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VALPARAISO — Mayor Jon Costas' decision to  step down after 16 years leading the city hasn't only opened doors for a fellow Republican to claim the seat, but also the two Democrat candidates contending for their party's nomination as well.

"Mayor Costas has done an excellent job for 16 years," Bill Durnell said. "I wouldn't run against him if he was running again."

"I feel like Mayor Costas has done a great job. We now need someone to step in to take his place," City Councilwoman Deb Porter said. "I feel like I have the ability to lead the city."

Porter and Durnell are vying for their party's nomination in the May 7 primary. The winner will compete with Republican Valparaiso Councilman Matt Murphy for the city's top spot in November.

Durnell, a small businessman, said he would continue Costas' work, but there are a "handful of things where I would want to distinguish myself. There is always room for new ideas."

Durnell (billformayor.org) said he is running on a "four-legged" platform focusing on being more transparent in business dealings and city finances; strengthening neighborhoods; supporting local, independent businesses and managing growth.

Porter (debporterformayor.com) said her issues include expanding city rehabilitation beyond the downtown area; improving residential rental properties, especially those owned by absentee landlords, through enforcement of city codes; using economic development tools to redevelop blighted areas in the city; expanding the use of Valpo Next to increase communications between the city and neighborhoods; working toward making Valparaiso a sustainable city and exploring expansion of the city's transportation system.

Porter said she doesn't believe Valparaiso should "look like two different cities." While continuing with the downtown, she said she believes attention should be turn toward North Calumet Avenue and East Lincolnway near Valparaiso University.

Durnell said he'd like to see incentives to attract smaller local businesses with growth potential to land in Valparaiso.

"I want to see more businesses of more types come here with the owners living here, which adds value to Valparaiso. When the business is local, the value stays local," Durnell said, adding the city needs to expand its "tool kit" to recruit and cultivate businesses.

Both Porter and Durnell would like to expand communication between residents and the city. 

"We need to engage and empower people to shape their community from the bottom up," said Durnell, who serves as president of the Central Neighborhood Association. "We need to dedicate more resources to encourage neighborhoods along."

Porter said she would like to expand communication between groups such as Valpo Next, which explores various issues within the city from housing to diversity, and the city by having the mayor meet more regularly with the director of the group.

She also would like to expand the city's technology, including live-streaming meetings, improving the city's website to make it more user-friendly and initiating a system of text alerts to residents.

Porter said she is currently working on an ordinance that she hopes will make absentee landlords more accountable. She said there has been an issue with single-family homes being converted into multi-family rental units without city permission or inspections. Some don't meet city code.

The effort could lead to fining landlords to bring housing units up to city standards.

Durnell said he is concerned with growth in the city.

"We need to grow, we will grow, but we want to make sure that growth happens organically, productively," Durnell said, adding he would like to see upward growth in lieu of outward expansion of the city.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.