Gopal Balachandran, an assistant professor of clinical law at Penn State, announced on Monday that he intends to run for State College Borough Council in this year’s election.
Balachandran said he was inspired to seek office following the death of his father in January.
“A political junkie and lifelong Democrat who started his American voting life by casting a ballot for Walter Mondale in 1984, he was horrified by the events in our country post-2016,” Balachandran said in a statement. “With his death, I couldn’t stay on the sidelines anymore.”
Balachandran is among five candidates so far who have announced their intention to run on the Democratic ballot in the May 18 primary, joining theater company and school owner Richard Biever, former councilwoman Cathy Dauler, current Mayor Ron Filippelli and current councilwoman Katherine Yeaple.
A borough resident since 2017, Balachandran said he is focused on treating all residents with equality and respect and “on building a new type of relationship between the police and community.”
He said he is concerned that State College’s new Civilian Response Team, which will have mental health and social workers who respond to certain calls, and Community Oversight Board are being funded through reserves rather than a permanent funding source.
“The issues of policing throughout the country require a reimagining of how our resources are allocated to ensure community safety and well-being,” Balachandran said. “We cannot expect police officers to be social workers, therapists and mediators while at the same time dealing with law enforcement.”
Sustainability, vitality and diversity of borough neighborhoods and their access to downtown are among other issues cited by Balachandran. Saying it would be “a boon to local businesses and restaurants,” he supports initiatives such as making South Allen Street a temporary pedestrian mall from time to time to allow for more outdoor dining and shopping.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented stresses on our physical and mental health,” Balachandran said. “But it also provides an opportunity to rethink our public spaces… Making State College more walkable, bikeable and sustainable is not just good for our community, but also good for our planet. We should be ambitious about doing our part to combat climate-change.”
Before moving to State College, Balachandran had a long career as a public defender, practicing in both urban and rural districts in Massachusetts, New York and Maryland. He now works on appellate and post-conviction matters as a clinic director at Penn State Law.
He lives in the College Heights neighborhood with his partner and two elementary-school-aged children.
“State College is a great place already. We love it here,” Balachandran said. “But I believe it can be even better, a model of what a small American town can be, with a real partnership between community and police, an inviting, welcoming atmosphere for all, and a walkable, sustainable locale that is good for our economy, our health and our planet.”
Three State College Borough Council seats are up for election this year. Current council members Evan Myers and Theresa Lafer are term-limited and cannot run this year. Yeaple currently holds the third seat up for election.