Disagreement over Harrisburg Strong Plan dominates mayoral debate

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At the third debate of the fall election season, the candidates for Harrisburg mayor clashed again over the “Harrisburg Strong Plan,” disagreeing about its potential success of ridding the city of its massive debt.

“This plan is a plan that was created of, by and for the creditors of the city,” said City Controller Dan Miller. Though Miller is a Democrat, he’s running as a Republican because he got the most write-in votes among Republican voters in the May primary.

The Strong Plan, which the city’s receiver released at the end of August, outlines how the city will sell off its incinerator and parking assets, structure taxes for the next few years and make payments to the city’s creditors.

Debt on the incinerator alone is estimated to be about $362 million, a figure which has grown as time has passed.

Democrat Eric Papenfuse said he wishes there had been more community engagement in the creation of the plan, but he believes it’s a necessary path to financial recovery.

Without the Strong Plan, Papenfuse says, “We will go bankrupt. And, going bankrupt, we won’t be able to pay for essential services.”

He later said, “My question then to Dan Miller is, so what is your plan? It is simply not enough to say no, no, no. This is a bad plan.”

Miller cited his years on City Council and work in the financial sector as evidence of his ability to create a different plan.

“I have the ability to come up with a plan, and that’s the thing. And, I have the ability to understand that plan. And, I don’t know that everyone else has that ability,” said Miller.

The candidates largely agree reform of the city’s police bureau is needed. They also want to see the riverfront property better used to promote economic development in the city.

Lewis Butts, a write-in candidate who lost in the Democratic primary, has made the river the centerpiece of his campaign.

He told the other candidates, “Bring something new to the game. I’m going to spearhead the hydroelectric dam because the river never stops.”

Aaron Johnson, deputy director of public works, is also waging a write-in campaign. He did not participate in Thursday’s debate, which the African-American Chamber of Commerce of Central PA hosted.