A Metropolis's Future: Harrisburg Mayors Hope Why They Run For What They Will Do – The Burg Information

When in Harrisburg you can't miss it – an important choice is just around the corner.

Signs for the candidates are everywhere and if you live in the city you can't avoid the ads, flyers and advertisers.

In this cycle we asked all mayoral candidates two open questions. We hope that through their answers you will better understand what is important to them and maybe even discover something new about their positions and personalities.

Your answers are in alphabetical order, with the five Democratic candidates listed first, followed by the individual Republican candidate. We asked candidates to limit their answers to 425 words and made minor changes to suit our style.

The area code will take place on May 18th. Please make your voice audible!

Otto Banks (D)

What is the biggest problem Harrisburg is facing and how are you going to address it?

Our adults lack access to quality employment, affordable and decent housing, business development, and access to spiritual, social and medical services in the community. I will encourage businesses to hire residents through the Job Opportunity Tax Credit by adding points on the city's RFP scoring matrices for hiring residents. I will work with unions to ensure our residents are trained and prepared to rebuild our infrastructure and housing. I want to create higher quality housing opportunities by helping developers get low-income housing tax credits, capital for redevelopment assistance, Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and housing investment partnership funds, and other programs that have long been available to us. To address the health deficits, I will ensure that the city's Department of Health is fully funded and staffed to address the disparities within the social determinants of health.

Our children need high quality education with deliberate attention to business schools, leisure, artistic and cultural activities with summer employment and work readiness training. We can fix deficits in youth programming by working within the structure of the HSD. Through funding and collaboration with HSD, we can expand normal operations by turning schools into “community centers” where children can receive tutoring, professional training, leisure activities and opportunities for artistic / cultural expression. This program is funded through three funding streams: Title I, CDBG Money, and EITC Tax Credit, which allows companies to contribute to a nonprofit education improvement and receive up to a 90% deduction from their state tax liability in addition to the federal allowance for a donation to a donation 501C3. Summer employment opportunities for youth are funded through Parks / Recreation and the Department of Labor's Youth Build program, a community-based training program that provides vocational training / education opportunities for vulnerable youth ages 16-24. Credit and affordable professional assistance through legal, accounting, administrative and coaching / mentoring services. I will expand and redesign the city's revolving loan program and work with local banking institutions that receive the city's funds to create competitive financial instruments that are directly tied to city contracts. I also plan to support the local Chamber of Commerce to help small businesses find or provide escrow management services.

What qualities does the Mayor of Harrisburg need and how do you illustrate them?

Harrisburg's mayor has to be a champion for our city. You need to be knowledgeable, motivated, committed, transparent, optimistic, pragmatic, sociable, versatile, benevolent, compassionate, hardworking and visionary. I have illustrated these qualities through my extensive background as a civil servant. I've worked to create business opportunities, contracts and partnerships. I am able to not only dream big, but demonstrably carry it out.

Kevyn Knox (D)

What is the biggest problem Harrisburg is facing and how are you going to address it?

Inequality! The powers that be seem to care only about the wealthier residents, but very little about the middle and especially low income residents. We are a city of 49,000 people and the city government has to be there for everyone!

What qualities does the Mayor of Harrisburg need and how do you illustrate them?

The mayor has to be for the people – all people! The mayor needs to surround himself with the most qualified people to do his job and help the city and all of its residents! The mayor must try everything to make this city a fair and just city for everyone!

Eric Papenfuse (D) (incumbent)

What is the biggest problem Harrisburg is facing and how are you going to address it?

The biggest problem with this election is whether Harrisburg is maintaining the progress we have made during my tenure or whether it stems from the desperation and dysfunction that originally inspired me to run for office. By almost every metric, Harrisburg is better off today. Budget discipline, balanced budgets, civil discourse between branches of government, expansion of urban services – that was not the norm before I took office. And these advances could easily be reversed under various leadership positions.

