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ack in January, I wrote that we couldn’t reasonably expect to judge the performance of Harrisburg’s new mayor until at least six months had passed.

Last month, the Papenfuse administration reached that milestone—so let the judging begin! Seriously, I still think it’s too early to say whether

Eric Papenfuse should be regarded as a good mayor, a meh mayor or something else. Heck, during his 28 years in office, former Mayor

Stephen Reed had numerous ups and downs— even regarded by some as one of the best mayors in the country before he crashed and burned. And, of course, casting judgment is always subjective, depending almost as much on the person judging as the one being judged. With those caveats, I think we can begin to

form an opinion based on Papenfuse’s priorities, governing style and successes so far. If you believe these point Harrisburg in the right direction, then you probably approve of what he’s doing. If not, then you likely don’t. So, six months in, here’s what I see from the administration.

« ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Right out of the box, Papenfuse indicated that he

would make economic development a top priority of his administration. He’s followed through on that pledge,

reviving the moribund economic

development office, getting CREDC to fund a director for the office, moving swiftly to pass the stalled zoning code update and indicating that he wants fast action on 10-year tax abatement for

property improvements. One could argue

the merits of any of these measures, and, in fact, various factions (from residents to gadflies to developers) have criticized all of them. Also, as I’ve stated repeatedly, I believe that shoring up the city’s iffy infrastructure, improving its appearance and firming up its management would do more to attract businesses and residents than more overt marketing efforts. Papenfuse, though, has maintained his administration can—and should— do it all.


For four decades, Harrisburg has been overrun with slumlords, uncaring property owners and abandoned buildings. Papenfuse is not the first mayor to identify blight as a major problem in Harrisburg, but his response has been both active and creative. He moved codes enforcement into public safety, began a Housing Court and created a land bank aimed at putting blighted properties back into productive use. He also took the heat, but refused to retreat, after one of the first people arrested for codes violations turned out to be a prominent minister.


Harrisburg’s infrastructure, neglected for so long, is an embarrassment. Te administration has made some progress on that front. A few streets have been striped, some potholes filled, some lights







A few years ago, as a private citizen, Papenfuse attempted to create an improvement district devoted to boosting security in Midtown. Terefore, it’s no surprise that he’s made public safety a central part of his administration. So far, his efforts seem to be working. As of this writing, crime is down year-over-year in Harrisburg, with homicides considerably lower. Meanwhile, both Police Chief Tomas Carter and Fire Chief Brian Enterline have been quietly and competently rebuilding their demoralized forces.

turned back on. Admirably, the city has kept the giant knotweed, which chokes the riverfront each summer, in check. Papenfuse says infrastructure is a priority of his administration. Unfortunately, he’s forced to live within the limitations of a tight municipal budget until the city can tap into the $6 million infrastructure fund set up as part of the financial recovery plan. Tat access, however, looks to be months away, as a nonprofit still must be set up to administer the fund.

« SCHOOLS: Papenfuse believes that Harrisburg’s poor-

performing schools are an impediment to repopulating and re-energizing the city. Few would disagree. Te mayor, however, has little control over the system, which is run independently by the school board and administration. Papenfuse tried to sidestep that reality by appealing directly to the state Department of Education, then going public, in an effort to remove state-appointed Chief Recovery Officer Gene Veno. At this writing, Veno remains in his job. Papenfuse also failed in his public effort to have the school board approve the proposed Key Charter School. It now will be interesting to see whether Papenfuse continues to try to fight this uphill—and, so far, unproductive—battle.

« GOVERNING STYLE: In prior administrations, Harrisburg bounced

from a mayor who seemed to be everywhere to one who was hardly seen at all. Papenfuse is somewhere in the middle, which is probably best. Behind the scenes, though, his government has operated at a frenetic pace. He’s tried to make many changes, large and small, in a short period of time. For the most part, that energy is needed, as the city lost years of progress through poor governance and financial despair. However, the breakneck pace has led some to feel that he tries to steamroll change, such as his insistence that the city pass a new zoning code quickly. His impatience also has affected relations with some City Council members and parts of the community, who have reacted suspiciously to it.




« MANAGEMENT: Papenfuse had to rebuild a government almost

from scratch, which he’s done with some success. Unlike the past two administrations, he seems to have adequately devolved power from the mayor’s office, while holding his managers accountable. Tat said: his top staff varies significantly in ability and temperament. Also, the administration has benefitted from just how low expectations have sunk. In Harrisburg,

it’s practically a reason to

celebrate when Public Works fills a pothole or cuts the weeds; when codes enforcement cracks down on habitual violators; when a cop is seen on the street. He needs to ensure that his managers, first and foremost, are focused on these basic service delivery and quality-of-life issues.

Papenfuse has tried to do a lot, quickly. Most of his

efforts have been successful. Tat’s a commendable result, as the new mayor faced an incredibly steep learning curve and the daunting mission of reconstructing a shattered government. As a resident, I hope that Papenfuse will build on his successes, while learning from his mistakes. He’s an intelligent, capable, well-intentioned man, but he also can be stubborn and impatient to make big changes. A successful tenure will depend upon his ability to exploit his many strengths while holding in check those tendencies that might impede progress.

Lawrance Binda is editor-in-chief of TeBurg. 08.14 | THE BURG | 11

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