By Patriot-News Editorial Board
on November 01, 2013 at 11:00 AM, updated
November 01, 2013 at 9:34 PM
With Eric Papenfuse, voters can choose a positive, consensus-building leader and embrace a realistic path to a better future.
Wanted: Mayor for third-class central Pa. city in challenging financial circumstances, looking to overcome a history of civic and political dysfunction. Must be able to rebuild trust, re-engage a disillusioned public, bridge racial and economic differences, establish constructive relations with city council, implement a complicated recovery plan, pursue accountability for past wrongs without re-fighting old battles, and lead the rebirth of a city that has great potential.
If you agree with that job description for the next mayor of Harrisburg, vote for Eric Papenfuse on Tuesday.
A DECISIVE DIFFERENCE
Papenfuse is on the right side of the biggest question in Tuesday’s election. Unlike his opponent, he embraces the city’s current recovery plan as a solid foundation for moving the city forward.
Yes, the plan has elements that, in a perfect would, would be different, but Papenfuse realizes there is a heavy price to be paid for keeping the city stuck in financial limbo. Little will change for the good in Harrisburg if the plan falls apart and the city remains paralyzed by crushing debts and the prospect of bankruptcy.
He is eager to work with Receiver William Lynch to pursue civil claims against those who cut legal corners and helped steer the city into a morass of unpayable debt. Papenfuse also wants a forensic audit of the school district, where some of the same shady players piled up more debt, and incompetent accounting has amplified the financial turmoil.
BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER
Before running for mayor, Papenfuse was already trying to bring people together to improve civic life in the city and region. His Midtown Scholar bookstore has become a regular meeting place for discussions of local issues, community groups, and musical performances. During the campaign, Papenfuse has held community forums to encourage wider discussion of key issues, like crime and economic development. He says the city’s work on a new comprehensive plan, begun in an ad hoc way by the Thompson Administration, should follow the process required by city code, allowing full participation by average citizens.
His commitment to civic participation has helped Papenfuse develop impressively diverse support. African-Americans hold key positions in his campaign, and he touts the support of three city council members – Susan Brown-Wilson, Eugenia Smith, and Sandra Reid. As mayor, Papenfuse would have much better working relations with city council and offer a meaningful voice in city affairs to the city’s black residents.
Papenfuse realizes there are special challenges in helping the city’s impoverished and often under-skilled residents obtain decent jobs. He is not content to assume a rising tide in the city’s economy will lift their boats, too.
GOOD IDEAS ON CRIME
Though he has not served in city government, Papenfuse has detailed ideas for improving city services. They include converting the police department to real community policing and upgrading its antiquated computers. He has promised to clear away bureaucratic obstacles to starting new businesses.
As the campaign progressed, Papenfuse has taken a more politically realistic approach to the “meaningful tax abatement” he has championed, perhaps to the dismay of some of his major backers. He knows the break they prefer – one applying to all new construction throughout the city for years -- will be a tough sell to a skeptical city council. He now talks about consulting with city council on more targeted ways to encourage new investment and economic development.
With so much big campaign money on his side, Papenfuse faces a perception that he may be too friendly to certain special interests. To defuse that, he will have to deliver on his talk about involving the public in all aspects of city government.
The enthusiasm he displays on the campaign trail suggests that, as mayor, Papenfuse will be a highly public, effective advocate for the city and its schools. Having a mayor who can highlight success stories is essential to help overcome stereotypical outside impressions of life in the capital city.
Harrisburg mayoral candidate Dan Miller meets with the Patriot-News Editorial Board at the PA Media Group office. Joe Hermitt, PennLive.com
City Controller Dan Miller’s sharp-eyed financial expertise is appealing, and he has brought more transparency to the city’s finances. During his time in city government, he has taken pride in going against the grain and challenging prevailing wisdom. In the past, with Mayors Reed and Thompson in charge, Miller’s skepticism has been well-placed.
But it would be difficult for a self-professed lone wolf like Miller, so often the questioning outsider, to suddenly transform into the unifying leader the city desperately needs. There’s a place for someone of Miller’s skills and temperament in Harrisburg’s civic and political life, but it’s not in the mayor’s office.
A TURNING POINT
Tuesday’s election can mark a decisive turning point in Harrisburg’s history. Voters can choose a positive, consensus-building leader and embrace a realistic path to a better future. Or voters can choose to stay stuck in the past, endorsing continued complaints about the inevitable imperfections of a complex recovery package, clinging to the illusory hope of somehow getting a marginally better deal down the road.
Eric Papenfuse is the candidate who offers that realistic path forward, and that’s why we urge Harrisburg voters to elect him.
Editor's note: Write-in candidate Aaron Johnson declined an invitation to meet with the Patriot-News editorial board. The board interviewed write-in candidate Lewis Butts this spring, when he was a candidate in the Democratic primary, a race in which he received 64 votes.