This spring, I am challenged by longtime politicians like Wanda Williams, who supported the bankruptcy and were part of a broken political system that led the state to take over the city. Two Republicans are also enrolled in Democratic Elementary School. One of them withdrew tens of thousands of dollars from school voucher advocates seeking to disappoint the Harrisburg School District. Another multimillionaire, Dave Schankweiler, who backed Trump and Perry, fought against President Obama's agenda, spending tens of thousands on anti-gay political advisors who are insincere trying to convince Democratic voters that he shares our values. But this is the first time he has voted in a democratic communal elementary school.

I believe in term limits and I promise that this will be my last term when voters re-elect me. We cannot allow right-wing ideologues to reverse this city or take advantage of our divisions. I want to build on the successes we have achieved together. Together we can and must nurture a new generation of progressive leaders whose contributions I welcome and whose voices I promise to raise over the next four years.

What qualities does the Mayor of Harrisburg need and how do you illustrate them?

The most important quality the mayor must possess is the ability to bring together competing interest groups to serve the interests of residents and promote the recreation of the city. I am proud to have earned the full support of the organized work and support from AFSCME, the Teamsters, the Central PA Building Trades, and others. I am also pleased to have the support of business leaders and employers who continue to create new opportunities and contribute to the revitalization of our city.

Over the past tenure, my administration, working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, has achieved what many believed was impossible: a long-term solution to Harrisburg's decades-old structural deficit. Harrisburg is set to move out of distressed city status this year, and we have an unprecedented opportunity to work with President Biden's administration to invest tens of millions of dollars in Harrisburg's post-COVID recovery. We will be able to meet urgent infrastructure needs – from paving the streets in the neighborhood to rehabilitating the Susquehanna through proper rainwater management. I want to lead the city into an even better future.

Dave Schankweiler (D)

What is the biggest problem Harrisburg is facing and how are you going to address it?

Street violence is Harrisburg's greatest challenge. It is what stands between us and our dreams for a blooming capital – a city with 22 districts full of art, culture, festivals and an exciting generation of entrepreneurial talent. Without aggressive measures to reverse the increasing violent crime – especially on streets where mostly black and brown citizens live – we will not have a city that works for everyone. And with the highest homicide rate in 30 years, there are no more safe and unsafe neighborhoods. The shootings in the streets of Verbeke and Division this year have shown that wherever life falls, we are all affected. It is a shared responsibility to make this city safe, clean and liveable.

On my first full day as mayor, I will call on the city council, public safety officers, business, school, church, nonprofits, and neighborhood leaders to attend a city-wide violence prevention summit – a city-wide discussion about the causes of crime. We need to review human and resource needs to end the violence on the city streets, but this will not be addressed through a single program or one-time infusion of cash. We need a citywide commitment to keep Harrisburg safe, clean, and beautiful. City hall can no longer remain silent about the injustices of violence, rubbish, plague and crumbling streets.

We are about to big things – the bright spots in Midtown and downtown are good signs – but widespread rebirth won't happen unless the city is safe for families in every neighborhood. We must stand up together.

What qualities does the Mayor of Harrisburg need and how do you illustrate them?

Having observed political and business leaders over the years, it is clear that they must have at least administrative skills, personal discipline, a strong emotional and spiritual core, and the ability to turn critics into advisors. But the best leaders are servant leaders – those who balance trust with humility. These are leaders who listen, treat employees honestly and kindly, and are able to put someone else's interests before their own.

When I left the Republican Party and re-registered as a Democrat, I did so because the party no longer had a vision for the cities. It had lost sight of the dreams and hopes of the people who live in them. Aside from the change in stats, my decision was primarily because the leader at the top did not have any of the qualities worth following a leader. Rather than being associated with a value system that placed the dignity of others over ambition, Trump had an insatiable appetite for himself. I could not be associated with this type of leader and party.

