas (Uptown, South, Hill) while others are being taken care of. I have seen bright lights being put up in some areas (Midtown) and others being left in the dark. The crime, shootings, the empty buildings, the drugs are rampant in some areas. In others, it’s like it’s a different world. I am an American soldier and the one thing we live by is or our creed, “Never Leave a Man Behind.” For the last 28 years, the administration and all those who were in public office have left behind parts of the city. The last two administrations have repeated what the one before has done as well. With the one exception that outside money has now been shown preference and has put its hands in the construction of this city.

Lastly, I would like to say, “If you are not registered to vote, stand up and be counted.”

Jennie Jenkins

Q: In the next four years, the city will face significant financial challenges as it tries to exit Act 47. How would you lead the city in choosing an option related to the taxing powers granted by Act 47, whether that is creating a home rule charter, staying in Act 47 or something else entirely?

JJ: Harrisburg needs to be financially self-sustaining for the next 100 years. While everyone is worried about the next three, I am thinking beyond the box we’ve been placed into, via dictation.

Harrisburg faces much deeper issues than financial security. In the streets and through comprehensive plan feedback, city finances are not the most pressing issue. It’s crime, safety, jobs, the schools, blight, and rebuilding their neighborhoods that keep residents up. It’s vital that everyone feels confident in my ability to understand this.

To the credit of Act 47, we’ve been in the black. Still, the “strong-arm” plan (failure) is dictating our future. There needs to be effective and creative ideas to counter what’s on the table.

For multiple reasons, I am not supportive of implementing a home rule charter. How can we trust the current leadership to effectively implement a change of this magnitude when they can’t even handle the comprehensive plan project? I believe the residents are being deceived, and that home rule will tax/fee the city into non-existence. Harrisburg will be a ghost town.

There is another way.  

Q: Apart from Act 47, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing Harrisburg, and how would you address this issue as mayor?

JJ: As the only mayoral candidate with community policing experience, crime and safety will be an actionable priority. A safe city equals economic growth.

It is common knowledge that crime is a deterrent for positive growth, and it is even more common to Harrisburg’s residents and business owners who’ve experienced contraction.  

Acknowledging Harrisburg’s crime problem and then developing a comprehensive strategy aimed at empowering the people by building bridges with our communities, law enforcement and government agencies is the solution. We can take back our city.

Though rendered ineffective in fulfilling their mandate, numerous communities and law enforcement agencies have developed program models aimed at preventing crime.

The “Harrisburg Anti-Crime Initiative” is a problem-solving approach. Having knowledge of Harrisburg’s dynamics, I can tell you that we already have many key components in place. We all have a role to play. By blending these components together into an actionable plan, Harrisburg can be a safer place to live, work and play.

I will put my 10+ years as a police officer and my well-versed knowledge in crime prevention to work for the people… all people, regardless of race, creed, color, religion or unique personal expression. I’ll be going to work for nearly 50,000 people.   

To the visitors, state employees, business owners, professionals and non-professionals, and regional residents that come into our great city, I want you to know that I care about your safety, too. I want you to stay and thrive in the City of Harrisburg.

Q: How have you prepared for this position?

JJ: My life experience, work history, and education have prepared me to be mayor.

A good leader is one who has a vision, can motivate and can inspire others to achieve greatness.

Communication is tied to transparency. What would it feel like to elect a leader that actually listens to the public, values its staff’s opinion, accepts responsibility and makes balanced decisions? My goal as a leader is to raise the standards of the executive branch, and rebrand Harrisburg’s image.

More than a leader, I’d be your representative. I am the people, too.  

I believe an organization takes on the image of the leader. When was the last time we had a leader with a genuine smile?  

Harrisburg needs a street-wise leader that attracts new residents and businesses by delivering respect, and protecting their hard work. Experienced candidates have broken our trust 10-times over. We’re done!

A good leader is surrounded by talent, not political favor. Whether native or planted, Harrisburg is flush with talent.  

Gloria Martin-Roberts

Q: In the next four years, the city will face significant financial challenges as it tries to exit Act 47. How would you lead the city in choosing an option related to the taxing powers granted by Act 47, whether that is creating a home rule charter, staying in Act 47 or something else entirely?

GMR: In 2018, the state will review the status of our city under Act 47 to determine what has been accomplished, what remains to be accomplished and what has not been addressed. The Coordinator will make either of these recommendations: 1) The city is ready to exit Act 47, 2) The city is not ready to exit and a three-year extension is required, and at this point, the Strong Plan would be updated through 2021, 3) the city has poorly performed and should be returned to receivership.

Based on the aforementioned factors, as a newly elected mayor, I would prefer a three-year extension allowing time for a new administration to work closely with the state, city council, county commissioners, the community and other stakeholders on the best options to move the city forward by exploring alternate plans for revenue generation without putting further burden on our city’s tax payers.

