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Candidate profile: Eric Papenfuse seeks to unite city, reduce cr - abc27 WHTM

Candidate profile: Eric Papenfuse seeks to unite city, reduce crime

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

Over the next four days, abc27 will profile each democratic candidate running for Harrisburg mayor in the May 21 primary. Candidates Dan Miller, Lewis Butts, and current Mayor Linda Thompson will each have equal time on-air and online. The purpose of each profile is to educate voters on the key issues that face Harrisburg.

"Together We Can" -- that is the slogan for Eric Papenfuse's campaign to become mayor of Harrisburg. The democratic candidate claims unity is key to fixing the city's future.

"I was concerned the other candidates were going to leave the city divided," said Papenfuse Monday while sitting inside his Midtown Scholar bookstore on Third St. "That we were going to have a split election ... especially along racial lines. And, that deeply, deeply concerned me."

Papenfuse has commercials. He has billboards. He has orange and gray signs on most blocks around Harrisburg. And he claims he is the city's best option to lead.

As an interested citizen in the growth of Harrisburg, Papenfuse said he felt there was not a viable option for voters who could buck the current political atmosphere.

So, he decided to run.

Papenfuse is now 41 years old. The husband and father of three young children has lived in Harrisburg for more than 14 years (It'll be 15 in a few months.). Papenfuse is Ivy League educated and earned an undergraduate and post-grad degrees from Yale University.

Most are familiar with the Midtown Scholar. Papenfuse and his wife own and operate the bookstore. The store and warehouse employ about 60 people. He said 250 jobs have been created since the early 2000s. In recent years, Papenfuse used the bookstore as a community forum for grassroots organizations to discuss current events, movements, and specific issues to city residents.

Papenfuse also served as a member of The Harrisburg Authority.

Papenfuse said his success as business owner has given him the experience to succeed as mayor. He said he currently works with diverse people moving toward a common goal, much like a mayor should.

"If we could work together that would be a new model for Harrisburg politics. That would help the city forward," he said.

Papenfuse makes no bones about it: he said he's not like the other candidates. Papenfuse has never before run for city council or Harrisburg political office. He ran for a commissioner seat in Dauphin County, but did not win.

When asked about his lack of experience in Harrisburg politics, Papenfuse maintains that's a good thing. He vows a fresh approach to old problems such as crime.

Because he's a father and a business owner, Papenfuse said he has a unique perspective of being highly motivated to protect his most precious city investments.

"I think the mayor needs to be a crime commissioner, a crime czar," he said. "You want a mayor who is looking at the root cause of crime, who is engaging in community discussion on a regular basis."

If elected mayor, Papenfuse plans to attack crime issues with a two-pronged approach.

He said not enough proactive measures are taken to educate Harrisburg youth and keep them out of crime. Papenfuse wants to open more libraries with longer hours. He plans to provide more opportunities for children, teens and young adults who may be attracted to a life in crime.

A few reactive measures would include installing more safety cameras and develop partnerships with neighborhood businesses to create programs when the establishments pitch in to hire more security during crime waves.

On the issue of attracting more officers to Harrisburg, Papenfuse feels hiring more foot patrols and rearranging positions would increase security. This would be both a proactive and reactive safety measure, he said.

Papenfuse said the first thing to go would be a mayor's security detail. He said there is no need for such position. He felt the same for rotating officers at the front desk of the Harrisburg City Government Center on Second St. Papenfuse said he would reassign the positions to put them on the street.

Harrisburg has 40 fewer police officers now than in 2010. Papenfuse said he would‘negotiate the city residency requirement for officers: his idea is to loosen the requirement, but install incentive-based programs that would entice officers to live inside the city.

Other programs would include tax breaks, among others yet to be defined.

For Papenfuse, attracting quality mean fixing the city's finances. In order to keep good people here and attract outsiders to come in is to provide a safe and healthy atmosphere. He believes best practice is to continue to follow the state-approved Act 47 process.

Papenfuse believes Receiver William Lynch is on a path to recovery. He feels deals involving key assets would be done by the time he got into office next January.

In his mind, bankruptcy would not be a viable option.

"[Bankruptcy] would keep [Harrisburg] stuck in the muck and confusion and uncertainty for years," said Papenfuse. "Devastating for the city, devastating for businesses."

Moving forward, Papenfuse said if he wins the primary election, he would begin the process of learning what citizens want and need so he could be prepared as much as possible for day one.

He vowed transparency, an open-dialogue with citizens and city employees alike, and an administration built on community involvement. In his eyes, becoming mayor of Harrisburg would not only be beneficial to him, but the people he loves. However, if elected mayor, Papenfuse admits he could not lead the city out of the hole alone.

"People have to become involved, people have to become inspired that we can change in Harrisburg and change for the better," he said.

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