“Gloves are off” at second Harrisburg mayoral debate

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Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson summed it up when she said the “gloves are off” during the more contentious second debate among the candidates to run the capital city.

Thompson is up for re-election and is facing Controller Dan Miller, Midtown Scholar owner Eric Papenfuse and Lewis Butts in the Democratic primary May 21.

Nevin Mindlin is running as an independent and will face the winner of the primary in November.

Thursday’s debate, sponsored by the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Pennsylvania, was the first featuring all five candidates.

Miller, a CPA, focused his comments on the city’s financial issues and tried to point out the positive aspects of the city declaring bankruptcy, calling it a “tool” to get back to solvency.

One of his main criticisms of the Thompson administration is “uncertainty. People don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve had this so-called receiver in place, and nothing has happened. People don’t know how high the taxes are going to go.”

Miller and Thompson have been at odds for years, recently engaging in a lengthy court battle over the sale of the city’s Wild West artifacts.

Thompson defended her role in implementing the Act 47 recovery plan, saying she’s made tough decisions as opposed to a bankruptcy judge.

“All these gentlemen do up here (and Lewis is getting a little bit better) is attack, attack, attack. And, they have not developed any real plan,” said Thompson.

She criticized Papenfuse for resigning from his position on the Harrisburg Authority as decisions were made regarding the failed incinerator project. Debt on the facility is around $340 million.

He told Thompson, “I was your appointee to the Harrisburg Authority, and I told you then we shouldn’t approve any more debt. We can’t pay it back. And, I resigned because I was unwilling to commit fraud.”

Nevin Mindlin tried to stay out of the more heated exchanges, calling for “vision” and “dignity.” He faced off against Thompson four years ago and said, “We had problems of crime and blight. Those problems have not changed. That’s why I’m here.”

Butts, whose ideas have sometimes drawn laughs from the crowds at both debates, called again for a hydroelectric dam and for wifi throughout the city. He said he was the “visionary” in the field, and that candidates were taking his ideas.

During a discussion about business in the city, he chided one business for not hiring enough locally and said, “They build fences around their property and then hot wire their fences, so our kids get electrocuted.”