Alanna Elder is a member of the Report for America Corps, which focuses on Latinos in central Pennsylvania and the 2020 election, how the growing community will impact, what electoral barriers exist, and how this could affect this battlefield state. She was previously the assistant editor and podcast producer for Latin America News Dispatch while studying for a Masters in Journalism and Latin American and Caribbean Studies from New York University. She has also worked for NPR member stations in Petersburg, Alaska and Laramie, Wyoming.
May 4, 2021 | 11:08 am
(Harrisburg) – Four of the last five Harrisburg mayors have been Democrats, and members of that party have only two weeks to choose between five candidates for mayor.
Republican Timothy Rowbottom is running freely for his party's nomination.
Here's a look at the candidates' approaches to two of the most important issues in the primary area: economic development and public safety.
Providing economic opportunities for entrepreneurs and workers is an important issue in the race to run a city with a poverty rate of 26.2%. The 2019 census estimate, which is more than twice that of the state, is the same rate as it was in the last 2010 census.
As a former city council member and federal civil servant for housing and urban development, Banks heads the school election organization REACH. He is quick to criticize incumbent Mayor Eric Papenfuse for failing to do more to ensure historically disadvantaged companies get contracts and city residents get jobs.
"There are mechanisms that should be used, that should be encouraged, that are not," he said.
Banks, who advocates his experience of economic development policy at the federal level, suggests companies hiring locally to offer tax credits work with local unions to train residents ahead of a big project, and overhaul the city's inactive revolving loan program more people have access to capital. One of its main points is asking the local government to pressure or incentivize developers to hire Black and Latino contractors.
In a debate hosted by ABC27, Banks said he would give the city's Justice and Positive Action Office the power to enforce contractual and recruitment goals for minorities through fines or legal action, as well as the power to investigate discrimination within the city's departments. He said the office will manage underprivileged business programs that are subordinate to the Bureau of Economic Development.
Banks that criticized other candidates for their mixed political affiliations switched from Democrat to Republican in the early 2000s and were appointed to the HUD by the administration of former President George Bush. He said he felt disaffected with the Democratic Party at the time but recently moved back because he disagreed with former President Trump's policies and rhetoric.
Kevyn Knox, general manager of the Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center, initially responded to an interview request but did not attend. However, in the ABC27 debate, he said he would support raising the minimum wage. However, he noted that state law prevents communities other than Philadelphia from demanding higher wages from employers.
"We can incentivize companies, tax incentives, to raise the minimum wage to 12, 15, 16, whatever makes a living wage for the people," he said during the ABC27 debate.
Acting as a political outsider, Knox also reiterated the importance of attracting and supporting "black-owned companies, LGBTQ-owned companies, women-owned companies and migrant-owned companies".
The incumbent mayor, whose website describes his campaign as "a bridge to a sustainable political future," is asking voters to grant him another four-year term to continue the economic recovery and other projects that began during his last two.
Papenfuse did not respond to an interview request, but defended his government's minority contracts in the debate, saying the Economic Development Bureau was doing outreach to promote justice. He criticized Banks' proposal to reshape the city's revolving loan program by saying it encourages corruption under the administration of the late former Mayor Stephen Reed.
Papenfuse welcomed the city's progress in securing the ability to continue to levy additional taxes and the construction boom. It included a proposal to use a portion of the $ 48 million raised by the American Rescue Plan Act to flow into Harrisburg towards a universal basic income program.
He later said in a virtual town hall organized by an organization called Survive and Tell, which depicts domestic violence victims with police involvement, that the move could "lift thousands of families out of poverty" and be "a form of reparation" .
Papenfuse also said he supported a higher minimum wage and criticized candidate mayor Dave Schankweiler for not taking the same stance, pointing to the former publisher's affiliation with the Republican Party.
Like Banks, Central Penn Business Journal founder Dave Schankweiler suggests ideas to create more opportunities for residents through professional training and attention to local businesses. He often begins his responses by describing what he has learned by interviewing residents across town and meeting with community leaders weekly.
“We talk a lot about small businesses. We don't support our small business here very well, ”he said.
Schankweiler said he will open a new office for minority entrepreneurship and small business growth to provide education, mentoring and funding to help businesses cross what he calls the "five-year barrier" as the key threshold. He plans to develop a new contractor database to ensure access to projects. He said this would ensure that more money generated by these projects stays in the city.
