In November, the registered voters of the city of Williamsport will elect their next mayor. He will be a much younger man than his predecessor, married to a wonderful wife with several beautiful children. He will be knowledgeable, well educated, and even have studied abroad. He will be a visionary but understands the severe constraints that he will face as the new mayor of the city. He does not want to try to salvage the present City Hall (it’s a money pit), nor is he interested in selling off the Williamsport Water Authority. And he wants to bring unity to the various divisions of city government, removing the tension that seems to pervade so much of the current relationships between the mayor’s office and city council. I am referring to the next Mayor of Williamsport — Eric Beiter or Derek Slaughter.
Observing the debate held at a standing-room-only Klump Academic Center auditorium at Pennsylvania College of Technology on Tuesday, September 17th, it was surprising how much these two political opponents had in common. They certainly differed on various issues, sometimes quite strongly, but it was more on the approach to be taken than the fact of what needed to be done.
Eric Beiter, the Republican candidate, opened with a strong opening statement and hammered home the point on numerous opportunities about the importance of leadership. He gave lots of examples of what he had in mind, ranging from more accountability on financial matters to examining personnel in the various city departments and insuring that right person was in the right job.
Beiter stressed his business background and was best when he talked about practical problem-solving. He has a very good mind but does not flaunt it. He suggested a particular practice that I recognized from a Harvard Business Review article, and he also referenced some very current employee engagement principles.
Derek Slaughter, the Democratic candidate, opened less strong but seemed to gain momentum as the debate went all. He also cared about the same issues as Beiter but approached them pragmatically. He has served on the Williamsport City Council since January of 2018 and got the best laugh line of the night when he declared he was the “most hated fiscal conservative on council.”
Slaughter emphasized that he understood the current situation because he has been on the ground floor for the past two years. He was especially supportive of the efforts of Police Chief Damon Hagan, quoting him several times during the debate. In the ninety-minute debate, I did not note any other individual singled out by either candidate in a supportive way, so it seemed quite significant.
For the most part, this debate had a few sparks but hardly any fireworks, and some credit must go to the moderator, Dr. Craig Miller of Penn College. He showed patience as the answers to the questions ran a little long, and politely did not confront the candidates when they did not actually answer the question asked. He kept the debate moving along, and it seemed to run just exactly long enough.
Whether it is Eric Beiter or Derek Slaughter who wins the election for the mayor of Williamsport, he will have a lot going for him. Both men are smart and visionary and committed to bringing unity. At the same time, both will face enormous challenges and limited resources to deal with these challenges. Personally, I like both these men and wish them well. Whoever wins will grow in the office, and hopefully, they will discover that a leader can be strong, but not rude; bold but not a bully; patient but not lazy; and knowledgeable but not arrogant — and unfortunately, it is lonely at the top.