Outgoing Madison Mayor

Huntington leaves office,
looks forward to private sector life

He has offers from several private companies

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(January 2008) – Whether it was a simple ribbon-cutting ceremony at a small store or a major groundbreaking event for a large factory expansion, Al Huntington was almost always there. For 13 years, the Madison mayor worked to be a visible force leading the community.

Al Huntington

Photo by Don Ward

Al Huntington served 13 years
as mayor of Madison, Ind., and
seven years prior to that as
a city council member.

But after his narrow defeat in the Nov. 6 election, Huntington will forced to leave public office Jan. 1. Newly-elected Mayor Tim Armstrong will replace Huntington, who says he plans to “unwind for a couple of months and see what happens.”
He believes his legacy will be the balance he found between the many interests in Madison. “We have a community very passionate about specific interests, including the historic, business and industry,” said Huntington, 62, during a mid-December interview at his City Hall office. “I made the playing field level for all of them.”
Corey Murphy, president of Madison-Jefferson County Economic Development Corp, said Huntington always kept in mind what was good for Madison and tried to balance all of the important aspects of the community. “He was a true ambassador for the city.”
Huntington is a co-founder of MIDCOR, a not-for-profit agency organized to help attract industry and business expansions. He will continue to serve on its board of directors.
Huntington said he also tried to instill a high level of confidence in the community. He said area residents seemed to have lost that confidence for many years. “We don’t have to take a backseat to any community,” he said. “We can do anything we want.”
Prior to becoming mayor in 1994, Huntington served as a city councilman for seven years. That included a short stint as president of the council. He became mayor when then-acting Mayor Morris Wooden resigned because he was elected state auditor.
“I never planned to get into politics,” said Huntington. “But I was asked to run for city council, and I won.”
Huntington, who grew up in Madison, went to work in the corporate world after receiving a degree from the Indiana University School of Business. He came back to Madison nearly 30 years ago with his wife, Connie, and two daughters, Erin and Brooke, to raise his family and start a business.
In 1977, he and Connie started Valley Industrial Supply, which they recently sold. “I hadn’t planned to sell it, but the offer was great,” he said. “The price was right, and the company agreed to keep our employees.”
He admitted that he will steer away from any type of future work that involved lots of inventory.
Huntington said he already has had offers from private companies, but he is not ready to make any definite plans at the moment. “I like people, and I like public relations,” he said. “I may see what develops from there.”
Amy Browning, the mayor’s secretary for more than four years, said working for Huntington was the best experience of her life. “He’s a great boss,” she said. “I had four years of education in leadership, ethics, responsibility and politics.”
Betsey Vonderheide, special projects coordinator for the city under Huntington’s administration, echoed Browning’s sentiments about working for Huntington. “He has the greatest capacity,” she said. “He attended everything and went everywhere in the city because he truly cared about his community.”
Vonderheide held numerous committee positions during her 13 years of working for Huntington. At present, she said her plans include withdrawing from those committees “to get my bearings.” She has already taken a position in public relations at Southeastern Indiana Solid Waste Management District.
Madison Area Chamber of Commerce Vice President Galen Bremmer said Huntington was good to the business community. “He showed a genuine concern and caring for our area,” he said. “He was very committed to small business as well as the larger corporations.”
Huntington’s administration made many improvements to the quality of life in the city, supporters say, including numerous infrastructure upgrades such as an early weather warning system, road improvements and an airport expansion.
His administration worked to promote tourism as an economic development tool, and future industrial development was secured by the acquisition of property in a hilltop industrial park. “Only a few sites in Indiana have been certified ‘shovel ready’ by the Indiana Development Corp.,” he said. “We have one of them, which puts us in a favorable position to attract possible suppliers to the new Honda plant being built in Greensburg.”
As the recent election neared, his administration had been leading the development of a Madison Bicentennial Park on the riverfront. “We certainly tried to get the restrooms in place down on the riverfront, but some of the early construction bids were ridiculously high,” he said. The city was looking at different designs and other property to place the restrooms.
Huntington said the next mayor will have to decide what to do. “There is a great need for those restrooms,” he said. “I’m sure the next administration will want to continue that project.”
Huntington said of his recent defeat. “I’m pragmatic,” he said. “When you run for office, you accept the fact that you can be defeated.”
He said he may have been caught in an “anti-incumbency” air that resulted in 63 out of the 119 Indiana mayoral seats being turned in the last election. In 2003, Indiana turned 68 mayors.
“Being mayor is a tough job; you are very visible and accessible,” he said. “While that is part of the fun of it, you can also be blamed for any problems.” He thought the state’s property tax issue may have contributed to some of the discontent among voters.
Huntington said his only regret at leaving office will be the opportunity to deal with people because he is a “people person.” He is also disappointed he will not have the opportunity to be the president of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns. He was the president-elect and would have taken over leadership of the organization in September 2008. It is a non-profit organization that seeks to improve the quality of municipal government education in state schools, educate local officials on leadership and management, according to its website. The group represents municipalities before state lawmakers, and provides education and information to members. With more than 460 municipalities as members, it is the official voice of municipal government in Indiana.
“I felt I had a lot to contribute,” he said. “I am disappointed I will not have that opportunity.”
As for a future political opportunity, Huntington said, “I am not prepared to address any future plans in that area.”

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