The University of Harrisburg co-founder said he will also work to attract businesses in four areas – "technology, healthcare, senior living and advanced manufacturing" – and create training programs to make these jobs easier for people to access.
In an interview, Schankweiler replied to Papenfuse's criticism of his previous political affiliation that he was one of many former Republicans who had left the party because of their resistance to its leadership under former President Donald Trump. He added that being a Democratic candidate in the blue-majority city is pragmatic.
City Council President Wanda Williams sheds light on her life in Harrisburg and her long career as a Democrat – she has the approval of the local party committee – as well as the national and national connections she has built through years of work in the city government.
The Presidency promised to do more for minority, women and LGBTQ entrepreneurs: "For the first time in history I will make sure we have a level playing field," she said in the debate.
Williams later said in an interview that her administration was working to insist on "fairness" in procurement, drawing lessons from other communities that have implemented such mandates.
She also said she supported a revitalization of the city's revolving loan program for businesses that need capital to survive and grow.
Williams said she plans to use the American Rescue Plan money to coordinate with nonprofits and support poverty reduction programs that provide shelter, shelter and professional training. She said she also plans to use federal funds for infrastructure improvements, including street renovation and upgrading the city's sewer system. In addition to affordable housing, the updates are the focus of their campaign.
Williams suggests "reviving" the thriving, community-oriented neighborhoods she remembered from childhood, such as helping people with home repairs and "holding residents accountable" for the appearance of their courtyards.
Timothy Rowbottom is the only Republican candidate in the running. He was recently targeted by people who read homophobic and anti-transgender posts he campaigned on his Facebook page, and PennLive reported that he was on charges of simple assault, child endangerment, and strangulation related Was charged unrelated to a May 2020 incident that allegedly appeared in his incident at home. His next court date is planned for early June.
In an interview, Rowbottom repeated claims in the posts that LGBTQ advocacy groups corrupt and endanger adolescents. At least some of these posts remained on the Facebook page at the time of posting.
The Republican candidate admitted beating his daughter last year but denied the strangulation charge that prosecutors later added. Rowbottom said he believed it was retaliation for his federal court action against the city in 2019. The case involves a dispute with the city over zoning regulations that affect a property he owns.
He's running, he said, to draw attention to what he calls corruption in the local judicial system and to combat approving new breweries and pharmacies in the city that he said are addictive.
However, like other candidates, he is interested in vocational training programs. He was committed to preparing people for high tech careers in areas such as music production and graphic design from the former William Penn High School building.
"The way the whole system is set up is," Hey, we're going to get you a minimum wage job, "he said." It's not a plan. This is a plan to fail. "
Out of frustration at Governor Tom Wolf's COVID-19 restrictions, Rowbottom said he was opening a chapter for the right-wing group Free PA in the Allison Hill neighborhood where he lives.
Police & Security
Most candidates say they would take a multi-faceted approach to tackling a recent surge in homicides and a community police approach to protecting residents from racial prejudice.
In 2020, the city reported 22 murders, which PennLive determined to be the highest rate in 30 years.
Harrisburg also faced pressure to respond to calls for greater accountability with law enforcement after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor increased the focus on police brutality and racial injustice.
For banks, crime prevention means offering all city dwellers economic opportunities.
"There are many people who are given the circumstances and who have actually been forced to live this way," he said.
In addition to the training, loan, and business proposals outlined above, he's sponsoring a new film, arts, culture, and tourism bureau designed to expand the number of jobs available.
He said he will also step up patrols in areas where there is more violence and increase the oversight of officers by their superiors.
The banks' approach to law enforcement policy is to work with the police union to add de-escalation and mental health training and accountability measures to the department.
"Even though politicians and elected officials are discussing what to do, one has to understand that there is a union contract," he said.
Banks said he will work to make people feel safe, file complaints against officials without feeling humiliated or intimidated, and encourage law enforcement to build relationships with residents. Banks said he would make data on police stops available to make city government more transparent online.
However, for an overall better police-community relationship, he has reiterated that the city will have to work harder to recruit more black and Latin American officers and firefighters. The city can do more to attract and train candidates for these jobs, he said.
Knox said in the debate that he supports compulsory training on cultural skills, social workers as first responders when applicable, and a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination by civil servants.