Exiting Act 47 impacts our power to maintain the current tax rate for the local service tax and earned income tax (EIT). EIT tax reverts back to $52, and the local services tax goes away if we exit Act 47 without a home rule option or a three-year extension under Act 47. The other option is to increase real estate tax, which already exists and within the purview of the municipality, this is not my preferred option and could potentially create an unfavorable exodus of valuable home owners.

At this early stage, I am not dismissing home rule; however, this is something that needs much deliberation with the community, stakeholders, and other elected officials before I can embrace this option. It also is not an immediate fix, as the process would take a minimum of 18 months and requires a decision by the electorate. My priority would focus on increasing economic development activities, those planned and those yet to be proposed to mitigate the possibility of revenue loss through taxation. I anticipate that the building of a new courthouse, improved transportation (train station), economic activities planned for MulDer Square neighborhood of Derry Street and the 13 projects funded by Impact Harrisburg, including proposed economic development in the Strong Plan, would ignite an intoxicating interest of those wanting to invest in a city on the move, one of Unity.

Q: Apart from Act 47, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing Harrisburg, and how would you address this issue as mayor?

GMR: Economic development is the most pressing issue because it generates revenue and supports a strong tax base. My administration will foster a climate conducive to economic growth, which is integral to strong public safety, excellent education system, responsiveness to quality of life issues and respectful, civil government, public/private partnerships.

Q: How have you prepared for this position?

GMR: I have worked for and/or served as a consultant with federal, state and local governments in senior management positions, administering large budgets and managing large staffing complements. I have served as chief operating officer of a federally qualified health center. I served on the elected school board, the board of control (appointed by two different mayors) and City Council, leaving as president. I currently sit on the board of Impact Harrisburg. I have served on numerous boards locally and represented our state nationally. I have been the recipient of many community awards. My civic and government experience has prepared me for the seat of mayor.

Eric Papenfuse

Q: In the next four years, the city will face significant financial challenges as it tries to exit Act 47. How would you lead the city in choosing an option related to the taxing powers granted by Act 47, whether that is creating a home rule charter, staying in Act 47 or something else entirely?

EP: Thanks to my administration’s efforts to increase the local service tax (LST), the city has the sustainable revenues it needs to exit Act 47. The key is keeping the earned income tax (EIT) and LST tax rates outside of distressed city status.

To that end, we put money in the current budget to hire a lobbyist to help enact the legislative change necessary for the City to exit Act 47 without having to relinquish its current taxing authority.

If we are unable to change the state law by the end of 2018, I will push for a three-year Act 47 extension. I will work with City Council to begin the home rule process, which will enable residents to enact a new city charter granting us the necessary taxing authority.

Either way, I believe the city can be out of Act 47 by the end of my next term. This is the primary reason I chose to run for re-election. I want to help guide us through this process and not see us revert to the dysfunction we had in previous administrations.

Q: Apart from Act 47, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing Harrisburg, and how would you address this issue as mayor?

EP: The most pressing issue facing Harrisburg is the continued division in our community. As mayor, I have worked hard to mend the long-standing racial and economic tensions that have historically plagued Harrisburg. I have also dedicated my efforts to restoring public confidence in the political system.

Harrisburg has economic development plans that will benefit all residents in every neighborhood. Some of these projects include the millions of dollars in infrastructure grants for the MulDer Square project in Allison Hill, the new federal courthouse and state archives buildings in Uptown and the relief funds we secured for the residents of South 14th St. A plan is also in place to rebuild every park and playground in the city.

Under the leadership of Chief Carter, I have encouraged the continued efforts of our police force to engage the youth in our community and earn their trust. We hired 46 new police officers in the last three years but need to continue to recruit and train officers who are willing to participate in our community policing strategy, which has a proven success rate. We need to break down the barriers between the police and the community and look for ways to continue bringing the city together. Focusing on economic development and crime reduction are just two places to start.

Q: How have you prepared for this position?

EP: As mayor, I have managed the city over the last three years without several key positions including business administrator, deputy business administrator or chief of staff. Part of balancing the City’s budget includes making some sacrifices, resulting in me taking these tasks on myself.

Without the aid of the state, I negotiated labor contracts with little dispute between the city and the Police Department, AFSCME and the firefighters. Working together, we were able to find middle ground to keep city employee’s salaries competitive without over-extending the budget.  

I continue to fight back on parking. This past January Harrisburg was threatened with another increase. City officials and I worked together to prevent that from happening. I negotiated the four hours of free parking on Saturday using the LUVHBG promotion code along with reducing the rates between 5 and 7 p.m. on weekdays to $1 an hour with use of the mobile app.

I successfully worked with local, state and federal officials to bring in millions of dollars for a variety of projects that provide jobs and capital improvements to our city.

Author: Danielle Roth

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