Every Friday, we choose an alum who has been making headlines—for better or for worse.
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Eric Papenfuse ’93, ’96MPhil: a new chapter for Harrisburg

Eric Papenfuse ’93, ’96MPhil, spent ten years at Yale as an undergraduate and grad student in history, but he says some of his education came from New Haven itself, where he tutored in the public schools and was active in a preservation battle over a house the university ultimately tore down. "I would attribute my public activist streak entirely to my time in New Haven," says Papenfuse, who took office this week as the new mayor of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. "I was troubled by the town-gown divide there."

Papenfuse and his wife moved to Harrisburg in 1999 and found that, like New Haven, it is dominated a large, non-taxpaying industry: Pennsylvania's state government. Unlike the Elm City though, Papenfuse says Harrisburg was missing "the types of 'third spaces' we were used to in New England": places besides home and work for people to gather in community. Expanding his online book business to a converted downtown theater, Papenfuse ended up making one of those places. His Midtown Scholar bookstore, he says, has become "a town hall, a place to discuss the issues of the day."

The town hall–style meetings that took place at Midtown Scholar—about violent crime, a disastrous incinerator project, and other local issues—"politicized me in a way I didn't expect," Papenfuse says, and after unsuccessful runs for city council and county commissioner, he was elected mayor on November 5.

Papenfuse, who takes over a city that is working to emerge from state receivership, marked his inauguration by removing the metal detectors from the entrance to city hall, replacing the uniformed police officer with a civilian employee at a reception desk. He told reporters that the metal detectors “sent the wrong message. I wanted the atrium to be open, welcoming.”

Filed under Eric Papenfuse, Harrisburg
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