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11 Interim Mayoral Candidates Present To Borough Council

Less than 24 hours after current State College Mayor Don Hahn finished leading his final Borough Council meeting, 11 State College residents interested in replacing him presented their candidacy to the public in the Borough municipal building.

Tuesday’s meeting also welcomed Council members-elect Peter Marshall and Deanna Behring to the Council Chambers panel for the first time alongside student representative Genevievre Miller. Marshall, Behring, and Miller will not vote in the official mayoral selection later this month.

Two original candidates who submitted letters of interest — Penn State students Isabella Webster and Thomas Dougherty III — have dropped out of the process.

Each remaining interim mayoral candidate had exactly five minutes to describe their background and reasons for running, and answer questions from lists submitted by community and Borough Council Members. The evening’s presentations, delivered in random order, touched on topics ranging from diversity and inclusion to sustainability to developement in the Borough.

Jamey Darnell

Darnell, a Penn State teaching professor, kicked Monday’s meeting off. He began by telling Council that he originally expressed interest to protest Council’s consideration of a guideline that attempted to prevent Penn State employees from being considered as interim mayoral candidates.

“I sternly believe that a Penn State employee can be just as capable of serving the community as anyone else,” he said.

He made it clear, however, that his intentions were now completely serious.

Darnell said he would forgo his salary as mayor, and that his administrative experience in the world of higher education would apply to the primarily ceremonial and administrative role of mayor.

He noted that he would “take a stakeholder approach to the role of mayor” and build a foundation on common ground to ensure that the voices of those who feel unheard in the community would be recognized.

Darnell, a California native, closed his remarks by saying that he wants to set a good example for his daughter by following through with his initial desire to serve the community. He said he would not run for a second term if selected interim mayor.

“This is truly an awesome place to live,” he said.

Michael Black

Black, a 28-year resident of State College and a 2017 mayoral election candidate, focused on his familiarity with the Borough as well as communication-focused conception of the role of mayor.

“I understand our Borough and Centre County,” he said. “My family is a Borough family.”

Black said that rapid population growth and the strain it places on infrastructure and local institutions is the top problem State College faces. Black said that State College’s next mayor must connect community members in “vibrant and productive conversation,” honoring traditions while moving forward to ensure prosperity.

“We need visionary leadership, collaborative governing, and mass community engagement,” he said.

Black emphasized the importance of inclusivity, smart growth, sustainability, and respect in the Borough’s future. He said that State College community members should “collectively build a shared vision” by communicating with individuals from various demographics and professional backgrounds.

Ronald L. Filippelli

Fillipelli, an eight-year Borough Council member and two-year president, reminded Council of his extensive experience in local government. He’s also served on the Centre Region Council of governments, and on Borough committees like the downtown improvement district.

“These activities have given me a comprehensive understanding of State College government and the community at large,” he said.

Fillipelli conceptualized the mayor as an ambassador and mediator for the Borough.

“The mayor should be a salesperson for the Borough, especially with communities of color,” he said, claiming that the mayor should encourage members of these communities to become more involved in local government.

Fillipelli called State College’s lack of affordable workplace housing one of its biggest problems. He noted that students, who do not pay income or local service taxes, shift the weight of revenue generation for the Borough onto landowners. He said that he would work to provide municipalities more revenue-raising options, specifically calling for a “drink tax.” He also called for a central housing program, and for Penn State to play a larger role in local housing initiatives. He said he would not run for reelection.

Eleanor L. Schiff

Schiff earned a master’s and doctorate degree from Penn State, and currently works as a visiting professor at Bucknell. She noted her extensive work and meeting experience in federal government positions that included a White House post, and focused on her work with the secretary of education’s office.

“The mayor presides, rather than directs,” she said of her understanding of the position. “The mayor is a steward of public trust.”

Schiff said that the mayor should advocate for each of the community’s subgroups. She said that she would “love” to work with Penn State, specifically on underage drinking initiatives, and said that an inebriated student had almost broken into her house.

Schiff also said that the Borough should work to “minimize the effects of State Patty’s Day,” which she called “kind of an embarrassment.” She added that the Borough should also consider how infrastructure initiatives would effect each of its residents.

Ezra Nanes

Nanes, a former state Senate candidate and the current director of client relations at Accuweather, said that his campaign experience in organizing and managing panels and meetings would apply to his work as mayor.

Nanes also focused on diversity and inclusion, calling himself a “proud advocate” for the LGBTQ community and claiming that the Borough needs to have “difficult conversations” about race.

“Many black people here, as across the nation, are afraid,” he said. “The mayor must play a pivitol role by ensuring that voices from within communities of color are not only heard, but are respected and validated on an ongoing basis.”

Nanes said that, as mayor, he would host a town hall on race. He also called for “smart and thoughtful” development in State College. Nanes also said that his work with students and student groups would also create a connection with the university and retain young professionals.

“The object of our most fervent aspirations should be creating a sense of belonging for all people,” he said.

Jacob R. Werner

Werner introduced himself as a 12-year Borough resident and a Penn State graduate.

