A Tale of Two Cities: The search for Harrisburg’s next mayor | Ana White

The Harrisburg, Pa., skyline (Image via Flickr Commons)

As one political campaign comes to an end with our President and Vice President beginning their term, we now look to local elections with the same level of intensity.

Ana White (Capital-Star file)

National events, local tensions, and city frustration have all been emotions that have led to this local election being one of the most important in the lives of many. With a mayoral race heating up with more candidates rising to the occasion, we start to wonder what candidates are looking for and what, if anything, the entire city can agree needs changed.

To say that Harrisburg is a tale of two cities would be most accurate. Nowhere is the difference between these worlds most obvious than in this space. Harrisburg City may be the clearest space in which we are able to see the differences in access and opportunity.

On one end, there is a thriving midtown section, filled with new businesses, construction of new homes and expansion of the Olde Uptown with soon to come courthouses and offices. At a glance, it seems that life in the State’s capital is thriving and looking up.

But one only needs to take a short drive away from that area, towards Harrisburg City’s Uptown or South Allison Hill area to see a different reality.  A reality of streets forgotten and a school district working to be resuscitated under receivership.

With the media painting pictures with the broadest brush, depicting Harrisburg’s inner city citizens as apathetic, crime complacent while not acknowledging the poverty and lack of resources to some of the most minimal resources.

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The tale of two cities showcases itself in resources, funding, access to quality food and shelters, and the ability for its residents to live and survive in the area in which they live. We have a Harrisburg that struggles to maintain morale under its deplorable conditions, an all but forgotten and seemingly unprotected city.

We then have the picture worthy Harrisburg, a midtown that alludes to the idea that a strong foundation exists here. Bridging the gap between reality and illusion will take leadership- leadership at the hands of its Mayor.

But what kind of mayor is needed to bring the two together? What issues must be addressed to start the process of bridge building? Who is responsible for the agenda?

In whose hands does the mayor place the weight of a city’s survival? 2020 has shown us that the world we live in is seen under two different lens, one of an almost utopian country filled with promise and prosperity and another with a clearer focus on a totally different experience.

The same is true at state and local levels. Much like our current president, the future of those two realities merging into one reality will take strong, honest reflection and assessment. Leadership in this city must be able to tackle the realities of this city on day one, complying with the city’s sense of urgency through knowledgeable decision making,  redirection and restructuring.

Healthcare must feel fair for both worlds. Education must feel worthwhile for both worlds, economic success must feel obtainable for both worlds. Neighborhoods must feel safe for all. The two have a long road in becoming one, but in all things, the next candidate must be ready to handle and identify the equity and balance for both.

The Mayor must be ready to both see what the City can become, while being realistic about what the city currently is in a very honest way.

As we see the mayoral candidates announcing, each candidate will have a responsibility to showcase their resume, convince the citizens of their pedigree, and vow to fix the city through its many promises. But one thing the next mayor must have is a healthy balance of desired outcomes rooted in near delusional hope and rational sobering reality.

The truth of our America must be clear for this person, both Americas, ALL Americas. The absence or ignorance of one reality will leave a deficit for that candidate and their ability to serve their entire city.

Each plan, each promise, and each resolution must take into account each city resident, and the candidates must be able to seek guidance in spaces where their ignorance might negatively impact their ability to lead.

Over time, citizens have wanted to elect candidates they can relate to, connect with, and feel a sense of genuine connectedness to, and while that may not always be possible with candidates, this season appears to provide that hope for many.

The stage is set. The candidates are as different  from one another as the worlds that set them apart. So what these candidates must master is the art of maneuvering their way around both worlds as best as possible, in order to prove to their citizens that their ideologies, values and needs will be met by a mayor who gets it, a mayor who can juggle more than one reality, and provide for more than one set of citizens. The tale of Two Americas is no longer a new concept.

The evidence of that more obvious than ever. Just as our national level must find spaces to accommodate every citizen’s needs, so must the Mayor of this city. A city that may feel as divided as the entire nation feels, as it has always felt for many.

As we wrap up our national declaration that our nation needed leadership that could understand the tale of two Americas, we must now seek to find a mayor who understands, respects, and can effectively manage the two worlds they serve under one city.

Opinion contributor Ana White, of Harrisburg, is the owner of Way With Words Consulting Services, LLC., which specializes in diversity and inclusion professional development training. She also works in mental health services in the Harrisburg area. Her work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.