Who wants to be the next Mayor of the City of Harrisburg?

Word is a lot of people do, and as this last month of 2012 begins, the intrigue and spirit of inquiry escalates as more and more City of Harrisburg conversations turn to one of the most significant questions of 2013 for PA’s capital city—who’s running for Mayor?

The current mayor, Linda Thompson, took the seat in 2009 from longtime sovereign Stephen Reed. After 28 years at the helm, Reed was taken out by what was to become Harrisburg’s first African American and female mayor. He lost for many reasons, not the least of which was that more than a few people who had voted for him in the past wanted change. They didn’t want Reed as Mayor anymore. So they gave their votes to Thompson in the primary election with high hopes of what a victory for her would mean for the City. When she claimed ultimate victory in the general election against Republican Nevin Mindlin, only 840 votes separating the two candidates, what citizens got wasn’t so much change as yet another boastful leader who rode triumph on promises impossible to keep, especially for such a fiscally beleaguered place. Not only did most people in the City and beyond all too soon realize Thompson’s level of incompetence and inability, but it also soon became apparent that her habit of continually referring to herself in third person as “The Mayor” made it evident what her priorities in office really are.

So it is with a sigh and unease that many citizens wonder will she run again for a second term?

The fact is, she hasn’t announced her intent yet. However, that does not quell the concern. Although more and more citizens believe if she had the grace of God in her as she proclaims, she would refrain from running again, there is no doubt that the woman who calls herself “The Mayor” wants to stay The Mayor, most notably for the salary, perks, and dominance she acquires and requires.

“We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

One only has to watch her over the past months to witness her in campaign mode. After three years in office, she is initiating public services and catchphrase programs in abundance like Right the Blight with a promise to demolish buildings, clean up trash, and go after slumlords. Operation Front Porch, which invites residents to apply for grants to fix up the fronts of their homes, and Housing as Wealth, a program using HUD funds to help people buy homes. The Mayor’s Office has also launched a Public Safety Advisory Council (supplanting one that had been in place for years), talked of rolling out a Green Economic Development Plan, and assured that the new year will bring the Mayor’s Small Business Loan Program. All of this is perfect rhetorical fodder for a campaign.

Plus, she’s in attack mode, which is her preferred technique against challengers. Over the past few weeks, be it a press conference or a town hall meeting, Thompson has assailed the names of Dan Miller, Nevin Mindlin, and Brad Koplinski. The challengers on her radar.

In actuality, of those three people, only one has come out and officially made an announcement that he is running for Mayor, and that is City Controller Dan Miller. Miller announced more than a year ago, perhaps to clear the field. Perhaps just to get a head start on fundraising. The latter reason may very well be it because talk is that he has a lot of money in his campaign coffers.

This is in stark contrast to Linda Thompson whose latest campaign finance report at the end of 2011 indicated that she had $44.61 left since last election.

While there hasn’t been a formal announcement by her former opponent, Nevin Mindlin, there is enough self-admittance and evidence to that effect. “Committee to Elect Nevin” is in place and his plan of action is widely known—Mindlin will run as an Independent. That leaves him out of the primary race and geared up ready for the general election against whoever wins the Democrat and Republican nods.

Yes, another perceived Democratic candidate is indeed Councilor Brad Koplinski. For months it’s been assumed he’ll run, but he hasn’t publicized his decision. A recent WHTM 27 report merely repeated what a September email to his mailing list stated, that he is “seriously considering” running for Mayor. In the email he said he’d speak more on the matter in November, yet in the news report, he declared he’ll be waiting until January to let Harrisburg know what he’s decided.

There are more, though. More people who have already decided to run as well as more people who are still thinking about it. There is also a list of people only mentioned in scuttlebutt.

Here’s who seems to be committed to throwing their hats in the ring for Mayor of the City of Harrisburg:

    • A.E. Sullivan, Jr.—He is president of the Interdenominational Ministers Conference (IMC) and Senior Pastor of The Victory Outreach Christian Church. Formally, he was a public school teacher and a mortgage banker. In the past few months, he’s been prevalent in public discussions on the state of affairs in the City, writing several op-eds for The Patriot News and sitting on the Harrisburg Hope panel “Will there be justice for Harrisburg?” Sullivan has not made an official announcement of his run, but a facebook page called “Citizens for a Greater Harrisburg,” has the address of http://www.facebook.com/AESullivanJrForMayor (note the AE Sullivan Jr For Mayor). Then there’s a website associated with his role as Chairman of a new political action committee: Citizens for a Greater Harrisburg. It seems he has the assistance of Joyce Davis, Linda Thompson’s first Communications Director and one of the former employees to publicly proclaim Thompson to be an abusive and intemperate chief executive.

