HARRISBURG – City residents and workers seem cautiously optimistic about what Mayor Eric Papenfuse’s leadership will mean for them and their hometown –- if it means anything at all.
That was the general takeway from responses to PennLive’s online poll and street interviews during the 48 hours surrounding Papenfuse’s 100th day of office Wednesday.
The website poll drew 571 responses.
Of those, slightly less than one third, or about 250, came from people indicating they live in Harrisburg, pop. nearly 50,000.
Slightly more than a third came from people indicating they work in the city.
Papenfuse’s governing abilities and overall impression were described as favorable by 58 and 57 percent, respectively. In both cases, 25 percent indicated a negative opinion and 17 percent didn’t have one.
Fittingly, 56 percent said his first 100 days bode well for the rest of his term, compared to 11 percent who think it does not.
Another third of respondents predict a negligible effect from Papenfuse or that mayors generally don’t have much influence over a city’s progress.
That’s what Leonard Greene seems to think.
“It doesn’t change anything for me,” Greene said of the person in the mayor’s office, whoever that might be. “Things seem to stay the same or they get worse.”
Greene says he didn’t vote in the last election or the one before in 2009, and admits he doesn’t closely follow local politics.
Most people interviewed on the street said the same.
That includes Kate Ferrara, 24.
A registered voter who’s originally from Hershey and lived for a year or so in Harrisburg’s Shipoke neighborhood, Ferrara didn’t make it to the polls in 2013.
She also readily admitted that she didn’t know the current mayor’s name — just that the new city executive is supposed to be better than the last (another sentiment encountered multiple times).
“I pay more attention to the Presidential election and national issues. Local politics, I feel like it don’t affect me, but it probably does,” Ferrara said. “People just don’t care enough to fix it. Like potholes. I don’t like them, but I wouldn’t rally against them or anything, I just deal with it. It’s just the way it is.”
View full sizeKate Ferrera, 24, says she doesn’t follow local politics very closely despite living in Harrisburg for over a year and most of her life in the Capital region. The lack of interest and engagement was cited by several city workers and residents interviewed by PennLive during the 48 hours surrounding Mayor Eric Papenfuse’s 100th day in office. Christine Baker
Ferarra, who works as a graphic designer downtown, was the only person of dozens interviewed who didn’t bring up parking.
Recent enforcement, fine and rate increases have worried local business owners, and most say it’s harmed their customer traffic.
Meters also run two hours longer and an extra day: until 7 p.m. every day except Sunday instead of 5 p.m. weekdays only.
Patrons don’t start coming in earnest until after meters stop being enforced near Midtown Dollar, said Greene, who helps his mother run the store.
Doors there close at 8 p.m., so it’s hurt them, Greene said.
Although people complained about parking when asked about changes since Papenfuse took office, most acknowledged that he wasn’t responsible.
The parking deal was struck before his term started.
Papenfuse did, however make clear he supported the receiver’s debt fix.
The parking deal and incinerator sale were the core of that plan, which ultimately meant that city taxpayers are no longer on the hook directly for hundreds of millions of dollars of debt. But the new debt deals that helped pay off the old obligations have boosted parking prices as well as the local earned income tax rate.
There’s more to life in the city than that, however.
And while Papenfuse alone cannot fix the schools, spark economic development, or police and clean the streets, he has the ability to directly or indirectly affect those -– and other –- critical services and sectors in Harrisburg.
Resident Jason Marsico said he thinks the perception of the city and its top elected office has improved already. Papenfuse also seems more respectful of his constituency, said Marsico (no related to the county and state elected officials).
View full sizeHarrisburg resident Jason Marsico, 30, says Mayor Eric Papenfuse’s first 100 days in office bode well for the rest of his term, but more time is needed before constituents can make a judgement about his leadership. Christine Baker
“But it’s only been 100 days,” said the 30-year-old. “Give him some time to fix stuff.”
Chad Scott, who owns Midtown Soul on Third near Forster Street, says he’s noticed cleaner streets near his business and home since the new administration started and Papenfuse prompted Aaron Johnson to public works director from the deputy’s spot.
Scott also was heartened to hear last week about the boosted bail for gun possession.
Papenfuse and local law enforcement officials hope that will help keep guns off the street.
Scott, who also lives in the city, gets their logic.
“Either you’re going to have a lot of people sitting in jail, or seeing the light,” Scott said.
Papenfuse also touted Wednesday the 1,900 foot patrols logged by police in 2014, and the drop compared to 2013’s first quarter in homicides, burglaries and property and other crimes.
Ultimately, though it’s too soon to really know for sure, even with some positive indicators, Scott said.
Jim Waters agreed.
Waters lived in the city for 20 years before moving 18 months ago to New Cumberland.
He still, however, works at The Original Copy Shop around the corner from City Hall.
Waters noted that Papenfuse doesn’t seem to generate as much chatter among patrons as his predecessor Linda Thompson.
No indication of any conspiracy on that front, at least not yet, Waters observed.
“It’s a natural tendency of politicians to take care of themselves and their friends,” Waters said. “But it’s not necessarily a bad thing if the city is coming along (and improving) with them.”
Waters noted the new mayor “seems to be a smart guy” and comes across as “conscientious” in the TV news reels he’s seen.
Hornung’s True Value Hardware store owner Pat Hornung Davis has seen the same footage. Similarly, she said Papenfuse seems to be working in earnest to help the problems of the city — but it also seems like the task is already taking its toll, she said.
“He has to satisfy so many people, and he’s got a lot of things coming at him from every angle. Every conceivable thing — potholes, sinkholes, buildings falling down — is happening,” Hornung-Davis said. “He’s a very sensitive person, a kind-hearted person, and he’s trying to work out the problems of the city. He seems overwhelmed.”