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With Dennis’ backing, Easter announces bid for West Lafayette mayor
The city’s development director, a Democrat, gets an all-in endorsement from her boss, Republican Mayor John Dennis, as the first candidate in the 2023 election
With an all-in introduction and cross-party endorsement from four-term Republican Mayor John Dennis, Democrat Erin Easter, West Lafayette’s development director, announced her run for mayor in the 2023 elections.
Dennis said Easter had built the sort of relationships with Lafayette, with Purdue and in West Lafayette City Hall to take over as mayor without a hitch.
“She knows how this community works,” Dennis said Wednesday evening. “The name Erin Easter has a lot of street cred. … I'm really picky about my hometown. And I would not stand up here and endorse somebody that I did not believe in, that I did not trust and that I did not know is going to take everything that we've done up to this point and take it up to the stratosphere.”
Easter is the first candidate to announce a run for mayor in West Lafayette. She did Wednesday promising to focus on getting through any growing pains of the city’s and Purdue University’s rapid growth present, finding ways to make city services more accessible and work on pressing questions about child care and other workforce development questions.
“West Lafayette demonstrates what makes a community great,” Easter said. “As West Lafayette continues to grow, we must do what so with great intention to ensure community progress and to preserve what makes our communities great.”
Easter had been rumored for months to be considering the move. Dennis barely veiled his encouragement, as he rejected notions that he’d run for a fifth term.
Easter said Dennis was persuasive.
“John’s support and persistence never let up,” Easter said. “At some point, it wasn’t just his voice. There were others telling me this was possible and that I should go for it. These are people I’ve worked with – and we’ve all worked with at the city – across the community. That meant a lot. And it made it something I was ready to do.”
“Are you ready?” Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski quietly asked her, as Big O’s Sports Room in the back of Bruno’s filled with a mix of city employees, city council members, family and friends. “It’s about to be real, now.”
Easter is a 2001 Lafayette Jefferson High School and Purdue University grad. She spent time organizing on the campaign trail during Barack Obama’s first run for president in 2008 before moving back to Greater Lafayette, working for Greater Lafayette Commerce. Easter was vice president of chamber and quality of life for GLC when Dennis hired her as deputy development director for West Lafayette in 2018. She replaced former development director Erik Carlson when he moved in 2020.
The back room of Bruno’s was sprinkled with Republicans, including Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh. Murtaugh said he was endorsing Easter, just as Dennis had.
“I think she’ll be a great partner,” Murtaugh said. “I think she’s a great fit for West Lafayette.”
Dennis had said privately since his most recent re-election campaign – in 2019, against independent Zachary Baiel – that his fourth term would be the last for him. That decision was locked in last spring when he revealed that doctors had diagnosed him with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Dennis said he was determined to finish his term, saying he would lean on city staff, Easter in particular.
West Lafayette has had three mayors since 1980. Democrat Sonya Margerum served a record six terms, from 1980 to 2004. Democrat Jan Mills served one term. Dennis, a Republican coming off a career with the Lafayette Police Department, was elected to the first of his four terms in 2007.
No other candidates for West Lafayette mayor have surfaced, at least publicly.
Roswarski, in his fifth term as Lafayette mayor, has said since the last election that he intends to run for a sixth term. Roswarski said Wednesday night that he and City Clerk Cindy Murray would probably would put out a press release making those intentions final after the start of the year. A sixth term would tie Roswarski with former Lafayette Mayor Jim Riehle for longest tenure as the city’s mayor.
Tracy Brown, Tippecanoe County Republican Party chairman, did not immediately respond to questions about whether any candidates had shown interest in the mayoral races on either side of the Wabash River.
The filing period for the 2023 municipal primaries is Jan. 4 to Feb. 10. The primary is May 2, 2023. The general election will be Nov. 7, 2023.
All seats on the nine-member West Lafayette City Council will be on the 2023 ballot, too. Council members will run in recently adjusted districts, something done based new population counts every decade. The council, now with an eight Democrat/one Republican split, is aligned in six seats elected by districts and three citywide, at-large seats.
Among West Lafayette City Council members who said Wednesday they are running for re-election: James Blanco, D-at large; Larry Leverenz, D-District 4; Kathy Parker, D-District 5; and Gerald Thomas, D-at large.
Council President Peter Bunder, D-District 2, said he would decide his plans after the start of the year. Nick DeBoer, D-District 1, said he thought two terms, plus two years, since he was first appointed was enough time but that he would watch to see who else got into the race to replace him before he made a final decision.
The other council members include: Ted Hardesty, D-District 3; Jeff Brown, R-District 6; and David Sanders, D-at large.
Here’s a look at the districts.
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