In the midst of the discussion about zoning and the relationship between the town and gown, during Tuesday’s mayoral debate, candidates were able to explain what their thoughts about race relations within the Borough to the residents, which has been a reoccurring hot topic nationally in the news throughout the years.
On Tuesday, Oct. 17, a mayoral debate, co-hosted by The Daily Collegian and The Centre Daily Times, occurred in the State Theatre on 130 W College Ave, where State College mayor candidates Michael Black, Don Hahn and Ron Madrid could take questions from residents within the borough.
Through the two hour period, a variety of topics came up from neighbourhood stability and growth to the personal qualities that separate them from their opponents. Before the first hour of the debate elapse, moderator of the debate and editor-in-chief of the Daily Collegian Sam Ruland (senior-journalism and political science) posed the question, “With the recent establishment of the Martin Luther King Plaza downtown, what are the race relations in State College and how can we improve it?”
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza in the area of the Fraser Street garage officially dedicated on the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
This question leads to the candidates speaking to their experiences in the community, involving race relations.
Democratic candidate and a former borough council president, Don Hahn, started the conversation saying think it's generally good situation, but it could be better within the borough and “wanted to recognize courage and bravery of those, who stand up for themselves.”
“As a person who grew up in State College and went through the school system, I think race relations in the borough are generally good,” Hahn said. “I think we live in a welcoming and tolerant community; however, we also have to recognize that this is not a hundred percent and I think that sometimes part of being a colorblind society is that you tend to try to ignore problems that are on the rise, when our neighbors kids, our kids, have trouble in school because they're different.”
Second to speak on the issue was the independent candidate, Ron Madrid.
“I'm not quite sure that how our statue of Martin Luther King Plaza, addresses race relations,” Madrid said. “I thought we established a plaza of a great American. We as a community recognized that, and as such established the plaza.”
Similarly to Hahn, he believes work that has already gone into forming better race relations in the Borough has been effective and State College, for the most part, is an inclusive society.
“ I think the state of race relations in the community is good,” Madrid said. “There may be instances in where there are problems, but look at who is on stage here: a Mexican American, and Asian American and an American who has a biracial family. I mean that's pretty inclusive and tolerant as a community I can see. Now is it a perfect Society? No it's not- no place in the United States is, but we're pretty close to it.”
Michael Black, a long-time Democrat on the Republican ticket, was last to speak on this topic.
“I like this question because it talks about State College and not the Borough. That we are inside a larger context. So lets about race relations and will narrow down right to African-American,” Black said. “There is less than 4 percent African American students enrolled at Penn State. There is 13, almost 14 percent African Americans per capita in the state of Pennsylvania. So we, as a community, look less than our state at large by demography. That's a problem. We have to do a better job making this a welcome opportunistic and nurturing place that we have a population and a State University that looks like our state.”