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Jim Leous Hopes To Be ‘Part Of Solution’ If Elected State College Mayor

When surveying State College officials, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who knows Happy Valley as well as Jim Leous.

Leous, who’s running for mayor as a Democrat this year, came to Penn State decades ago for grad school. Since then, he got married in the borough, delivered three kids at Mount Nittany Medical Center, and became well-versed in State College’s schools.

Suffice to say, he understands the borough’s broad appeals.

“It is absolutely a great place to raise a family, and it is a great place to retire,” Leous said.

Leous is now finishing out his third term on the State College Area School Board. After telling his colleagues last summer that he will not be returning for a fourth term, they encouraged him to look into running for mayor. Ultimately, that became a factor in launching his campaign.

Leous also said he hopes to get State College back on its feet once the coronavirus pandemic subsides. If elected, he’ll aim to use state and federal funds over the next two years to stabilize revenue streams within the borough.

“We’re going to have to make strategic use of the American Rescue Plan and the COVID Relief Plan funding, especially at the municipal level,” Leous said. “We need to use that to fill in the holes in the revenue that was lost during the pandemic and the projects that we really need to do, regardless of whether there is a pandemic or the economy is going full tilt.”

Additionally, Leous hopes to place a heavy emphasis on utilizing nearby student voices to ensure the borough’s younger residents are heard.

“[Students] are the ones on the receiving end of a lot of the changes that we make,” Leous said.”They have to live here for three to five years, and we want to make it a welcoming place for all students, whether they are in a traditional student in that 18 to 22-year-old demographic or a non-traditional student, like a veteran coming into Penn State to get a degree because they went right into the military after high school.”

To kickstart that initiative, Leous said he’ll sit in the HUB for lunch once a week, with a “Mayor’s In” sign and all, to be there for students’ needs.

“This is for people who wouldn’t normally approach an official, like a mayor or a dean,” Leous said. “The idea is to make myself available to the people.”

Leous said he intends to do this specifically for students wanting to voice their concerns, such as those moving off-campus for the first time or an international student who cannot vote but is still greatly affected by borough officials.

Overall, Leous said he hopes to continue working with student government leaders, as well as students who are not specifically involved, so everyone’s thoughts and opinions are heard.

Leous also said he’ll place a large focus on improving sustainability efforts in State College. He said he is somewhat content with what the borough is currently doing for a more sustainable planet, but there’s always room for improvement.

“Elizabeth Goreham, who was mayor two terms ago, put in a lot of sustainability initiatives in the borough, like composting. We do composting, and that has made a big difference to the waste flow,” Leous said. “It takes what normally would be trash and puts it to productive use. That’s good, but we can still do a little bit better with what we can collect.” 

The Trash to Treasure program at Beaver Stadium is a time where people can donate old things to be sold over the span of two days. All proceeds go to United Way. Leous likes this initiative because it promotes reusing things and sustainability but believes it can be better.

Leous specifically cited programs like Beaver Stadium’s Trash to Treasure campaign, which lets fans donate possessions to be sold over a weekend to benefit Centre County United Way.

“One of the things that bothers me is seeing all of the lightly used furniture left outside apartment complexes in late May or early July,” Leous said. “I see a lot of stuff that can be donated to a homeless center, a women’s shelter, or a place like Centre Safe. Those places cannot take it all at once, however. So, we would have to figure out how to buffer it out and give it to people who don’t have a lot that could really use it.”

On top of wanting to give to those in need, Leous said he wants to create more affordable housing in State College, but not just for students. He aims to work with landlords on tax remission or tax forgiveness programs to make that goal a reality.

A big factor in wanting to make affordable housing is so that people in the workforce can afford to live in State College. If elected, Leous wants to enable people to work anywhere but still live in the borough.

“One of my themes would be, ‘You can work anywhere in the world, but I want you to live in State College.’ That sounds great, right? But here we are with these bad cable modem connections,” Leous said. “So, we have to provide better broadband access to downtown co-working spaces with ample parking, working spaces, conference rooms, and high-quality, wireless and wired internet connections. We need to invest in some of this infrastructure.”

Additionally, Leous said he’ll support hiring more mental health professionals for the borough. Discussions surrounding mental health response have grown following the death of Osaze Osagie, a Black borough resident fatally shot by police in March 2019 while serving a mental health check.

According to Leous, emergency calls for mental health crises happen two to three times a week, and it is rare for mental health professionals to available. He suggested that it is because these professionals typically work only from 8 a.m to 5 p.m, while calls could come through at any time.

Leous said he recognizes that those kinds of calls can be dangerous, so he suggests professionals go with police to properly diffuse and settle situations while remaining safe.

“We are asking a lot from these officers to be law enforcement professionals, mental health professionals, counselors, and so on. It’s just asking an awful lot, and we need to help them out,” Leous said. “I think that this can never happen again if we create that cadre of mental health professionals who are willing to go out on some of these calls with police officers.”

While tensions flare in state and federal government chambers, Leous stressed the importance of local government since it encompasses many aspects of life, including education, paving streets, collecting parking revenue, enforcing property taxes, and so on.

“When it comes down to that, the local government has to deal with them or it does not get done. The local government has the power to bring people together,” Leous said. “Martin Luther King talks about the arc of history bending towards justice, and I truly believe that. I think that if we accept half a loaf of bread today, that bends the arc further towards what I believe is the right direction towards justice.”

To support that vision, Leous said some of his best collaborations were with Republicans, especially Jim Pawelczyk, who was on the school board with him in 2011. They created “Anytime, Anywhere Learning,” which was an experiment on giving different technology to children for educational purposes.

They also started an initiative to give a laptop to each child in order to create an education online. Their ultimate goal was for students to have a snow day where they can attend classes remotely. That became even more important as the coronavirus pandemic sent borough students to online classes.

If elected, Leous hopes to impact State College in a myriad of ways. But no matter what, he simply wants to get involved.

“I hope to be part of the solution in recovering our economy and our mental state,” Leous said. “It’s going to take a while for us to be a more open, welcoming community, and I hope to be part of the solution for that as well.”

Leous will face fellow Democrat Ezra Nanes in this spring’s mayoral primary, which is set for May 18. There are no candidates running in the GOP mayoral primary.

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About the Author

Nicole Oronzio

Nicole is a freshmen majoring in journalism who is from Aston, PA. She loves hiking, watching movies, and trying new things. She has an obsession with meditating and her dog, Simba (aka. the love of her life). Just a fair warning: She might ramble on about the Universe if given the chance. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @nicoleoronzio or email her at [email protected]

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