The race was close Tuesday, Nov. 8 as Republican candidate Charlie Smithgall battled for one of the three seats on the Lancaster City Council. Seven candidates competed, including the three Democrats already on Council: Barbara Wilson, John Gruapera and James Reichenbach. Gary Odom of the Constitution party and Republicans Marilyn Schnee and Joel Charles accompanied Smithgall vying for a seat. According to www.fox43.com/news/election, Wilson obtained 2,766 votes; Graupera, 2,736; Reichenbach, 2,567; and Smithgall, 2,047, coming up short in fourth place.
It was a surprise when Smithgall, former mayor of Lancaster, decided to run for City Council. From 1998 to 2006, Smithgall was Lancaster’s mayor, but he lost his bid to Democrat Rick Gray in 2005. He ran for county commissioner in 2007 and mayor again in 2009, losing by only a few votes. Since then, he has been working at his pharmacy in Lancaster, still listening to the issues of the people in the city, even though he is no longer mayor.
One of the primary issues concerning Smithgall, or which triggered him to run for City Council, is how the people aren’t heard. During an interview, when asked about his plans to improve the city in the event that he won, his first answer was to be friendlier to the citizens. He elaborated on this dilemma saying that if someone is looking to remodel a house or start a business, the elected council members should be responsive to him or her when they have a question or problem. “Local government is the government you can touch,” Smithgall said. “Accessibility is lacking.
Other issues concerning Smithgall are spending habits and violent crime. He believes council members do not discuss matters thoroughly before voting. Smithgall said that he left the city with around $19.2 million after exiting his position as mayor. “They spent at least 12 million, maybe 14 million of it,” he stated. The city solved a bond issue a couple of weeks ago to upgrade the sewer and water systems, but Smithgall wonders where the money to repay this will come from. In an article from lancasteronline.com, Smithgall said, “We borrowed some money, but when I was mayor, [most times] if I needed something I found a way to pay for it. That doesn’t seem to be happening these days.” He also strongly believes the city cannot afford to lose any more firefighters because they are necessary in minimizing violent crime.
Democrats did have a lead in this race, as it has been six years since a Republican was on council. An article from lancasteronline.com affirmed that Smithgall was the most heavily-funded candidate, raising twice as much money for his campaign compared to the three Democratic candidates combined. Also in this article, written prior to the election, Wilson said, “At the end of the day, sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you raise. It all depends on the voters and what they want from their City Council.”
Graupera stated that he believed Smithgall was using a negative campaign to persuade voters. “I don’t think it will work,” he said. “People aren’t blind. They can see what is happening in Lancaster and in other cities.” Smithgall is grateful that Lancaster is not in the same position as Harrisburg, but thinks the city needs to see change.
Contrary to Smithgall’s view, Democrats believe the city is improving. Gray disagrees with the notion that council members do not discuss issues accordingly. “There’s a lot of discussion at those committee meetings. … Council is far better prepared [than it was during Smithgall’s administration]. By the time an issue gets to the City Council, it’s generally been pretty well discussed, and that’s a sea change,” said Gray in an article on lancasteronline.com According to the article, before the election, he believed the Council would stay Democratic.
To add onto the democratic idea that Smithgall’s campaign was negative, another factor that may have contributed to his defeat is that he didn’t want public discussion and declined two debates, according to lancasteronline.com. In the end, as Wilson said, it all comes down to the voter and what changes they want to see from their Council.