Harrisburg mayor faces challengers in Democratic primary

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | May 12, 2017 7:42 AM

(Harrisburg) -- Harrisburg's incumbent mayor is trying to fend off challenges from four candidates in the Democratic primary.


Mayor Eric Papenfuse says his administration has brought business into the city, lowered the crime rate, and gotten the budget situation under control.

"Basically, I think it is undeniable that the city is better off today than it was 3 and a half years ago, I think most people feel that way. And we've come an extraordinarily long way," he says. "I want to be there until Harrisburg can be on a sustainable path for the future, and I considered that why I ran in the first place, and I feel the job is about halfway done."

He says there's more work to do, and if elected, pledges to improve on his efforts.


But Gloria Martin-Roberts says he focuses his attention on midtown, where he owns properties.

"It's fine to improve certain places in the city. I have no problem with that. Look, I love midtown too. I really do. But I don't love it more than I love any other part of the city."

Martin-Roberts says other streets are in far worse condition that midtown's 3rd street, but it's getting repaved.

She says she would boost all neighborhoods, pointing to redevelopment in the city's Allison Hill neighborhood that she says is a good start, but not enough.

"Then let's make sure the homes around them are in good repair, livable, so that we attract people to come into Mulder Square to buy," she says.


Jennie Jenkins, a former city police officer, says the city should buy back its parking that it sold in a debt deal.

"We need a bond specialist, we need professionals to come in and do the transaction, but the mayor decides where they want their city to go, and that's where I want my city to go. And I'm going to bring in the experts to make sure it happens."

But an expert says buying back the parking could cost nearly a billion dollars, and would be an exceedingly complicated deal that may not even be possible because of the city's financial position.

Jenkins says: "I've thought this out, I have an economic development strategy. I have everything ready to go in January. I've done my homework. I've been studying, and I've been living in Harrisburg for 10 years. I've been working at City Hall, watching government for 10 years."

Jenkins is suing the city's current police chief over alleged discrimination, in a tangled case that has unfolded over years.

Lewis Butts and Anthony Harrell are also on the ballot, but couldn't be reached.

The primary is next Tuesday.

The Harrisburg mayoral primary rundown

Five candidates

  • Mayor Eric Papenfuse: owns Midtown Scholar, other midtown properties
    • Says he's brought down the crime rate, attracted business to the city, and stabilized the budget
  • Gloria Martin-Roberts: former councilwoman 2004-2010, worked for Hamilton Health
    • Says she'll focus on all neighborhoods, not just Midtown
    • Says she has the relationships with stakeholders to move the city forward
    Jennie Jenkins: former city police officer
    • Wants to buy back the city's parking - could cost as much as a billion dollars, and one expert who is very familiar with the deal says it would be nearly impossible
    • Focuses on safety and security
    Lewis Butts: energy consultant, ran for Mayor in 2013
    • Grandiose plans for infrastructure - hydroelectric dam on the Susquehanna, riverboat casinos, talked about bringing an IndyCar race to Harrisburg
    Anthony Harrell: veteran
    • Security is his consistent theme

Gloria Martin-Roberts and Jennie Jenkins have argued that Mayor Papenfuse favors midtown over other neighborhoods. Is there proof of that?

  • I asked Gloria Martin-Roberts for proof in a phone conversation yesterday
  • She said the 3rd Street repaving is an example. Other streets in the city, she says, are in just as rough shape.
  • Says Papenfuse owns 11 properties there (including Midtown Scholar), so he's trying to protect his investment
  • But in terms of specific examples, the 3rd street repaving was the only one she gave me.
  • Others might point to his administration attempting to shut down two bars in midtown because they point to nuisance activities. Fight is still ongoing. He's also pursued bar shut downs in other parts of the city as well.

What about Papenfuse's candidacy?

  • In two debates, Papenfuse clearly showed himself as someone who grasps policy, from Act 47, potential lawsuits related to the city's gun laws, taxing powers, economic development, pursuing home rule, etc.
  • But there's a flip side to that - he has, in the past, angered a lot of important stakeholders, from the Hershery Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau to the National Civil War Museum to Dauphin County commissioners. But he told me he learned from his mistakes, and thinks he's improved since the first half of his administration.
  • Gloria Martin-Roberts and others have accused him of shutting out parts of the city from the discussion.

Where's the money coming from? 

  • PennLive has reported on this extensively. Local developer Alex Hartzler pushing Papenfuse, as he has in the past. Other developers and business leaders also have donated thousands of dollars each.. And I should note, so has a vice chairman of WITF's Board of Directors.
  • For Gloria Martin-Roberts, a former state police officer, a longtime ally of Stephen Reed, along with the Committee for Free Enterprise, linked to another developer: Ralph Vartan.

Act 47 vs home rule?

  • This isn't the easiest issue to grasp, but it's important for the city's financial stability.
  • Mayor Papenfuse says pursue home rule, which would change the city's governance, in order to maintain taxing powers that are in place under Act 47.
  • Gloria Martin-Roberts says she needs to see all the information, work with residents before making a decision.
  • Jennie Jenkins says home rule or Act 47 won't be necessary if the city buys back its parking and pursues more economic development

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