If Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas, a Republican, weren't stepping down after four terms, one of the two Democratic contenders vying for the party's nomination in the May 7 primary would not have run.
Local businessman Bill Durnell said Costas "has done an excellent job for 16 years. I wouldn't run against him if he was running again," he said.
His Democratic opponent, city council member Debora Porter, a Portage teacher and president of the Portage Teachers Association, also praised Costas, saying he "has done a great job."
The winner will compete with Republican Valparaiso City Councilman Matt Murphy for the city's top spot in November. Murphy is running unopposed in his party's primary.
Both Durnell and Porter are devoted community activists who are well-respected and care deeply about the city and its future.
But The Times Editorial Board endorses Durnell. We believe his role as owner of a downtown business gives him a stronger edge because of that perspective and personal investment.
His work the past few years as a leader of a neighborhood group that saved a historic home from demolition after years of wrangling also shows his dedication to strengthening the voice of neighborhood associations.
A CPA by training who worked for years in the private sector before opening Roots Organic Juice in downtown Valpo, Durnell calls himself "locally rooted" and is calling his campaign a grassroots movement.
He said his work with the Central Neighborhood Association, of which he now is president, to save a nearly 100-year-old home on Michigan Street embodies principles that can be used in other areas to improve the city.
He has a five-year vision for the city and is running on a four-legged platform, focusing on the city being more transparent in business dealings and city finances; strengthening all neighborhoods; supporting independent local businesses; and managing growth.
Porter, who has been on the Valparaiso City Council since 2016 and has run for public office before, also has been active in neighborhood causes, such as improving residential rental properties — especially those owned by absentee landlords — through enforcement of city codes already on the books.
Porter said she doesn't believe Valparaiso should "look like two different cities" and would like the next mayor to take a closer look at the city's housing stock so that when a developer proposes building a new development, the city can have mixed housing within it, something current ordinances do not allow.
Her ideas are laudable. But Durnell's platform includes more specifics about drawing in small businesses and managing growth so the city maintains its character and sense of place.
Specifically, Durnell said he'd like to see incentives to attract smaller local businesses with growth potential.
"I want to see more businesses of more types come here with the owners living here, which adds value to Valparaiso," he said, adding the city needs to expand its "tool kit" to recruit and cultivate businesses.
Durnell said he would like to see upward growth in lieu of outward expansion of the city.
He said he also would like to see the mayor engage and empower people to shape their community "from the bottom up. We need to dedicate more resources to encourage neighborhoods along," he said.
Valparaiso is at a crucial crossroads in its growth, and we believe Durnell has the experience and vision to guide that growth responsibly with care and passion.