Tuesday night quickly became party time for small-town Republicans looking to become mayor in northeast Indiana.
Four GOP candidates won their respective mayoral races in Berne, Garrett, Warsaw and Ligonier – with all but one becoming their town’s highest-ranking official for the first time in their political careers.
And for most the night turned to celebration.
“I’m ready to roll,” said an excited Joe Thallemer, an optometrist who will become mayor of Warsaw after defeating Independent candidate and business owner Jerry Opperud by an unofficial count of 942 votes to 461.
Thallemer, a 56-year-old longtime Warsaw city councilman, touted his service in government during his campaign as well as his close relationship to outgoing Mayor Ernie Wiggins, who did not seek re-election.
He told voters he wanted to keep tax rates low and focus on economic redevelopment.
Now, he said, he’s ready to go to work. “I’m going to be at it tomorrow. There’s no reason for a transition period,” he said. “I’m going to hit it at 90 miles per hour come Jan. 1.”
In Garrett, an ecstatic 48-year-old Tonya Hoeffel was leaving the Railroad Inn where she celebrated with her family and was heading out to meet with other Republicans.
She had just won that city’s mayoral seat by an unofficial count of 581 votes over Democratic candidate and current City Councilman Thomas Kleeman’s 531.
Four years ago, she lost a mayoral bid to incumbent David T. Wiant by just 45 votes.
“I’ll tell you, we worked so hard,” she said of her campaign team. “We went door to door, we did mailings, and then went door to door again. We probably made 500 phone calls today. We are just really excited.”
Hoeffel had said economic development is a top priority and that she wants to build a sense of hometown pride in Garrett, which she called “the best town to live in and raise a family.”
In Berne, local barber William “Bill” McKean beat former corporation president and Democratic candidate Ray Gill 1,064 votes to 458, according to the unofficial results.
Both McKean and Gill ran their campaigns focusing on economic development and working with community groups and businesses on how to make the city better. McKean, 63, who was on Berne City Council for six years, said he’s excited to be back into the political foray.
“I’m looking forward to working with a lot of the guys I worked with before,” he said.
Republican incumbent Patricia “Patty” Fisel was re-elected in Ligonier. She beat Democrat Andy Schultz 312 votes to 124, according to unofficial results.
The 70-year-old former business owner said she’s ready to begin new projects and finish ones already started, including the expansion of several industries, the opening of a farmers market and finishing a river walk.
But all of that would come later, because Tuesday night she was planning a little something else. “We’re going to party,” she said. “We’re going to celebrate.”