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Hahn presides over final council meeting as mayor

by on December 05, 2019 10:59 AM

STATE COLLEGE — Don Hahn has only been mayor of State College for two years, but when he handed off the gavel at the Dec. 2 borough council meeting, it marked the end of an era in local government.

Elected magisterial district judge last month, Hahn’s resignation a mayor will take effect at 5 p.m. on Dec. 16. That night, council plans to vote on an interim mayor to serve for the next two years, and the 12 interested applicants were scheduled to give public presentations on Dec. 3 in council chambers.

For someone who has long been involved in borough government and politics at various levels, it was an appropriately lengthy affair — at least by State College standards — clocking in at more than two hours.

“I purposely made tonight’s agenda really difficult for you on your last day,” Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said, “only partially tongue-in-cheek.”

Prior to being elected mayor in 2017, Hahn served for 12 years on borough council, from 1996-2000 and again from 2006-14, the final two as council president. Before and in between his elected roles, Hahn also served on the Community Development Block Grant Citizens Advisory Committee, the board of the State College Community Land Trust, State College Planning Commission, and the State College Redevelopment Authority.

A lifelong resident of State College, his work in local politics began when he was a 17-year-old high school student working on campaigns.

State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, presented a citation to Hahn on behalf of the commonwealth that noted his years of public service.

“Mr. Hahn’s commitment to serving the public is never ending,” said Conklin, who called Hahn a friend of more than 20 years.

The son of Korean immigrants, Hahn is the first person of color to be elected State College mayor.

“This has been a source of pride and expanded your role in forcefully speaking out on the benefits of a multiracial community,” his predecessor, former Mayor Elizabeth Goreham said.

Goreham also praised Hahn for drawing on his experience as a practicing attorney — also the first elected borough mayor — to conduct meetings with “grace and expertise,” “while dealing with thorny issues, thorny people, confusing motions and opposing viewpoints.

“You don’t get caught up in any of it. That is mastery. ... As your predecessor I admire the kindness and engaging manor with which you embrace your constituents.”

Hahn’s final mayor’s report to council was marked by the kind of sober reflection that has characterized his public service. He cautioned against extremism, saying at the national level it is prevalent between the political right and left, but in State College it can manifest differently.

When running for mayor he said there seemed to be a “toxic dialogue” between Penn State students and their resident neighbors and that it appeared geared toward “inflaming their own sides,” instead of finding common ground.

“Going door-to-door ... I found there were plenty of people of goodwill in town and on campus who liked both Penn State and State College, who thought that State College was a wonderful place both to study and to live and would like to keep it that way,” he said.

The second year of his term as mayor has proven to be “probably the most difficult year for State College in my 22 years of public service,” he said. It’s a year that started with a January shooting that took the lives of four people, including the gunman. It continued with the fatal shooting of Osaze Osagie by borough police in March — a death that strained the local community over issues of mental health care, racial tensions and police use of deadly force.

“The shooting of Osaze Osagie was inarguably a tragedy,” Hahn said. “However, from the lessons of the past we have learned that nobody should be above suspicion, that justice demands investigations be conducted independently and impartially, and that leadership must avoid rushing prematurely to judgment in favor of this or that side, but rather must ultimately be guided by the evidence and the law.”

As he wound down his remarks, he urged borough leaders to put aside both defensiveness and complacency to recognize that State College is a great place that can be better and to make the improvements that are needed.

“Council and the staff still need to address issues like mental health practices, subconscious bias in police and staff recruitment, potential foreign language issues regarding crisis response, and the role of police stress and overwork,” he said. “However we must not approach our tasks with defensiveness or complacent pride. We must all recognize that we are all works in progress. State College is a great community but it can be better.

“Complacency is a curse of pride. We must temper our pride in our community with the humility of knowing how much better we can make it for future generations.”


Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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