Those who have worked with me have said that my ability to listen and bring people together for solutions are some of my best leadership traits. I would like to have the privilege of serving my neighbors as mayor and using those skills for Harrisburg.

Wanda Williams (D)

What is the biggest problem Harrisburg is facing and how are you going to address it?

There are many important issues our city faces in these interesting times that we live in, but I believe these are two of the most important.

Make sure our businesses not only return after COVID, but also thrive – and expand into all of Harrisburg's neighborhoods. I've worked with national and state stakeholders for nearly two decades. I will work to raise as much federal and state funds as possible to help our companies damaged by COVID and to help others start new ones.

We must keep working to protect our neighborhoods. I will start programs that will keep our youth active and without any problems. I will work to create more investments that create more jobs. We also need to ensure that all of our police officers have body cameras in place to ensure the accountability of all parties.

What qualities does the Mayor of Harrisburg need and how do you illustrate them?

Leadership – At every level, I've shown the leadership it takes to be our next mayor. I chaired the city council on behalf of the taxpayers, which served as control over the last three mayoral administrations. I have also served on national and state bodies to find solutions to the problems cities like ours face.

Experience – This applies not only to my 16 years on the city council, but also to my experience with the people in our city. They know that I am real and approachable.

Commitment – I have lived in Harrisburg my entire life and raised my children here. We have all visited our schools and worked to make our city better. I have served on the city council for the past 16 years. I have been a Democrat all my life and have never wavered in my support for democratic candidates or for trade unions. That will never change.

Compassion – Like people, a city has ups and downs, tragedies and rays of light. I've participated in our people's good times and bad. I had a member of my family shot dead by random violence. I know when our people are suffering and need help. I will always be with the good people of Harrisburg who deserve safe roads, good government service, and a mayor to listen to them.

Courage – When our city was in dire financial straits, I competed against the Commonwealth and Wall Street bond dealers who wanted to oblivion our residents and sell all our fortunes. I said no and was able to help forge a better and fairer business for our city's taxpayers. I will always tell the truth to power.

Timothy Rowbottom (R)

What is the biggest problem Harrisburg is facing and how are you going to address it?

There are a number of great topics that are all relevant to one another. The lack of empowerment opportunities is related to the corrupt pipeline system of Dauphin County Jail, which includes the halfway houses, methadone clinics, and the work release center. Another big problem plaguing this city are opportunistic politicians who only come by every four years to play the residents for their votes and not deliver anything in return. For too long, the Harrisburg executive has used the code bureau as a weapon, attacking local residents and taking extremist views into account. We can no longer allow the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority to abuse their office while Allison Hill and other broken blocks across town are left in desolation.

The defeat of the police movement will be a disaster for this city, leaving the most vulnerable residents open to criminal victims. While I believe that some cops shouldn't be cops and some judges shouldn't be judges, I also believe that in order to instill morality in the police and to keep good cops, those who do should be given respect for their lives the game to protect us.

Let's call it madness, madness, and stand together to drive back corruption. It is time this city had a leader who respected the rights of private property and the will of EVERYONE, not just those who donate to a campaign.

I will confront these institutions directly and provide the words that I speak.

What qualities does the Mayor of Harrisburg need and how do you illustrate them?

I believe that all decisions are based on fear or belief-based principles, and I believe that to get the city out of its dysfunction one has to operate in faith while creating hope for a better decade. Harrisburg needs a leader who will not be intimidated. Harrisburg needs a leader who is not enslaved to its donors.

Everyone with their heart in this city has watched opportunities missed, neighborhoods not increased, business driven out by leadership vendettes, and everyone knows that the crux of the problem is a lack of adequate understanding by representative government. We elect representatives, not dictators.

I will listen to anyone who comes up with a fruitful conversation and has actionable ideas.

I've put my money where my mouth is by investing my life and talent in Allison Hill.

Win, lose, or tie, I'm here to serve.

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