State College

State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham reflects on time in office

When Mayor Elizabeth Goreham leaves office in January, she says she might take a month to eat bonbons and watch TV.

After 20 years in public service — 12 serving on State College Borough Council and eight as mayor — she’s earned a break.

“I love being mayor, but I’m old and there is, it’s true, you get a message that it’s time. ... I don’t want to leave, but it’s time for me in that I don’t have as much energy as I did, and it takes a lot,” Goreham said.

The mayor’s role consists of presiding over council meetings, acting as ceremonial head and official representative of the borough and approving or vetoing ordinances.

Her first night as mayor she cried because she realized she wouldn’t be able to vote at council meetings anymore, Goreham said, laughing.

But after two terms in the role, she’s gotten quite a bit out of it.

“People say, ‘Oh thank you for your service,’ and I think, you’re nuts — not you’re nuts but you don’t, I’m the one that’s benefited because I have been able to get to know my community more deeply and be invited to cut a ribbon or present an award or just participate,” she said. “And it’s not me, it’s having the office of mayor present — that means something here. And just being able to experience that I’ve met so many wonderful people, and I know the town so much more.”

She’s a champion for the environment — she and her husband even bought the first recycling bin to give to the borough’s public works department.

Her biggest accomplishment, Goreham said, was to start State College on the path of more environmental engagement.

That’s not the only high point of her career.

A recent highlight in her life was to see the dedication of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza, she said.

She’s also been an advocate for “Dreamers“ and immigrants’ rights.

In 2013, Goreham hosted a same-sex marriage, and has officiated dozens more since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2015 that state-level bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.

“Boy that has been exciting to marry long-committed couples,” she said.

Her successor, mayor-elect Don Hahn, described her as an “activist” mayor, working for entrepreneurship, inclusiveness and sustainability.

“Elizabeth is a big-vision person, and, in many ways, the limited role of mayor in State College’s home-rule charter tended to be constraining,” he said in an email. “Nevertheless, the energy and enthusiasm with which she performed her role as mayor and with which she encouraged public participation in municipal government has made her widely beloved by the people of State College.”

Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said in an email that he’s enjoyed his time working with Goreham.

“Her strong passion and commitment to the borough, particularly in the areas of sustainability and social equity, have made a lasting impact to the community,” he said. “The borough is thankful for her public service and all that she has done for our community while serving as its mayor.”

Though she’ll soon be just a citizen, Goreham said she plans to stay involved and committed to the environment and issues like diversity and inclusion, among others.

She’s also leaving the office in capable hands — and she won’t be forgotten.

“In many ways, with her style of activism and outreach, Elizabeth will be my inspiration as I perform the role of mayor of State College,” Hahn said.

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz