Exactly two years and one day past, Linda D. Thompson began serving her first term as the mayor of Harrisburg. Thompson, who was a Harrisburg native, went on to earn a BA in communications and spent her early career interning in government in D.C. and was elected to Harrisburg's City Council in 2001 where she served and was later appointed president until 2009 when she announced her intention not to run for re-election on city council choosing rather to run on the Democratic ticket for mayor in 2009. Thompson ran against the incumbent Stephen R. Reed and beat him by about 1,000 votes in the May 2009 primary and went on to win the election that fall against Republican challenger, Nevin Mindlin, with an approximately 800 vote difference. By all accounts, Thompson must have welcomed January 5, 2010 as a year of possibilities eager to get her feet wet and lead the city forward out of debt. In fact, one of her high points on city council was debt management as she pushed legislation that helped pay down the city's debt. What a shock it must be nearly three years later to find herself as the mayor of Harrisburg still in financial crisis that has gotten worse instead of better. Barely into office, Thompson faced budget problems which in the past two years went from problematic to crisis. Harrisburg entered 2013 with $16 million deficit, an unapproved budget and faces battles with city council members who are looking less to collaborating with the mayor to resolve these issues head-on instead taking a more combative stance some motivated by their own political idealizations.
Even though it is only five days into the new year, one potential mayoral candidate is working at the grassroots level in the community getting his name out and hoping to do to Thompson what she did to Reed four years ago: boot her out of office and be elected Harrisburg's next mayor. According to an article on PennLive, Dan Miller, who is a CPA, formerly served on city council with Thompson, and currently serves as Harrisburg's controller, is actively campaigning out and about in the community talking to voters arranging in-home meetings to talk to them up close and personal to educate them about who he is and what he intends to do for the city if he is elected mayor. Miller, who announced his intentions to run for office this past fall, hired campaign manager Mike Moser to publicize his name and to schedule the community meet and greets. According to Miller's website, Friends of Dan Miller, while he has some money set aside to pay for campaign costs, he was actively recruiting at least 400 people to donate at least $100 each to help him raise $40,000 by the end of 2012 to help him to pay for his campaign for mayor. The website lists that as of December 20, 2012, Miller had 255 members each contribute $100 to his campaign. Considering he needs to raise almost another 15,000 to meet his initial fundraising goal, it appears that he will be spending more time then he originally planned raising funds combining that with his community outreach campaign.
At this point, Miller is Thompson's chief rival for mayor although it is still early in the campaign and other names have come up as potential candidates. In September 2012, Harrisburg city council member Brad Koplinski wrote a letter to supporters thanking them for their encouragement in the past and saying that he was flattered at their insistence that he run for mayor in 2013 and would consider more about running for that office after the end of the November election. According to statements made to abc27 news, Koplinski anticipates making his decision about his political future in the very near future and if that includes running for mayor in 2013, the official announcement should be made public by the end of January. The only other potential candidate who has shown any interest in becoming mayor in Harrisburg is the person who Thompson beat in November 2009. Nevin Mindlin, who ran on the Republican ticket last time around stated that he not align himself with a major political party this election running as an independent instead. While Mindlin publicly scrutinized Thompson for her lack of leadership and inability to work with city council, he has not officially announced his election which he reportedly intended to do a month ago although it is not uncommon for candidates to wait until the last minute to make a formal announcement. Even Thompson has not formally announced her re-election campaign although she did tell reporters at the Harrisburg Holiday Parade back in November that she plans to run for mayor for second term and will make the formal announcement when time allows for her to concentrate on the campaign.
With the primary coming up in the spring and the election a little bit under a year away, it is expected that there will be more candidates announcing their intentions to run for mayor. Considering that it is more common than not Harrisburg to vote a Democrat into office, the primaries will most likely be heated for Democratic candidates. Typically, the incumbent is chosen to run as the ticket holder, but that is not always the case. Reed was the incumbent going into the mayoral race in 2009 and lost to challenger Thompson in the primary.and considering Thompson's opinion in the public eye is tarnished and voter confidence has deflated in the past three years, it is likely that Miller who is off to a head start may win the Democratic primary leaving Thompson out of the running. Naturally, there is plenty of time for other Democrats like Koplinski and any others to officially throw their hat into the ring before the primary; however, the clock is ticking down. Mindlin who may run as an independent only lost to Thompson last time by a margin of votes, so there is the chance that should he decide to run for mayor in November that he could be a contender this time around. The even bigger question is what move the Republicans will make next. Even though the Democrats usually win at the local level in Harrisburg politics, there is no reason to suspect that they will not throw up a candidate to run against which ever Democrat wins at the primary.
There is another option that has not been mentioned but could be if the right candidate were to run on on the platform. It is time for Libertarians to take a serious look at the politics in Harrisburg. There are many dissatisfied voters who want real change to happen in Harrisburg. There are many voters who want the budget balanced and the city's deficit to shrink. Many people in the community are discouraged with the way leadership is happening both in the mayor's office and on city council. Candidates such as Miller talk about wanting change in government and profess to make that happen if only they are elected. Thompson wanted to make change happen too when she became mayor, and in many ways change has occurred under her leadership. The change was just not the kind of change that she anticipated would happen nor ones that the community wants to accept. Mindlin is the only potential candidate to openly state that he will run on the ballot unaffiliated with either major political party. There is no reason for a Libertarian candidate not to run for mayor in 2013. In fact, this could be the stepping stone for the nation's largest third political party to make continued headway into making a difference in Pennsylvania politics.
Sadly, much of the voter opposition for not voting outside of the Democratic or Republican confines is the misconception that a third party candidate cannot win the election which is simply untrue. According to the Pennsylvania Libertarian Party's 2010 statistics, there were 24 Libertarians elected into public office the majority of whom still hold these offices today. In fact, two of these Libertarians were elected mayor in Venango County, Pennsylvania and like Thompson are up for re-election this year. While it is true that barring unusual circumstances, it is highly unlikely for a Libertarian and other third party candidates to win in a larger election such as in Congress or President, it is obvious that voters do elect Libertarians to hold political office. The national Libertarian Party explains methods candidates should use to get elected which include offering voters a choice by running on the Libertarian ticket, getting free media coverage and publicity, aligning with the Libertarian party nationally getting support in numbers, helping to influence other candidates and voters in the close races with Libertarian platforms, and decreasing voter apathy by providing a change in government. The Libertarian Party affirms that winning elections is possible and more probable on the smaller scale. Libertarian candidates do win elections mostly at the local level where many times they run against candidates from one major political party who run unopposed by the other major political party. Now is the opportune time for a Libertarian to run for the next Harrisburg mayor. The voters want change in their community. They want a strong leader to reign in spending and to bring fiscal oversight to a city that is crumbling due the budget crisis. Republicans remain quiet about the election which may be purposeful as they prepare for November 2013. It could also be that they are not going to put a candidate up for this office and a Democrat would run unopposed making it an opportune time for a Libertarian to enter the picture and offer the voters another choice. Miller has his name out there and is actively working on his campaign doing exactly what the Libertarian Party encourages their candidates to do: go out into the community to get themselves known and recognized by the voters to garner their support and to take advantage of the free media publicity. 2012 was a big year in Libertarian politics, and as Gary Johnson stated, "Freedom is not a fluke. It's the future." 2013 should be another year to promote freedom of choice and to encourage change. A Libertarian mayor in Harrisburg could be just the change that voters want.