What is interesting about Sullivan’s possible run is that it was the IMC that endorsed Linda Thompson days before the 2009 election when it was looking as if she could lose. At the time, Brenda Alton (who is now Director of Parks, Recreation, and Enrichment after being the Ombudsperson) was head of the IMC. The fact that Sullivan is now president of the IMC and is most likely running for Mayor suggests a profound change of advocacy in not just the black ministerium, but also in the black community in the City of Harrisburg.

    • Lewis (Sharky) Butts—A vocal citizen, Butts has taken to many a public mic to talk about education, youth, neighborhood improvement, and a hydroelectric dam in the Susquehanna River. Currently, he is the Mayor’s appointment to the Environmental Advisory Council. It was Butts who succeeded in getting the Camp Curtain Mitchell United Methodist Church on N6th Street on the National Historic Register. His uncle is City Councilor Kelly Summerford, and Butts was the campaign manager for Summerford’s campaign.

Like Sullivan, Butts presents an intriguing provocation to Linda Thompson’s re-election potential. A life-long City resident and recognized member of the black community, Butts was one of Thompson’s most ardent supporters of her initial election to the Mayor’s Office. Now he’s running against her. His website is in progress but his intentions are clear: Lewis Butts for Mayor of Harrisburg, PA

Here’s who multiple sources say is planning on running for Mayor despite no public evidence yet of their desires:

    • Marc Kurowski—Chair of the Harrisburg Authority, Kurowski is said to be taking on the same approach as Nevin Mindlin, that is, to run as an Independent. In a November 2011 Central Penn Business Journal article, Kurowski discussed the possibility of a mayoral run. As the 2013 election approaches, there is more and more confirmation that the consideration he referred to in that article has become certainty.
    • Eric Papenfuse—Owner of the Midtown Scholar, sat on the Harrisburg Authority, ran for Dauphin County Commissioner, and has led more than one initiative to fulfill his vision of making the City better, Papenfuse has been publicly quiet on this subject, yet more frequently his name is coming up as a definite candidate.
Then there’s the scuttlebutt. The names that come up in a few conversations here and there. Names that are said seldom and come by way of multiple hands so it’s not clear if these campaigns are anything more than vague likelihood. This list includes two well-recognized community activists—William Cluck, Esquire and Karl Singleton. Cluck, who sits on the Harrisburg Authority Board, has devoted copious amounts of time and energy to the City’s fiscal crisis. Singleton, who previously sat on the Harrisburg School Board, has devoted copious amounts of time and energy to the City’s educational crisis. Both citizens share a the experience of running for the PA House 103rd seat.

Which perfectly leads to the last murmured candidate—retired PA Representative Ron Buxton. As incredulous as this sounds, a casual attempt to confirm the rumor with him resulted in an amused smile and a “We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

Harrisburg City Hall Mayoral Candidates Linda Thompson Dan Miller Brad Koplinski

That’s the truth. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. More names could pop up, more candidates could come forward. Maybe the Republicans will bring someone to the table (of the potential candidates, no one is a known registered Republican). Maybe they’ll watch from the sidelines sort of how they did when Mindlin ran against Thompson a mayoral term ago.

Until the official announcements come forth, the only candidate in this race so far is Dan Miller. To some people, this is enough. To some people, they want more options.

With the chance of multiple people in the race, though, the talk turns to too many candidates, to “white” votes and “black” votes. There’s talk of splitting votes and weakening the chance of someone beating Linda Thompson. Of course, the list above splits votes in various ways should the list above be the list voters will have to contemplate. At this point, it’s all speculative. Ultimately, all of it comes down to a political science outside of such speculation. The fact of the matter is that there are only so many votes in the City and the question is who will get them. That’s the true black and white issue. Anyone thinking of getting into this race should be sure to run the numbers for the various scenarios.

As with any election, it’s about getting the votes. But before the votes come the campaigns, and what a campaign season it’s going to be. This isn’t even pondering the fact that four City Council seats are up also: Wanda Williams, Eugenia Smith, Kelly Summerford, and Patty Kim’s seat. Whoever temporarily gets Patty Kim’s seat in the coming weeks may only have it temporarily. If that person wants it longer, like all other candidates, the work will have to be done to grab it.

We may not know what’s going on yet, but one thing is for sure—enjoy this calm of ignorance while it lasts because it’s about to get intense here in the City of Harrisburg.

Tara Leo Auchey

Tara Leo Auchey

Tara Leo Auchey

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