Dave Schankweiler Mayoral Announcement
Every time someone begs a landlord for one more month—for a little help—or a needed repair—the chain reaction of economic insecurity ripples. Right here, in Harrisburg.
And every time a dream for a child ends because of violence, abuse or the challenges of home life—dreams of graduation and a hopeful future end. That’s true for just under half of the city’s young people.
That’s the reality when a city doesn’t work for everyone—when you live in one of Harrisburg’s neighborhoods that do not receive the grants or see the ribbon cuttings or get the attention so desperately needed.
But for others, the news is good. The future looks bright. It’s almost as if that other part of the city doesn’t exist, and that’s not their fault at all. They’re doing their part to make the city thrive.
In some parts of Harrisburg, apartments are rented out as fast as they’re put on the market. Houses are selling almost immediately. Streets are safe and clean. That’s good. It’s exciting. My wife Donna and I moved back to Harrisburg because we wanted to be a part of this city’s fabric and its growing potential.
But in the 24 neighborhoods that make up this capital city, you can almost see the invisible lines that divide the healthy from the sick parts—the safe from the unsafe. It’s been like this for years, hasn’t it? And it’s not getting better. It’s an unspoken realty that entire blocks are written off as unsavory or unworthy of investment.
But you know what? Those neighborhoods are some of the best parts of Harrisburg. Streets where families have worked hard to keep up their homes—despite absentee landlords and too often absent mayors.
It’s where you’ll meet a generation of immigrants who’ve settled here after fleeing troubled homelands, learning English and beginning to experience what it really means to live in this country.
It’s where you’ll meet multicultural families—some of the most welcoming people you’ll ever meet—and who serve up some of the most extraordinary food—bringing the joy and culture from their home countries. By not visiting these neighborhoods people are failing to see that on every city block live amazing people with the potential to change this city.
That’s what I see, and that’s what I’ve been hearing from hundreds of neighbors who answered a simple, 10-question survey I released on December 1st. I’ve been going door to door with my survey and having some of the most inspiring conversations.
I asked what they thought about their neighborhoods.
I asked if they felt safe and if the city was responsive and the services reliable.
I asked if they believed this was a good place to raise a family or grow an idea.
I wanted to know if they felt welcomed in Harrisburg—like Donna and I did when we started a business here over three decades ago, invested in this city and eventually employed over 150 people.
And then I asked this question: “What would you do if you were mayor for 4 years? What would you put at the top of the list?
I wish I had time to show you all of their answers, but here are just a few:
“Stop the shooting. You have to feel safe before anything else can be done.” I want “More police in my neighborhood.” “Stop gun violence.”
Fix the schools. Again and again it came up. Make schools work for everyone.
We need jobs. Good jobs to raise a family. We want the city to welcome new businesses—not turn them away.
Here’s a great one. We want “one community”—one community where every citizen on every block matters.
Fix the sidewalks. Clean up the trash. Help us with affordable housing and better bus routes. We want more green, open spaces.
Every one of these surveys represents a citizen. A citizen whose voice hasn’t been heard and too often whose concerns have been entirely ignored.
You see, I did something politicians never seem to do—ever. I wanted to listen before I asked for a vote. I wanted to know exactly what the residents of Harrisburg expect from their city leadership. I asked these big questions because I don’t believe it’s good enough to give people a map of the city and a highlighter and say: this is “good Harrisburg” but stay away from these parts.
We’ve got to change that reality.
We can’t have a city that works for some residents but not others.
We can’t have some streets that are well lit, well serviced and well policed, but not others.
We can’t have students who are free to drive over a bridge to a safe learning environment, while others can’t be guaranteed a safe walk to school in the morning.
I support innovation in education. Sometimes competition is good. But we also have to rally around public schools that—for the vast majority of families—is the only option available for them.
As one of the founders and the first volunteer chairman of Harrisburg University, we did something so audacious people still don’t believe it happened, and most don’t even know this. If you graduate from a Harrisburg public school—you’re entitled to a university education at a rate that’s low and affordable to make higher education within reach of every student. Right here in Harrisburg.
You see for me, my public school, my church and my neighborhood were the places where so much of my character was formed. And I want every child in the city to have the same foundation for life that I did.
So what do we have to do to change this reality for thousands of Harrisburg families? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for a while now. What can I do? I’ve answered that question with a decision.
I’m running for the Democratic nomination for mayor of Harrisburg, and I’m asking you to run with me—to be my running mate in a different kind of campaign. One that’s positive and optimistic but grounded in reality. One that isn’t about one person, but a hundred good ideas—from people like you—that just need the support to make them a reality.
As mayor, here’s the big question I’m going to ask: “Are you willing to be a good neighbor?”
If you say yes, and you want to be part of a vibrant, open, growing, inclusive city, we need you to help make this a city that works for everyone.
Before I close, let me put some big goals on the table—from my thoughts, from the surveys, and from examples of great cities around the country.
I’m calling my agenda for Harrisburg: “Let it Shine! Building a City That Works.”
In my plan I outline the path to end Harrisburg’s culture of violent crime. That’s why I’m making it my first priority to call for an urgent Citywide Action Summit on Violence Prevention. Because all the dreams and plans we have for our children and this city cannot happen if the weight and reality of fear continues to reign on our streets.
That’s why my agenda outlines ways to bridge the gap of trust between neighbors and the police while strengthening the morale of good law enforcement professionals.
And it’s why I’m issuing a challenge to improve safety around city schools so the experience of leaving home in the morning and coming home in the afternoon is one of the best memories of childhood.
It’s why I’m committed to the creation of the Office of Minority Entrepreneurship & Small Business Growth to help a generation of dreamers find their path with the help of funding and skilled mentorship from people and a city who believe in them.
But I also lay down a challenge to existing businesses and developers to explore Harrisburg beyond Midtown and Downtown and take a look at the streets where so much of the life of the city is already happening, but where so little job creation exists. Imagine what we could do.
This is a plan that confronts immediate issues like safety, affordable housing and homelessness—problems that have plagued us for the last 15 years. When we solve them it finally puts Harrisburg in a position to dream big again.
There’s a lot more in my agenda—read it at DaveforHBG.org.
Look, it’s ambitious. But if we don’t dream, plan, execute and deliver—the next four years will look a lot like the last 15.
I haven’t asked anyone for permission to run (except for the blessing of Donna and our kids).
I’m not running against anyone.
I’m not controlled by anyone.
I’m proud to be a convert to the Democratic Party, but I don’t care about labeling people or judging them by any other standard than the one I talked about a few minutes ago: “Are you willing to be a good neighbor?”
Are you willing to help fix our city?
I know for me—like many of you—I’ve had it. I’ve had it with old politics and promises that never come true. I’m not in this to be a politician.
I’m in this because I love this city. I love the people of this city. But I’m heartbroken by what’s happening on our streets. And I would hate for us to lose this generation because we did nothing.
I believe we can turn this city around. There is plenty of opportunity.
Let’s do something new. Join me at DaveForHBG.org.
Let’s fight hard to make Harrisburg a city that works for everyone.