“The mayor should solicit members of the community to understand their needs in order to help the Council,” he said, calling for more transparency in the mayor’s communication goals.

Werner said that a good leader exhibits transparency and consistency, and recognized a need to recognize the needs of historically marginalized communities.Werner said that he had been sexually harassed in the workplace, and said that any form of discrimination or harassment “cannot be tolerated.”

He said that he would organize open town hall meetings and communicate with local leaders as mayor. Werner also discussed his involvement in several local initiatives, noting that he has advocated for diversity in the workplace and sits on several committees.

Thomas E. Daubert

Daubert, a 30-year local government member, served stints as Council president and Penn State Faculty Senate chairman, among other positions.

“There are many occassions when the mayor can be a very strong advocate for State College and its citizens,” he said, adding that he would “promote dialogue with all” as mayor. Daubert also touched on promoting inclusion, focusing specifically on immigrant communities, members of the LGBTQ community, and communities of color.

Daubert said that he viewed the mayor as a potential catalyst for productive local change, and emphasized the importance of creating and maintaining local networks.

Katherine Watt

“I think there’s only one scenario in which appointing me would make any sense,” Watt, an independent journalist, former Borough Council candidate, and Penn State alumna, began.

“I see it that we are in the middle of a very long, very slow, economic decline that started in the 1970s and was papered over with massive amounts of public and private debt…If you also look at the world that way, I might be a good choice for interim mayor because that’s how I look at the world,” she said. “I see the role of local government in the next couple of decades as disaster mitigation.”

Watt said that in 2005, she learned about the “tight connection” between cheap fossil fuels, rising debt, economic growth, complex supply chains, and modern living standards, and how those entities can be “thrown into reverse.” Watt said this insight changed her life, and she spent the next 15 years organizing community initiatives, localizing supply chains, and increasing local skill sets.

Watt spoke to her experience running meetings, and said that she views the current Council dynamic as a “strong manager, strong solicitor, weak council, weak mayor” form of government.

She also said that a lack of affordable housing was due to Penn State’s rapid enrollment expansion and efforts to cut “side deals” with local real estate companies.

James Leous

Jim Leous is a longtime State College School Board member, and related many of his mayoral plans to past School Board initiatives.

Leous talked about making community consensus around a new State College High School facility and education plan.

“We often talk about community engagement,” he said. “What we learned from practice is that the most successful practice is: go to the community…you go to them.”

Leous highlighted several State High sustainability successes, and the Board’s equity and inclusion-focused Inclusive Excellence Policy.

“I will do my best to make this an inclusive welcoming, and sustainible community,” he said.

Jason Browne

“People describe me as a person of passion, a person of many talents, a person who cares about State College,” Browne, a local polymath and Penn State alumnus, said, opening with a statement he repeated several times throughout his presentation.

Browne listed his many community positions and professional passions– he’s the host of a local radio show and a performer, has worked at Penn State in various roles, is a teacher, a former Rotary Club president, and a coach, among others.

He then described his family’s experience as the first black family to move into their specific Philadelphia neighborhood in the 1980s, and the discrimination they faced there. He told a story of how, as a toddler, he approached a neighbor who had continually ignored his family and said hello. The neighbor eventually became a close family friend.

“As a mayor, I will continue to walk these streets to do three things I started as a kid: create conversation, create connection, and create change,” he said.

Browne said that he would use these three tenants to address the concerns of specific community subgroups, like communities of color or young professionals.

Ron Madrid

Madrid, a 2017 mayoral candidate, former Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, director of Penn State’s Applied Research Lab, and president of the Highlands Neighborhood Association, said that he wanted to be mayor to build on 15 years of public service.

Madrid emphasized his ability to advocate for policies introduced by others. He also focused on creating a warm and welcoming environment where community members would feel welcome to participate, and remarked on several ongoing initiatives in the wake of the police shooting death of Osaze Osagie.

“The death of Mr. Osagie was a tragedy that affected our entire community,” he said, adding that as mayor he would be receptive to residents’ concerns and continue the healing process. Madrid also said that his family’s background in police and his status as an expert in less lethal means of conflict resolution gave him a “unique perspective on how to improve interactions between police and the public.”

Madrid said that he would consider previous mayors’ efforts to engage with various student groups. Madrid said that he would work to collect input from multiple community subgroups and make State College more inclusive, and said that discrimination against communities of color and members of the LGBTQA community were particularly concerning to him.

“As a Latino, I have been subject to ethnic slurs and prejudice. Additionally, members of my extended family are gay. Thus, I have an intimate knowledge of the challenges members of these communities face daily,” he said.

Madrid also said that, as an independent, he would provide a nonpartisan view of Borough matters and procedures.

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About the Author

Jim Davidson

Jim is a junior English and history major and the features editor for Onward State. He, like most of the Penn State undergraduate population, is from 'just outside Philadelphia,' and grew up in Spring City, Pennsylvania. He covers a variety of Penn State topics, but spends nine months of every year waiting for the start of soccer season. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @messijim.

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