Harrisburg’s  ‘Mayor for Life,’ Stephen Reed, remembered as a visionary

Ioannis Pashakis//January 27, 2020

Harrisburg’s  ‘Mayor for Life,’ Stephen Reed, remembered as a visionary

Ioannis Pashakis//January 27, 2020

Stephen Reed – File

Former Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed, who died on Saturday following a 14 year fight with prostate cancer, was remembered as a driving force of economic development in Harrisburg and a friend of the city’s business community.

The seven-term Democratic mayor, who was known as Harrisburg’s “mayor for life,” served from 1982 to 2010.

“Steve Reed was a rare visionary whose 35 years of elected public service, 28 as Mayor, was focused on restoring and re-inventing Harrisburg as a great city,” the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC said in a statement issued Sunday. “Our city, our region is simply a better place because of Mayor Reed. He was a friend and a champion of the Chamber & CREDC.”

During his tenure as mayor, Reed spearheaded projects such as bringing the Harrisburg Senators and FNB field to the then crime-riddled City Island and rehabilitating the city’s “Restaurant Row.”

Under Reed’s leadership, the city became a hub for STEM learning with the 1997 groundbreaking of Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts and the 2001 founding of Harrisburg University.

“Mayor Reed understood that Harrisburg could only prosper if the downtown became a destination for arts and culture, providing opportunities for advanced learning through the exploration of science and technology, and the catalyst for curious young minds to explore the Earth and beyond,” said Ted Black, CEO of the Harrisburg-based Whitaker Center. “He realized that vision with the creation of Whitaker Center. It is a living testament to his legacy of leadership and vision for the Commonwealth’s Capital City.”

Dr. Eric Darr, president of Harrisburg University, said that the school’s standing today was due to Reed’s foresight and vision for the city.

“He lived to see today’s HU recognized as a model of higher education and civic impact,” he said. “The legacy of Steve Reed includes lives changed and a region transformed, in part because Harrisburg University emerged from his vision of a vibrant city full of opportunities.”

While Reed’s legacy as mayor was planted in his efforts to grow the city’s economy and its name as a tourism destination, two particular projects harmed that legacy. In 2015, 499 criminal charges were brought against Reed by then Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane. The charges were in response to the former’s mayor’s efforts to open a Wild West Museum in the city using artifacts allegedly purchased using the city’s bond funds.

Reed eventually plead guilty to 20 felony and misdemeanor counts related to receiving stolen property, and was sentenced to two years of probation and a fine.

In 2017, the state’s grand jury released a report questioning Reed’s method of financing a trash incinerator that cost Harrisburg hundreds of millions of dollars, but no charges were filed because the statute of limitations expired.