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Preview: Harrisburg City Council

By Frank Filkosky, Contributing Writer

What a difference two years make. In early 2009, Councilwoman Linda Thompson defeated long time incumbent Mayor Stephen Reed in what looked like a permanent shift in the city’s balance of power.

In the year since she took office, Thompson has degenerated from a powerhouse to an albatross. To put it delicately, her popularity took a hit. Her strongest ally, Council President Gloria Martin-Roberts, is retiring. All of that is good news for the incumbents Thompson would love to see beaten: Susan Brown Wilson and Brad Koplinski.

Seven candidates are competing for three positions on the Harrisburg City Council, and whoever is elected to the Council will have their work ahead of them.  Harrisburg is facing a debt crisis and nearly every candidate running in this election has agreed that this is the number one issue that new members will have to combat. A $310 million debt accrued by the city following its incinerator retrofit in 2003 has led the Pennsylvania capital city to consider bankruptcy, and the new Council members will have to bring in solutions to help Harrisburg with this financial crisis.

Wilson and Koplinski have argued that they have the experience and knowledge to be able to deal with the Harrisburg’s upcoming cuts and layoffs that are results of the debt crisis.  They’ve been major obstacles to some of Thompson’s agenda, like leasing the city’s parking and other assets. This year, they crafted a city budget that didn’t lay off firefighters or raise taxes, and have established themselves as leaders in the city’s drive to reduce spending last year and for more transparent budgeting on the city level.  In talking about what would need to be done in the next term Wilson has said, “The heavy lifting ahead requires someone with some experience.”

Sandra Reid, who is running on a ticket with Wilson and Koplinski, points to her role as a fiscal analyst in the PA Treasury Department. A city native, she vows to bring her budget experience to City Hall.  She says her background allows her to focus on the city’s debt crisis better than her opponents.

Challengers to the two incumbents have announced that both Wilson and Koplinski’s experience on the job is the reason that new people are needed on the City Council.  Iya Isoke, Harrisburg’s poet laureate, called for unity in the city government at Mayor Linda Thompson’s inauguration in 2009.  Since then she claims that, “Our city government officials have done almost the absolute opposite.”  This prompted Isoke’s run and she hopes to bring change and unity to the City Council if elected.

Former City Council member Patricia Stinger served the city from 2000-2004 and is seeking re-election this year.  Stringer has approached this run for office with the platform that she looks for modernization of technology to make it easier for Harrisburg citizens to access the city’s services.  She looks to bring jobs to the city that will develop Harrisburg both economically and environmentally.  In terms of public safety, Patricia Stringer feels it is important for every citizen to feel safe walking down their street and looks to improve Neighborhood Watch programs to help in the combating of drugs on Harrisburg’s streets.

Ellis “Rick” Roy is another candidate running to become a member of the City Council, bringing with him his highly honored career as a police officer in Harrisburg.  After serving the city for 29 years and winning the medal for Bravery and Valor, Roy has made it his focus that the city of Harrisburg needs improvement in Public Safety.  Every other candidate so far has made the debt crisis their focus, but Roy says that, “it is time for a breath of fresh air,” and hopes to bring that with his candidacy.  The first and second items on Roy’s platform list are focused on safety, through safer neighborhoods and better police to community interaction.

Camille Erice, founder of the Danzante Community Art Center, has cited her experience building that center as an advantage over others.  She will act as a “consensus-builder” in City Hall should she be elected, looking at unity at the city government level as another topic of concern much like Iya Isoke.

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    • Less Likely (36%)
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