Controversial event sours relationship between Harrisburg mayor, county commissioners

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A controversial event at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg is highlighting another civil war between leaders of Harrisburg and Dauphin County.

Mayor Eric Papenfuse’s senior advisor, Karl Singleton, told ABC27 News he plans to circulate a petition to oust commissioners Jeff Haste and George Hartwick III.

Singleton cites a 2008 letter alleging Hartwick used a racial slur. Hartwick said the local chapter of the NAACP and Interdenominational Ministers Conference of Greater Harrisburg found no wrongdoing. He added that Singleton’s actions are part of a “political smear campaign.”

Singleton adds there is ground for Haste’s removal because he testified as a character witness at a 2014 sentencing hearing after the son of a family friend was convicted of attempting to pay for sex with minors.

“There are a lot of folks who don’t say pleasant things about him, too,” Haste said. “We don’t bring that up.”

Haste believed Singleton’s conduct stemmed from his outrage over Wednesday evening’s “Guns and Lace” event at the Civil War Museum, which included a revolver that once belonged to Confederate guerrilla leader William Clarke Quantrill, a man known to have killed 180 civilians and return slaves to the south.

Papenfuse said the National Rifle Association-sponsored event was fueled by a “fetishization of guns.”

“It is something that represents the absolute worst of society,” he said.

Haste said historical events cannot always positive.

“If you take that same philosophy, we should just shut down any monument to the Holocaust,” he said.

Haste was instrumental in recruiting the NRA to sponsor the Great American Outdoors Show after the promoter of the former Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show indefinitely postponed the show in 2013. Dauphin County and the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitor’s Bureau report the event has brought in upwards of $80 million to the local economy since the NRA’s involvement.

Harrisburg’s “common sense gun safety measures,” as Papenfuse called them, were challenged by gun rights advocacy groups backed by the NRA. Several legal battles ensued.

Last year, the NRA donated $50,000 to Harrisburg’s Police Department but did not invite or include anyone from the city during the donation event. The NRA donated money to local charities and the Civil War Museum.

Papenfuse went to commissioners in 2014 with concerns over the Civil War Museum and how it’s funded by county hotel tax revenues. He asked commissioners to defund the museum outright, calling it a “failed experiment.”

The mayor makes no secret it’s his mission to unravel the deals of former Mayor Stephen Reed, who was indicted on nearly 500 counts of corruption and theft last summer. Those close to the Reed administration said the Civil War Museum was his “baby.”

Following several public hearings on the museum, commissioners said they found there was educational and economic value in the museum and vowed to find alternative funding. Commissioners went as far as to find ways to promote the museum.

This week, Capital Area Transit, partially funded by the county, offers a shuttle for GAOS patrons to the Civil War Museum, including Wednesday’s controversial event.

Last year, Papenfuse also claimed commissioners failed to help provide a county match to apply for FEMA funding for the city’s 14th Street sinkholes. Neither side appears at each other’s political functions, press conferences, or public addresses to boot.

“Every time we try to work with the city, they seem to find a way to kick us in the shins or kick us in the privates,” Haste said.

Papenfuse said commissioners “continually work against the city’s interests.” He added the two governing bodies “have no working relationship.”

The big question remains: will personal grudges of those in public office hurt city residents?

Haste said commissioners have a better working relationship with several City Council members.

“We will always continue to support the residents of the city,” he said. “I will work with those who want to find a solution. Those who want to pout and blame I don’t have any time for.”

When asked if he would ever work with the mayor again, Haste replied, “when there’s another mayor.”

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