Four years ago, incumbent Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse stated that he planned to serve just one more term in office.
This week, he officially announced that he would be running again, for a total of three terms.
So, what changed his mind?
In an interview following the recent deadline for nominating petitions for the May 18 primary, Papenfuse stated that he had unfinished business that he felt he needed to follow through to completion.
“To make it clear, this will be my last term,” he said. “Originally, I had hoped that maybe I could do it in two terms. I think it will take one more term to make sure that we are sustainable and able to continue to be able to move forward.”
Papenfuse faces a crowded field of candidates for the Democratic nomination, more than in his two past campaigns. The field also includes City Council President Wanda Williams, former council member Otto Banks, former news publisher David Schankweiler and HMAC general manager Kevyn Knox.
If Papenfuse makes it past the May primary, he may face Allison Hill resident Timothy Rowbottom, who is unchallenged for the Republican nomination, in the general election.
Papenfuse stated that his first term was devoted to “stopping the bleeding” as the city emerged from its profound financial crisis. His current term, he said, has been to stabilize the city financially, and he cites consecutive balanced budgets and growing savings as an achievement.
He expects Harrisburg to finally break free this year of Act 47 after more than a decade in the state’s program for financially distressed municipalities.
If elected for a third term, Papenfuse said that he would focus on several key priorities.
The first would be to improve the city’s infrastructure. Papenfuse said that he wants to initiate a street-paving program that would include every city-owned street. Such a large undertaking will require the city to be able to re-enter the bond market, something it’s been unable to access for over a decade.
The city currently has several substantial road initiatives planned or started, including major changes and improvements to N. 2nd and N. 7th streets. Also, starting this year, safety improvements and a “road diet” are slated for State Street on Allison Hill. All of this work has been funded through grants and with the city’s own cash on hand.
“We need to address our neighborhood streets and roads,” he said. “The only way to do that responsibly is to fund it through a bond offering.”
Papenfuse said he also wants to guide implementation of the city’s proposed affordable housing program, continue to “civilianize” the police force, reduce crime and encourage re-development to reach more into the neighborhoods. Right now, some $600 million in building projects are “in the pipeline,” he said. He added that “more are coming,” some outside of the already established redevelopment areas in Midtown and downtown.
“One of the reasons that I’m committed to running for mayor is because I want to see us through COVID,” he said. “I want to get us towards the prosperity that I think is coming our way.”
Papenfuse said that he’s encouraged by the number of younger people on the political scene in Harrisburg. For instance, 13 candidates have declared for City Council, some having never run before.
“This is also why I’m pitching this as a transitional administration to the next group of leaders,” he said. “It’s all well and good to say we don’t want to go backwards, but we also need to train up and mentor and support younger folks.”
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