October 5, 2019 at 5:24 a.m.

Two vie for mayor

Geesaman seeks 3rd term vs. challenger GOP’s Boggs
Two vie for mayor
Two vie for mayor

By RAY COONEY
President, editor and publisher

Randy Geesaman is hoping to earn a third term.

John Boggs wants to do what Geesaman did eight years ago — unseat a two-term incumbent mayor.

The candidates will face off in the election for mayor of Portland in the November election, for which early voting begins Tuesday. (Election Day is Nov. 5.)

Geesaman, 65, a Democrat who knocked off two-term incumbent Bruce Hosier in the 2011 general election, is a Floral Avenue resident and 1972 graduate of Pennville High School. He graduated from Indiana University and worked in sales for 33 years before becoming Portland’s clerk-treasurer in 2009. He said he is seeking a third term in an effort to finish what he has started during his time in office.

Boggs, 68, a Republican, is general manager of WPGW Radio in Portland and is making his first run for office. A 1969 Portland High School graduate, he has also worked as president and CEO of Impulse Broadcast Systems and a sales manager for Indianapolis Broadcast Business. He said he felt the pull to run for office in part because of his community engagement as a board member for Jay County Chamber of Commerce and United Way of Jay County.

Geesaman defeated Portland assistant police chief Bart Darby in the Democratic primary in May. Boggs was uncontested in the Republican primary.

The candidates sat down this week for individual interviews with The Commercial Review, discussing a wide range of issues. Their responses are summarized below.



Flood control

Both mayoral candidates focused on flood control as a major issue, but came at it with different approaches.

Geesaman expressed pride in the efforts that have been made during his administration, saying small projects have helped mitigate flooding. He mentioned increasing the size of a sewer line near the Salamonie River, a west side sewer project and efforts by the county surveyor’s office to clean out and terrace the river.

“The small little projects, we’ve got to get those in place, because this could drag on forever and ever before those long-term solutions from the Army Corps of Engineers,” he said.

Boggs was critical of the current administration’s approach, saying a more targeted, prioritized effort is needed in order to make sure money is spent efficiently.

“There are 100 different things we can do about flooding,” said Boggs. “But I don’t think anyone has listed them and said, ‘That’s the most effective, that’s the next most effective.’ We need a plan to address the most high-leverage items to fix flooding.”



Stellar Communities

The Jay! Region, which includes Portland, is a finalist for the state’s Stellar Communities designation, the winner of which will be announced in early December.

If selected, the region would have access to about $38 million in grants and other incentives for local projects.

Boggs pointed to housing as his top priority amongst Stellar projects, noting the need for the city to build its population in order to spur new businesses. Stellar offers potential funding for owner-occupied home rehabilitation and senior housing.

Geesaman named streetscapes as his No. 1 Stellar priority. He used the cities of Columbus and Logansport as examples to strive for in terms of streetscapes, noting that he’d like to see a mix of items such as statues, shrubbery and rain gardens to help improve the look downtown.

“It gives you the first impression,” Geesaman said. “I think that’s the first step. Beautification has to be first.”



Other issues

In discussing other issues, Geesaman suggested the possibility of starting an incentive program to attract young professionals to the city and other incentives, including tax abatements, are important for attracting and growing businesses. He expects the Portland Municipal Airport runway extension project, scheduled for 2020 and 2021, to spur economic growth and said he feels efforts to clean up the community under his administration have been successful.

Boggs emphasized the need for more community pride when talking about his priorities for a first term as mayor. He said he envisions starting a pride committee to offer “sweat equity” resources to projects.

“I think when you get people engaged in doing things, they have a different kind of pride in their city,” he said. “And once we can do that, then we can expand that into other things. There’s a lot of good projects in town that people want done and they’re willing to do them, but nobody can bring those projects and resources together.”

Beyond that, he said the city needs to work to clean up blighted properties, improve its sidewalks and infrastructure, and enforce city codes.

Both candidates were asked about the Hood Building — home to The Commercial Review — which has been in the news over the last several months in regard to a proposed housing project. Portland City Council in August voted 4-3 against providing $200,000 in economic development income tax funds toward purchasing the building to secure it for that project.

Geesaman said he feels the project could still move forward, but that more partners — specifically a developer — should be financially involved and that the city’s contribution should be limited to $100,000. Boggs said he is strongly in favor of the project and would like to see it move forward, though he’s unsure of the path to make that happen following the council vote.



Campaign hurdles

Both candidates were asked to address potential hurdles — health for Boggs and status within his party for Geesaman — that voters may have when deciding whether or not to vote for them.

Boggs suffered a mini stroke in early August that left him hospitalized for about two weeks. He suffered another mini stroke last month and was released from the hospital Wednesday.

Geesaman said health is an important consideration because mayor is a demanding job that stretches well beyond the weekday 9-to-5 hours. Boggs said he feels he it is up to the task and has the energy to do the job.

“The doctors tell me that 60 to 75 days from now you won’t know I ever had a stroke,” said Boggs. “It’s untimely. It’s frustrating. …

“I hope that those people who know me and will get to know me will look past that.”

Former Jay County Democrat party chair Randy Mann resigned after Geesaman won the primary, saying he could not support the candidate because of issues with his handling of funds while serving as party treasurer.

Boggs said he believes its up to the voters to look at the issue and judge for themselves. Geesaman said he feels his problems with the party are behind him, noting that he’ll be at the party’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner tonight.

“We have setbacks. We make mistakes,” Geesaman said. “Some of them are costly. Some of them come out and make you look bad. You hope you learn from it and people understand that you’re just human.”

••••••••••

In making his case to voters, Boggs said there has been a lot of talk but not enough “getting things done” over the last eight years, mentioning flooding and downtown revitalization as key issues. He said he believes Portland is capable of accomplishing great things as a community but needs leadership to make it happen.

“Success is measured in terms of results,” said Boggs. “You’ve got to have tangible results. … Not ‘we looked into.’ Not ‘we had a meeting about.’ It’s ‘Get it done or go on.’ …

“I may ruffle some feathers. I may upset some people. But I’m bound and determined to get things done.”

Geesaman touted his record as mayor, naming flood control, the construction of Portland Water Park and progress toward the runway extension at the airport. He noted his dedication to the city, his willingness to listen and his focus on producing and making Portland better.

“I think the No. 1 reason is that the things we’ve accomplished in the last eight years can continue with the vision that I have,” he said.

“We continue to find ways to make improvements,” he added, “whether it’s infrastructure, whether it’s reaching out to the housing projects that we’re looking at, whether it’s the retail part … I’m constantly thinking about things we can do.

“I believe in always trying to figure out what’s the next issue to deal with and what are the solutions we can come up with.”
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