Harrisburg Democratic mayoral candidates face off in debate

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The race for Harrisburg mayor is heating up. Saturday night, the five Democratic candidates faced off at the Whitaker Center during a debate that aired live on abc27 and moderated by Dennis Owens.

It was a lively debate, hitting on issues of everything from crime and policing to schools, affordable housing and quality of life.

The City of Harrisburg is continuing on a slow path out of financial ruin, while also dealing with a global pandemic.

Incumbent Mayor Eric Papenfuse wants a shot at one final term.

“Fiscal discipline, balanced budgets, civil discourse between the branches of government, the expansion of city services. These were not the norm before I took office,” Papenfuse said.

Harrisburg businessman Dave Schankweiler doesn’t agree with the job he’s doing.

“As mayor I will confront the bullets, the blight, the trash and the potholes,” Schankweiler said.

City Council President Wanda Williams didn’t seem to stray far from Papenfuse on city accomplishments but did punch back on certain issues, including dozens of residents left homeless in 2014 by a sinkhole in Allison Hill.

“At first you were not cooperative Mayor. You know you weren’t,” Williams said. “I was the one down there every day talking to the residents and making sure the funding came.”

“We can agree to disagree on that. In the end the funding did come,” Papenfuse retorted.

Former city councilman Otto Banks wants to attract younger residents and create a new film and tourism bureau and says city leadership has failed during the pandemic.

“This mayor as well as this president of council completely disappeared when the coronavirus had an impact on our community. When we needed them most they were not there,” Banks said.

Newcomber Kevyn Knox says the city’s growth has been stagnant and he wants to change that.

“It’s not very inclusive. It’s not very welcoming to outsiders. We haven’t really grown as a city for a long time,” Knox said.

Knox wants to give incentives for people to live in all parts of the city.

“I want to do a progressive path to having a fair and equitable city,” Knox said.

One big issue is violence in the city.

“Last year, highest murder rate in 30 years. Our per capita murder rate was higher than Chicago and Philadelphia,” Schankweiler said.

“Commissioner Carter and I are working on some mandate plan to address the gun violence in the city of Harrisburg. To this date, we’ve taken 1,370 guns off the street,” Williams said.

But something most did agree on is the need for more community policing.

“Each of us are entitled to have a city we can be proud of, a city of safe and secure communities where we reduce crime, with increased opportunity,” Banks said.

Historically the winner of the primary becomes the city’s next mayor.

This year, that winner is expected to take on the sole Republican running in the November 18 election, Timothy Rowbottom.

For more information on each candidate and to watch a replay of the debate click here.

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