Harrisburg mayoral candidates meet for first debate

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The candidates for Harrisburg mayor met Thursday for the first debate of the fall season, clashing on the Harrisburg Strong Plan, which is meant to get the city out of debt.

“There’s no question the Harrisburg Strong Plan is being strong-armed on the citizens of Harrisburg,” said City Controller Dan Miller, who’s running as a Republican after receiving enough write-in votes in May’s primary.

Democrat Eric Papenfuse, who defeated Miller for the party’s nomination, endorsed the receiver’s plan.

“What we need is a leader who will execute the Strong Plan,” said Papenfuse.

The group Harrisburg Hope hosted Thursday’s debate, with write-in candidate Lewis Butts also appearing on the panel.

Butts also lost to Papenfuse in the race for the Democratic nod. The day before the primary, he admitted to defacing some of Papenfuse’s campaign signs.

Current Mayor Linda Thompson also sought the Democratic nomination but failed to advance in her bid for a second term.

Miller said there were some portions of the recovery plan he approved, such as additional financial support from the state.

He added, “Aside from that, there’s nothing good about this plan. The truth is that the debt doesn’t go away. It’s smoke and mirrors.”

The plan includes several aspects, such as selling the incinerator and keeping the city’s earned income tax rate elevated at 2 percent for the next three years.

Papenfuse countered Miller by saying, “What is your plan? How is Dan Miller as mayor going to work? You have no support on City Council, no support from the receiver’s office.”

Butts said he sees himself as a “post-receivership mayor” and acknowledged his previous run-in with the law over the campaign signs, generating laughter from the audience.

“I am here to save money. I am here to bring hope and a new way of life,” Butts said.

Independent Nevin Mindlin did not attend. A Commonwealth Court judge has not ruled on Mindlin’s appeal to try to stay on the ballot.

The city’s deputy director of public works, Aaron K. Johnson, said he’ll announce his candidacy for mayor Friday morning.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 5.