On May 2nd, Huntingburg voters will choose between incumbent Steve Schwinghamer and challenger James Hopf to represent the Republican party in the November Municipal Election.
Interviews with 4th Street merchants and Huntingburg residents, as well as a review of U.S. Census Bureau data, identified several key topics for the candidates to address; infrastructure and housing, demographics, and industry and manufacturing.
Although both candidates come from different backgrounds, both have direct ties to Huntingburg and the community.
Schwinghamer describes himself as being “born and raised in Huntingburg”. After spending most of his childhood in the city, he moved to Florida in his junior year of high school. There, he attended mortuary school and later became a funeral director and embalmer. He moved back to Huntingburg permanently in 2011, and in 2020, he was appointed mayor to finish Denny Spinner’s term.
Hopf was adopted at the age of four and was raised in Duff, Indiana. He graduated from Southridge High School in 2009, the same year he had his daughter. After graduation, Hopf attended college while working in the coal mining industry. He then took a job at Crider & Crider, a heavy civil contractor based in Bloomington, where he worked his way up to superintendent and became a safety director.
Schwinghamer currently serves on the executive committee of Dubois Strong, the board of directors for the Dubois County Emergency Management Agency, and the Local Emergency Planning Committee. Schwinghamer also mentioned that when he lived in Florida, he was the president of the Florida Funeral Directors Association and was also on the policy board for the National Funeral Directors Association, where he represented Florida.
Hopf served as the Safety Director of Huntingburg from September 2021 until his resignation in May 2022. He cited a “hostile work environment” as a reason for his resignation and alleged that the city currently operates under a “good ol’ boys system”. Currently, Hopf serves on the Advisory Board for Patoka Township. He is also an assistant coach for Southridge Raider Football and the boy’s track and field team.
When asked about his thoughts on the assertions made by Hopf, Schwinghamer explained, “I try to be a good Christian, and I keep those things to myself,” and added that people can make their own determination.
Why They’re Running
When asked why he was running for mayor, Hopf shared that he sees the position as a way to give a voice to the city’s residents.
Hopf also stressed the importance of bringing people back to the table before making decisions. “You need to get the mind of the people,” said Hopf. “At the end of the day, myself—if I am elected mayor—and then also the elected councilmen, we answer to the people. We don’t answer to ourselves,” he continued.
Schwinghamer shared a different motivation for seeking another term as mayor, explaining that there is still much work that needs to be done in Huntingburg. “I want to keep running because of the fact that there’s so many things in the works,” he said. “I could walk away and say I’m done, but that’s not me. I don’t talk about doing things; I do them, and it’s frustrating when it takes time because I’m a very impatient person,” he added.
Schwinghamer also noted that he wanted to focus on completing projects that were overdue or promised to people years prior. He cited the senior center as an example, which he explained had been “promised six or seven years ago”.
After discussing their backgrounds and motivations, the candidates next discussed 4th Street and the city’s downtown core, which underwent a substantial transformation during Denny Spinner’s terms as Mayor.
Schwinghamer emphasized the importance of taking care of merchants located in downtown Huntingburg. He cited the addition of music, 4th Fridays, and the city’s closing of the street for events as examples. He then explained that his goal is to take what was already done and make it better.
He also said that a frequent concern among merchants is parking. Reiterating these complaints, he said, “They don’t like the black poles, the planter boxes, and all that kind of stuff which makes it very difficult to park.” Schwinghamer explained his solution, which included constructing additional parking spaces behind the buildings along 4th Street. After finishing the construction of additional spaces behind what was formerly the Overtime restaurant, the city will have added roughly 100 additional parking spaces.
Schwinghamer believes that making 4th Street a destination is crucial for attracting business to the area.
Hopf shared a similar enthusiasm for 4th Street, calling Spinner’s revitalization efforts “phenomenal”. However, he explained that the street is experiencing a few serious issues. Hopf described the road itself on 4th Street as “failing” and said, “I think we half-did the road—we didn’t wait to have the financial stability to do it correctly.”
Hopf also shared Schwinghamer’s concerns about parking but indicated that more change is needed. “In today’s world, people wanna be close to where they’re going. So, accessibility, in my opinion, is why people aren’t coming to 4th Street,” he explained. Hopf also mentioned that the parking spots along 4th Street are too small for full-size trucks, requiring their drivers to park farther away.
On his plans to solve these issues if elected mayor, Hopf said that he would prepare three affordable options and let the people vote on which to go forward with.
Infrastructure and Housing
“We have to focus on revitalizing our city when it comes to the streets and infrastructure,” said Hopf on his infrastructure priorities.
“I believe roads and infrastructure will boom us because if we take care of our city—we clean up our streets—people are going to want to come here,” he added.
According to Hopf, it may take years for the city’s streets to get where they need to be. Hopf also mentioned the condition of Washington Street, describing it as “horrible”, and criticized Huntingburg’s leaders for their inaction. Hopf also asserted that the city prioritizes waiting for grants instead of fixing infrastructure when necessary.
