This story has been updated to reflect that Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings was acquitted of two felony charges at trial, while two others were dismissed.
After previously saying that he would not seek re-election, Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings has pulled petitions for both mayor and city auditor, setting the stage for a possible primary runoff against Hillsboro City Councilman Justin Harsha, who has also pulled petitions for mayor in the 2019 primary election.
Hastings said it was a “change of heart” that prompted him to seek office again, although he is still deciding which race to enter. The mayor is nearing the end of his second term, having been first elected in 2011 and re-elected in 2015.
Harsha, who is council president pro tempore and chairman of the Finance Committee, announced his candidacy for mayor in July of last year, saying he wants Hillsboro to be “a place where more families want to move back and stay.”
As previously reported, Hastings said in November 2017 that he would not run for re-election in 2019. But on Wednesday, the mayor said that he had been “bitter back then” over a criminal investigation and felony trial of which he was the center in 2016. In a drama that drew national attention, Hastings was acquitted of two felony charges alleging official misconduct, while two others were dismissed.
“Some time has elapsed and I’ve kind of made peace with certain things,” he said, adding that the investigation was “a complete witch hunt and B.S.”
But, he said, “me taking myself out of public service just because I’m bitter over something doesn’t help anybody. That’s why I put it all behind me.”
On Wednesday, Harsha maintained that he wants to make Hillsboro a place for his children to settle.
“I’ve always said that, having children, I’m thinking about if they’re going to make this their hometown when they get older,” he said. “I want to make sure I’ve done my part to preserve what I think is great about Hillsboro.”
Hastings, who said he is “still trying to decide how I am best utilized in this city,” must choose which race to enter before the deadline for submitting petitions, which is Feb. 6 at 4 p.m., according to Elections Administrator Steve Witham of the Highland County Board of Elections.
Meanwhile, current Auditor Gary Lewis has reportedly been hired by the Village of Greenfield as public service director. Lewis is not currently among those who have pulled petitions, so it is unclear whether he will seek re-election or not. Lewis did not return calls for comment on Thursday.
So far, a total of three Republicans and one Democrat have taken out petitions for citywide races in Hillsboro, according to Witham. Thomas Eichinger, a Republican, has pulled petitions for city auditor, and Heather Young, a Democrat, has taken out petitions to remain city treasurer. Young was appointed by the local Democratic Party to replace Democrat Patty Burns, who resigned from the seat to take a job at the Hillsboro Water Department.
Witham said there is still time for other individuals to pull and file petitions.
The 2019 primary election is May 7.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.