"There have been too many cases where it escalated because of the color of your skin, or because you're an immigrant, or because you're the LGBTQ community," he said. "And we have to put an end to that."
On social media, Knox's campaign account has also advocated moving funds from local law enforcement to other departments. However, the posts do not indicate how much money should be diverted or where.
Speaking at Survive & Tell town hall, Papenfuse said overall crime had declined and responding to the rise in murders "requires collective solutions," including community initiatives and advocacy for gun reforms.
At the beginning of his tenure, the mayor directed the police to start enforcing gun regulations in the city, leading to a lawsuit against the restrictions. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are grappling with cases like Harrisburg's in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Papenfuse also praised a new police substation and efforts to improve street lighting with organizations in the Allison Hill area.
He responded to Banks' point that the force should better reflect the city's population by saying that it is difficult to find and keep qualified police officers.
During the debate, Papenfuse said the representation was one of the reasons he proposed new civilian entry positions for the police department. Seven non-profit employees, whose jobs in the 2021 budget were approved by the city council, are to do a combination of office work and public relations according to the mayor's original proposal.
"We don't have to adhere to public service regulations. They don't have to have special qualifications, the same things police officers may need to have, and that will diversify the armed forces as a whole," he said.
The mayor and city council also created jobs for social workers to work as co-responders with law enforcement, as well as a new captaincy for the department's community police department.
Schankweiler has made murder statistics a general refrain of his campaign, in which he describes reducing violence as a top priority.
“So many of us love this city, know this city; We know the people in this city who are our neighbors and we don't want this to be our heading, ”he said.
Schankweiler promises to spend his first days as mayor gathering community and government leaders in what he calls a “city-wide action summit for violence prevention” in order to develop solutions.
Actions he is now considering include hiring more police officers, creating youth programs and improving the quality of life across the city by fighting epidemics and poor street lighting.
Schankweiler has proposed a “Unified Neighborhood Council” of people from all parts of the city in order to continue the efforts identified at the summit.
The community police are of value to Schankweiler – but he disagrees with Papenfuse for describing what law enforcement is doing in the city now. He advocates more practices like scheduling officers to walk around the neighborhood to speak to residents. Echoing critics of the civilian positions during the budget discussions in 2021, he said their roles need to be further defined.
He said a common thread in his own conversations with residents was a desire to be more present with law enforcement. Therefore, another goal is to fill vacancies in the department.
City Council President Williams has praised the city's efforts to recover illegal weapons. She said she wants to continue this work and have law enforcement agencies work with the school district to teach young people about the risks and consequences of carrying guns.
She also agreed to the mayor's defense for recent moves to improve policing.
"We did everything we could possibly do at this point," she said in the debate.
The city plans to offer mental health training in Dauphin County to help officials respond appropriately to mental health issues.
The city council also voted last November to set up a police advisory committee with subpoena powers. Williams was the only voice against the measure, expressing concern that law enforcement controls could undermine public safety.
But Williams said in a recent interview that the city council has been "very responsible" in creating the board, which the department says will be filled after the nonprofit aid hiring is complete. Still, she said her goal was to improve relationships between residents and law enforcement, rather than putting citizens in control.
Williams said she was also speaking with the police commissioner about creating a small group to hear complaints received from community service tools in addition to the board to give them indirect access to the commissioner when he is busy.
"Sometimes you forget it's the smallest thing that happens and you don't take it as serious, but it is," she said.
While not outlining any plans for police reform, Rowbottom agreed that there is a "double standard" in the treatment of people in the criminal justice system. He said city institutions, including schools and courts, need to better ensure that all residents are respected. This could, for example, make it easier to fill positions in the police.
Rowbottom said the city should ensure that people who leave custody have opportunities, rather than more restrictions.
"They get out, they take their driver's licenses; they took them to those halfway houses that are worse than their own houses," he said.
Among his complaints in the local courts is frustration with how public defenders have handled his cases in the past. He said they appeared to be too friendly with prosecutors and were under-prepared.
Local groups have organized virtual and face-to-face forums with candidates to help voters get their views on these and other issues they may observe, such as affordable housing, public works and education. One that's still to come is an online Mayor's Debate on May 12th, organized by the Friends of Midtown neighborhood group.
The area code is May 18. On the county website, voters can find a list of polling stations and information on how to vote by email.