Teen is elected mayor of Pennsylvania town

College freshman defeats Mount Carbon incumbent

mother wins council seat

November 10, 2001|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

MOUNT CARBON, Pa. - Jeffrey J. Dunkel will soon be able to gavel his mother out of order.

His mother can retaliate by refusing to make him supper.

"And he still has to take the garbage out, straighten up around here, do the yard work," said Kathy Dunkel.

Jeff Dunkel, who became eligible to vote when he turned 18 in February, was elected Tuesday to a four-year term as mayor of the small Schuylkill County community of Mount Carbon, near Pottsville. His mother won a borough council seat on write-in votes. The two Democrats will take office in January.

Jeff Dunkel's decision to run grew out of a project in his American government class at Pottsville Area High School. He focused on his hometown - population about 100, including 81 registered voters-and didn't like what he saw.

"Nothing was getting done," said Dunkel, who graduated in June and now attends the Schuylkill Institute of Business and Technology.

"I'd go to a council meeting in January, and they'd bring up stuff, and it was the same stuff they brought up when I went to the meeting in February. People were talking about getting a policeman in the borough for months, but it never got done."

He became a regular at the monthly council meetings, held in the fire hall because the small borough building has been all but abandoned. His complaints drew a rebuke from town elders.

"They told me there's a lot of behind-the-scenes work in government that I didn't notice, and if I thought I could do better, why didn't I run for office?" Dunkel said. "They just wanted to shut me up."

He didn't. Instead, when he registered to vote, he gathered the forms needed to run for office. He got the required signatures from Democrats - it takes a mere 10 of them - to put his name on the May primary ballot,

His opponent was incumbent John A. Furphy, who held the post for four years. Furphy's wife was mayor for 10 years before that.

Dunkel won the primary with 22 votes to Furphy's 10. A third candidate, Betty Oley, had 11.

That put him as the sole name on the November ballot, but did not assure him victory; in Mount Carbon, write-in candidates are just as likely to be elected.

Dunkel then raised hackles with a three-page campaign flier that highlighted portions of a 1998 newspaper article from the Pottsville Republican in which the council said it was making police protection a top priority. The flier intimated that the council wasn't keeping its promise.

Council President Harry Haughney felt the flier made him look bad, and he had words with Dunkel. It didn't slow the Dunkel machine. In the general election, he beat Furphy by a margin of better than 5-1: 43 votes to Furphy's eight write-ins.

Dunkel said Haughney congratulated him at the council meeting Wednesday. "We all clapped and everything," Haughney said. "I said, `Jeff, I hope we can get along and work together.'"

Kathy Dunkel, 44, became a councilwoman with 22 write-in votes to beat two opponents. She won her primary, but was so busy at the Lowe's home improvement store, where she's a department manager, that she never certified her votes and didn't appear on Tuesday's ballot.

"Jeff really talked me into running," she said. "I joined forces with him because I agree with what he's saying. ... But he'll hear from me if we disagree."

As for his house chores, mother has cut son - whom she calls a good kid - some slack.

The younger Dunkel - who, along with five council members, will earn $50 a month as mayor - said getting a part-time borough policeman is his first priority.

The borough has gone nearly a decade without an officer since the death of George Dunkel, Jeff's grandfather, who was part-time.

The mayor-elect expects some problems as he calls his first meeting to order in January.

"I don't know if council members will take me seriously," he said. "But I went to training seminar in politics at Dickinson College, and I think I can show them how to run a government.

"And once they see me at the meeting and see that I'm acting maturely, I think they'll wake up."

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