Alternatively, Schwinghamer expressed that infrastructure improvements are not a quick fix but rather need to be planned and executed strategically, saying, “People see potholes, but they don’t necessarily see how we take care of them… I think a lot of the time, we’re just putting band-aids over situations instead of actually going underneath the road.” He also added that his philosophy on infrastructure is “do it right the first time”.
Schwinghamer also said that the city is working on a comprehensive sidewalk plan to connect certain areas, mentioning that some residents have to walk on the street to go to the grocery store. He added that he envisions a connected city where people can walk and bicycle. However, he said that this vision will take time to execute, citing acquisition of properties as an expensive roadblock.
Both candidates explained that there is a shortage of housing in Huntingburg and expressed the desire to increase housing options.
Schwinghamer explained that the city is currently working with developers to build more housing of all types, including single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments. He added, “What we need is something so the people that get a good job can get a good place to live—and be proud of what they’ve got—without having to go in debt for three or four hundred thousand dollars.”
Hopf expressed an interest in constructing additional single-family homes and explained that he wants the city to ensure that all hard-working individuals can afford one.
A quick look at U.S. Census Bureau data shows that the city’s Latino population is a defining characteristic of the city; Hispanic or Latino individuals represent 31% of the population, followed by Caucasian at 65.3%, according to the data.
Explaining how he would serve the Latino population, Hopf reverted to his previous position on listening to citizens.
“I believe that our city has failed at sitting down and listening,” asserted Hopf. “Really, truly listening. Instead of just doing what we think we need to do for them, I want to allow them to have a humongous voice in how we move forward in Huntingburg,” he continued.
In response, Schwinghamer described the above assertion as “absolutely false” and explained that Huntingburg has strengthened its relationship with the Latino community.
“I have spent a lot of time with our Latino residents in both a professional and personal capacity,” he said. He also added that the city works with the Latino Collaboration Table and ALASI frequently.
“The diversity we have here is what makes us strong,” said Schwinghamer. He also noted that he would like to see more Latino members of the community come in and apply for positions in the city’s government.
Industry and Manufacturing
Schwinghamer noted the city has strong relationships with large employers like OFS, Farbest Foods, and Masterbrand.
“Well, we do that every day,” he said about building and maintaining those existing relationships. He also noted that OFS has been a very large supporter of the city, adding, “They’re probably the largest hiring company we have around here.”
Schwinghamer also added that the city is looking into the possibility of developing an industrial park out by the airport, citing the location’s convenient proximity to airplane transportation and the interstate. Schwinghamer expressed that projects like this are beneficial for attracting manufacturing businesses and mentioned the additional jobs and economic stimulus that would be created in Huntingburg if the land were developed.
On the other hand, Hopf plans to sit with Huntingburg’s business leaders to see what they want from the city. To help large businesses grow and sustain, Hopf explained that his biggest priorities are attracting more people to the city and constructing housing for them to reside in.
When asked why he is a better pick for the position of mayor, Hopf responded, “I’m a guy who’s not going to cower down when things get hard. I’m going to lead from the front of the line, not the back of the line.”
He continued, adding that he would allow people to have a voice in Huntingburg regardless of their economic status.
When Schwinghamer was asked the same question, he replied, “Management, leadership, business,” and added that he was people-oriented.
“All I’m here to do is the best job I can, and I’ve done that as best as I can,” he said. Schwinghamer also emphasized that the accomplishments of his first term serve as a testament to his ability.
When asked to share his thoughts on his opponent, Hopf expressed concerns regarding the current projects being undertaken by the city. He cited the W 3rd St. project and alleyway project as examples, alleging that they would both benefit Schwinghamer. According to Hopf, Schwinghamer pursued the W 3rd St. project because he lives near it. He also alleged that the alleyway project would raise the value of Schwinghamer’s adjacent building, citing that the project would fix the flooding issue in the alleyway.
In response, Schwinghamer noted the planning phase for W 3rd St. was already underway prior to him becoming Mayor after it was identified as a potential project in 2019. Regarding the Alleyway Activation project, Schwinghamer explained that funds directed to the alley’s underground infrastructure were also spent prior to his election.
Ultimately, Hopf noted, “I’m out here to let the process take place and to see who’s blessed enough to come out as a winner.”
When asked about what he wants Huntingburg to look like ten years from now, Schwinghamer explained that he wants to see more housing, a better quality of life, and a greater degree of unity between the ethnic groups residing in the city.
When asked what he wanted to tell voters, Schwinghamer replied, “Vote for me, okay?” He added, “I’m here for the right reasons—to make it the way it needs to be for all citizens, not just one or two individuals.”
Responding to the same question, Hopf explained that he wants to see a booming Huntingburg with more housing and good-quality roads and sidewalks. He also added that he wants the city’s underground infrastructure to be properly maintained.
“I wanna see kids back playing in the streets again, I want to see people out communicating again, I want to see our festivals booming again, and I want to see Huntingburg going in a positive direction,” Hopf added.
Hopf wanted to tell voters “Vote for someone that they believe will continue to take Huntingburg in a positive direction.”