WARSAW — Five months after a turbulent mayoral primary, two-term mayor Joe Thallemer appeared to be one of the happiest people at the annual GOP Fish Fry at the Kosciusko County Fairgrounds Wednesday night.
At a similar event earlier this year, Thallemer and a large contingent of his supporters, all wearing campaign shirts, filed in and made a show of force on their way to a primary victory over Republican City Councilman Ron Shoemaker.
On Wednesday, rather than seeking votes and pressing the flesh, a more relaxed Thallemer, who is unopposed in the Nov. 5 election, spent much of his time distributing fish from a cardboard box to several hundred people attending the annual Republican event.
Thallemer admitted he’s already focusing on the next four years. He said he hopes to continue working with five incumbents, many of whom have been on council during his eight years in office.
“I feel really good the way things are going right now and I feel really good about just continuing on. I love it and I love the community,” Thallemer said. “I feel very proud of what we’ve done.”
While Thallemer has the luxury of looking ahead, his fellow Republicans on the city council are looking at the biggest challenge in more than 20 years as three of the incumbents face challenges from Democrats and a fourth is vying for an open seat against an independent candidate.
While Republicans expressed confidence, they also realize the lack of a mayoral race at the top of the ticket, could depress voter turnout.
Numerous candidates said they like the challenge of having an opponent.
“It’s kind of fun, actually,” said Diane Quance, the city council president who is seeking victory in her third election. Quance will face Democrat Jack Brunetto for her District 5 seat.
To a certain degree, the election is a referendum on the work council has been doing.
“I think it’s good. It sharpens your skills and makes you think about why you’re doing what you’re doing. I’ve never taken my job for granted,” Quance said.
Other incumbents facing a challenge include Jeff Grose, who hopes to retain his seat against Democrat Sara McNeal Strahan-Lenfestey in District 1, and Michael Klondaris who is running against Democrat Roxanne Coffelt in District 3.
In District 2, Republican Josh Finch is running against Independent Chris Plack for the seat being vacated by Shoemaker.
“I think it’s great that voters have choices this year,” Finch said.
He said he appreciates the cordial tone in the campaign compared to what was seen in the mayoral primary when Thallemer faced numerous attacks.
“I think that’s commendable,” Finch said. “It’s easy to sling mud. I’m a firm believer in that you talk about the things you need to talk about and talk to the constituents about what concerns them and let the rest sort itself out.”
He added, “I hope Republicans are working as hard as their opponents are.”