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South Williamsport, PA
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This Week’s LION: Commissioner Candidate Gabe Campana

The starting gate for the May Primary will have a crowded field for the office of County Commissioner. The count could be as high as eight to ten candidates, including the incumbents, but probably none are as well known as Gabe Campana. After three terms as Williamsport mayor, Campana felt that he had succeeded in

The starting gate for the May Primary will have a crowded field for the office of County Commissioner. The count could be as high as eight to ten candidates, including the incumbents, but probably none are as well known as Gabe Campana. After three terms as Williamsport mayor, Campana felt that he had succeeded in all the goals he had set for himself when he first ran for office twelve years ago, and now desires to see if he could apply his knowledge and experience in the direction of county government.

With twelve years on the Williamsport City Council and twelve years as Mayor of Williamsport, Campana brings a wealth of government experience to the table. It is an impressive resume. During his tenure, the city has seen some tremendous revitalization. There have been 250 businesses created and $600 million in new construction in the city. Step back to 2007, and Williamsport was a city without the Cinema Center, the Liberty Arena, Kohl’s, the new YMCA, the “Greens,” none of which came without lots of pulling and tugging with all the various stakeholders.

He has never been one to rest on his laurels, as it seems as soon as one project is finished, he already has at least one more already in progress. Currently, it is “Connect Williamsport,” a major renewal of the East Third Street/Old City area with traffic improvements, news signals, and crosswalks, highlighted by Lycoming College’s new Gateway Building. Once finished, this will not only link the city with the Susquehanna River Walk from Penn Tech to Lycoming College but will also encourage developers to invest in the Old City area, which is already happening as new shops are already starting to emerge.

It is tricky to promote economic development without enlarged city budgets, but Mayor Campana somehow found a way to do it. In the twelve budgets he presented, only two contained tax increases. Williamsport is one of two Class C cities in Pennsylvania that have received an A+ Bond Rating from Standard and Poor’s.

As much as Campana was committed to making the city a better place to live and work and a more vibrant place to visit with entertainment and dining options in the downtown, there has always been an elephant in the room that cannot be ignored — crime. This was a problem he had to face even before Day 1 as mayor. On the evening of Friday, January 4th, 2008, seven people were shot in downtown Williamsport, all in various locations, one of which died.

When Campana learned of the shootings as others did from the paper the following morning, he faced a tough choice. He was mayor-elect, two days away from his inauguration, holding no authority at that point. But he quickly learned that city residents feared leaving their homes, and the tourist and commercial community feared a reaction that would jeopardize their businesses. He called a meeting of Greg Foresman, his new chief of police, and Curly Jett, a former police chief and a valuable liaison to the African-American community. They agreed that a message of hope was needed immediately.

Campana contacted all the media outlets in the area and informed them of a news conference on Sunday night at the City Hall Conference Room. Over 200 people crowded into that conference room designed to hold half that number. Though he had a prepared speech, he decided to simply speak from his gut, telling the frightened citizenry that he would take aggressive action against crime.

It has been an ongoing action, and as we all know, crime in Williamsport has not disappeared. Yet at a time of the rising opioid epidemic and all the crime inherent to it, Williamsport has seen steady declines in the crime rate for the past twelve years, with 2018 actually marking a 15 percent decrease.

As all candidates, Gabe Campana brings along some extra baggage with his candidacy. His ongoing struggles with the City Council reached a point where they endorsed an initiative to change the city charter to eliminate the office of mayor! Campana was never afraid to try something new – like outdoor hockey on a baseball field in November. There was a sell-out crowd at Bowman Field in November of 2012 as the Williamsport Outlaws Hockey Team brought professional hockey to the city. However, they only played one season and then went bankrupt, and stuck the city with some bills that took some time to clear up. And there was a very messy, public divorce proceeding with his wife Sonia which involved numerous accusations made against him, not one of which was ever substantiated. He has joint custody of his five children.

Gabe Campana has stated that he is running for the office of County Commissioner with a commitment to cutting taxes, lowering crime, promoting economic opportunity, and encouraging more regional cooperation. He knows that county government is large, but he brings to the table the experience of managing a cabinet of twelve department heads, which employed 218 employees over a three-term tenure.

To some degree, it makes perfect sense that Gabe Campana would choose to run to county commissioner, for as Williamsport goes, so goes Lycoming County. When he visits various towns, he is often greeted, “Hey, Mayor!” It is almost as if the county sees him as their mayor. In May we will see if they see him as their county commissioner.

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