By Logan Hullinger
INDIANA — On Jan. 20, Mayor George E. Hood announced he would seek a sixth four-year term in this year’s municipal elections.
Hood, the borough’s Democratic mayor since the presidential administration of Bill Clinton, announced his campaign for re-election in a release published in The Indiana Gazette. He is unopposed in the May 16 Democratic primary. The deadline to file is March 7. No Republican has filed to run against him.
County courthouse records are easily accessible back to only 2003. But an administrative assistant in the police department, the municipal office the mayor oversees, reported that Hood, 83, has served longer than any other mayor in the borough’s 200-year history.
(Hood doesn’t come close to being the longest-serving borough mayor in Pennsylvania history, according to the Association of Mayors of the Boroughs of Pennsylvania. That distinction belongs to Robert P. Linn, mayor of Beaver from 1946 until his death in 2004, according to the association’s latest newsletter.)
Hood has run only as a Democrat, unopposed in all but two primary elections since winning his first mayoral election against a general-election opponent in 1998, according to county courthouse records.
The mayor said he welcomes competition.
“I often write to my Republican friends and urge them to run against me when I announce my campaign,” Hood said in a Jan. 26 interview in his town hall office adjacent to the police department. “I like a challenge. It’s a part of the democratic process.”
So far, no one has accepted his invitation to run against him for the $4,000-a-year job, although time still remains on this year’s election calendar for an opponent to seek Hood’s seat.
THAT MAY BE BECAUSE Democrats and Republicans alike express satisfaction with Hood’s tenure. Even a local advocate of term limits for elected officials made an exception in Hood’s case.
Tony DeLoreto, an Indiana restaurateur, campaigned for term limits on lawmakers during an unsuccessful Democratic candidacy for state senator in the Nov. 8 election.
“Term limits at the local level would be advantageous,” DeLoreto said during a Jan. 28 phone interview. “They aren’t as important as term limits at the national or state level. But having fresh faces in office is good for politics.”
But DeLoreto said he might make an exception in the case of Hood’s campaign for re-election.
“Mayor Hood has represented Indiana borough in good faith,” he said. “If there is no opposition to his position, then I support him no matter what.”
A LOCAL REPUBLICAN frowned on term limits for local offices, despite the nearly two decades since the borough last elected a GOP mayor.
Attorney Jesse D. Daniel, chairman of the Indiana County Republican Committee, cited a “lack of hard power” as a reason to refrain from imposing term limits at local levels of government.
“The mayor doesn’t have budgetary power, so there is little reason to oppose him if he’s doing fine as the face of Indiana,” Daniel said in a Jan. 26 phone interview. “In addition, there is little financial incentive to the position, so not many want to oppose the incumbent.”
In more powerful government positions, such as U.S. president, the need for term limits becomes more apparent, according to Daniel.
“The difference is that the president of the United States has power as commander in chief,” Daniel said. “Local governments are much, much different.”
PROPOSALS TO LIMIT terms of officeholders at the local level do not attract much support, according to Rachel Sternfeld, Ph.D., a political science professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania who wrote an undergraduate thesis on term limits in 2003. She cited the November 2016 election campaign in which DeLoreto, the Democrat, challenged Republican incumbent state Sen. Don White.
“To see a good example of how term limits aren’t popular at small levels of government, just look at the recent DeLoreto and White election,” Sternfeld said during an interview in her Humanities and Social Sciences building office on Jan. 25.
“While term limits are more often talked about at higher levels of government, I consider myself very anti-term-limits for most positions of government,” Sternfeld said. “It takes away power from the voters by telling them they can’t elect who they want if they run for a certain number of consecutive terms.”
A borough mayor is more of a “symbolic figure” than a powerful politician, Sternfeld said, which minimizes the purpose of term limits as a check on power.
HOOD, THE SOFT-SPOKEN incumbent, echoed those sentiments.
“I don’t want the people of Indiana to be forced to choose someone they don’t want to vote in,” Hood said. “If they want me to keep serving them, I will do so until I can’t any longer.”
Logan Hullinger, junior journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania from Clarion, is a staff reporter for The HawkEye. He may be contacted at L.R.Hullinger@iup.edu.