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Experience vs. new faces

Incumbent City Councilman Jeff Hancock answers a question during Tuesday’s 2019 Henry County Candidate Forum as his challenger, Lisa Joe Catron, waits for her turn at the microphone. The forum, hosted by the New Castle-Henry County Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters of Henry County, was moderated by Courier-Times Staff Reporter Darrel Radford, seated at the left.

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

First of two parts

Earlier this year, it looked like no election would be needed anywhere in Henry County. In fact, the New Castle primary was canceled, because there were no competitive races.

But Tuesday night at the New Castle-Henry County Public Library, the democratic process was not only alive and well, but drew a crowd of approximately 50 people to a candidate forum that featured people involved in five contested races from Knightstown to New Castle and Middletown.

Candidates were asked questions about the biggest issues facing New Castle and why they were best suited to address them. Some of the issues raised by the group included the constant battle of the budget and the need for more housing in the community to attract young families here.

Hosted by the New Castle-Henry County Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters, the event featured comments from 13 candidates including:

• Incumbent Democrat Councilman Jake Smith of Middletown, where he is in a four-person race for three seats with Republicans Stephen Ahern and Gary Kendall along with independent Dave Wagner.

• Incumbent Republican Councilman Roger Hammer of Knightstown, where he is also in a four-person race for three seats with fellow Republicans Cheryl Hammer and Chuck Rhodes along with Democrat Mitchell Roland.

• Unopposed New Castle candidates Mayor Greg York and Brenda Grider, the lone person seeking clerk-treasurer.

• Republican Lynn Perdue and Democrat Rex Peckinpaugh, both unopposed at-large City Council candidates.

• Democrats Aaron Dicken and Mark Koger, both unopposed City Council candidates in Wards 4 and 5 respectively.

• Republican Mike Guffey, seeking the Ward 1 Council seat. His opponent, Democrat Glenn Ryan, was not able to attend.

• Democrat incumbent Ward 2 Councilman Jeff Hancock and his challenger, Libertarian Lisa Joe Catron.

• Incumbent Democrat Ward 3 Councilman Jerry Walden and his Libertarian opponent Chris Guffey. 

Hancock and Catron presented a common love for New Castle, yet a stark contrast in experience.

Married and a father of five, Hancock said he had 40 years management experience and had served 12 years on the city council – eight as city vice president. He has also served four years each on the Henry County Council and the Henry County Planning Commission. 

Endorsed by the New Castle City Firefighters, Hancock said he had the experience necessary to face what many on the library stage said was the biggest issue facing the city – the constant battle of the budget. 

“All of these candidates have had good answers, but finances and budgeting is really tough,” Hancock said. “With the new (public safety income) tax that was passed, we’ve been able to update equipment and are officially fully staffed with the New Castle Police Department, New Castle Fire Department and EMS. We are in the process of purchasing two new fire trucks,” Hancock said.

Like Hancock, Catron said she was a graduate of New Castle but moved away from the city briefly for the beaches of Florida. 

“I thought that I would be so happy to be by the beaches every day,” she said. “And I was. But then I realized within two years how much I missed New Castle.”

Catron said she thought everyone had done a great job working with what they had but stressed new faces in leadership would help the city grow.

“From my perspective, I think bringing a new face in is a good thing,” she said. “We had people who have been on the council for a long time and they’ve done a great job. But when you bring someone else in who has a different group of people they talk to, a different group that’s on their Facebook, to me that helps bring new people into the city.”

NEXT: A look at Council Wards 1 and 3.