Twenty-odd years ago, Michael Black looked around State College and thought to himself, “It would be really cool to be mayor here.” Now, after living in town for 27 years, getting married here, and starting a business here, he’s actually running for the post.
Black’s running on a platform unique from his opponents in that he wants to challenge the status quo that’s plagued the Borough for years. “Imagine what life would be like here if the fabric of resistance was a little further back, or we rip through,” he said.
For starters, Black is a self-described lifelong Democrat running for mayor on the Republican ticket, a nomination he earned with the highest number of write-in votes in the primary. But don’t worry — he hasn’t sold his soul.
“[When you run for mayor], you’re doing it for the betterment of the community, not because you’re tied to a political party,” Black said. “My ideals and my values have not changed. I’ve never switched parties. I’ve never sold my soul.”
One of the biggest issues marking this election is the Borough’s zoning code, which is being reviewed for the first time in decades. Black is ready to take a step back and start a community-wide conversation about who we want to be and where we want to go, and proceed from there to create a growth plan and zoning code that make sense and preserve the identity of State College.
“I don’t think State College really knows who we are — what we want to be — and what that entails,” he explained.
Most of all, Black emphasized tradition and innovation can and should coexist to shape the identity of State College. He’s especially supportive of the possibility of a pedestrian mall on the 100 block of Allen Street, and he says he’s taken the steps to make it a reality by not only speaking with business-owners on the block, but also with other successful business people in the State College area who are interested in funding the project.
Black has been most criticized for his mention of what folks are calling a $100 student fee or student tax, which was brought up during the Candidates Night sponsored by the League of Women Voters as part of a discussion on how the Borough can increase revenues. He acknowledges what he said didn’t come out quite right, and stresses he’s opposed to any non-optional or non-voluntary fine, tax, or fee placed on students specifically on account of their student status.
“This was a suggestion to think about how we can do things that are more opt-in friendly,” Black said. “In a true democratic process, you put everything on the table.”
What Black says he truly has in mind is a sort of optional resident’s package, where those living in the Borough — including students — could opt in to pay a fee in exchange for perks like on-street parking, better public wifi, or maybe even coupons or deals through a partnership with the Downtown Improvement District. Ultimately, the system could be housed in a mobile engagement app specific to State College.
Characterized as the “student-friendly” mayoral candidate, Black is endorsed by BugPAC, a political action committee by students, for students, that was created out of frustration with the current makeup of Borough Council.
At the end of the day, Black is glad he’s had the opportunity to make an impact on State College through his candidacy, no matter the outcome of the election.
“The destination is the journey. It’s not about the place that you get to — it’s about what happens on your way there,” Black said. “I want to see people, when they talk about State College, light up, feel connected, and feel like, ‘This is my home.'”
This is the third and final post in a three-part series profiling the candidates for State College mayor. Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.