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ELECTION 2013: Two on Indiana Borough council survive write-in challenge

by RANDY WELLS rwells@indianagazette.net on November 06, 2013 11:00 AM

Two incumbent Indiana Borough council members held off strong performances by a pair of write-in candidates Tuesday to win re-election to four-year terms representing the Third Ward.

Richard Thorell, a Republican, will return for a third term after leading five candidates and receiving 183 votes from the ward’s three precincts. Council President Nancy Jones, a Democrat, received 168 votes to retain her seat.

Write-in candidate Jennifer Gonda-English, a Republican, finished third in the balloting with 115 votes, followed by Democrat Taralyn Federoff, who had 104 write-in votes. The two write-in candidates attempted to rally to their campaigns the hundreds of Indiana University of Pennsylvania students registered in the Third Ward.

All votes are unofficial and the write-in tallies, especially, are open to a certain amount of interpretation because of varying spellings of the candidates’ names.

Republican Matthew Gaudet, a downtown business co-owner in his second run for council, finished fifth with 88 votes.

Thorell said he spent several hours a day in the final 10 or 12 days of the campaign visiting constituents’ homes.

“I knocked on most of the doors in the Third Ward,” he said. “I was getting a favorable response” to his views on traditional values — strong, safe neighborhoods, infrastructure improvements and keeping neighborhood schools, although he acknowledged to constituents that as a borough councilman he has little influence on the issue of keeping the elementary schools in the borough open.

“I’ve been strong in my support of keeping the Indiana Free Library in its present location,” Thorell said, adding that he credits Indiana Borough manager Bill Sutton with spearheading that effort on behalf of council.

“I think the write-in campaigns and the effort to galvanize (IUP) students seems to have been run quite well. I expected to lose,” Thorell said. “The university is centered in the Third Ward. I saw the email that said, ‘We’ll storm the dorms.’ What was lacking may have been a galvanizing issue.”

“I’m elated. It was an extremely close race,” Jones said when the last precincts reported their totals late Tuesday evening. “I know they (the IUP students) wanted a voice on council. I fought equally hard to keep my voice on council.”

Jones said she heard constituents saying in the final days of the campaign that IUP students “‘come and go. They’re here for a short period of time.’ We (the borough residents) have a vested interest in our community.”

Jones and Thorell combined some of their campaign activities.

“I was so impressed with him,” Jones said. “I’m thankful to have him as a running partner.”

Both of the write-in candidates also expressed satisfaction with their campaign efforts.

“I’m extremely pleased. I’m proud of the IUP students and how we banded together,” Federoff said, especially considering that she entered the race only two weeks before Election Day.

“I’d love to run again, a full campaign, in the future if I’m still here in Indiana,” said Federoff, a senior at IUP.

“I didn’t really anticipate getting that close,” Gonda-English said Tuesday night. “We fought the good fight,” and added she, too, may be back for another run for council.

In the Second Ward, incumbent Robert Jobe Jr., a Republican, lost his bid for re-election to challenger Donald Lancaster, a Democrat. Lancaster received 253 votes to 168 votes for Jobe.

Gerald Smith, a Democrat who won nominations from both parties in the spring and was appointed to council in the summer to fill a vacancy, finished first among the three candidates and won the other four-year seat with 342 votes.

“I think Gerald (Smith) and I both expected this type of voter turnout,” Lancaster said, because the two men did a lot of door-to-door campaigning in the final week before the election.

This is Lancaster’s first involvement in local politics.

“It’s a whole new experience. I’m excited,” he said. “I’ll have a little more say so and be a little more on the inside” as a council member.

In a race for a two-year term in the Second Ward, Democrat Larry DeChurch, appointed to council in June to fill a vacancy, retained his seat by getting 268 votes and defeating Republican challenger Brett Johns, who received 160 votes.

In two non-contested races, Democrat Katherine “Kitty” Shryock Hood received 202 votes and was elected to a four-year term representing the First Ward, and Fourth Ward councilwoman Julie Adcock, a Democrat appointed in 2011, won a full four-year term of her own with 167 votes.

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