By Rebecca Rose
Harker Heights Herald
"I wanted to help."
That's how outgoing Harker Heights Mayor Ed Mullen summed up his motivation for entering city politics.
After more than 14 years of service to the city, the mayor is stepping down. At a reception to bid him farewell on Tuesday at City Hall, employees of Harker Heights, residents and friends lined up to say goodbye to the man who helped shepherd the city through some of its most significant growth to date.
It's a lot for a man who never considered going into politics for the first several decades of his life.
Mullen is a retired Army officer and Vietnam veteran, who devoted much of his post-military life to education. He received his doctorate in political economy from the University of Texas at Austin.
He and his wife, Candy, moved to Harker Heights in 1990. Mullen worked at the University of Central Texas, teaching statistics, international economics and government. From there, he was recruited to teach at Austin Community College, where he started an internship program with the state Legislature.
"I believe college education is best served when there is a real-life component attached," he said.
Several of the interns who participated in the program now work for the Legislature, including a few who are chiefs of staff, Mullen said.
Mullen has been active in numerous civic and community service projects, through Rotary Club, Fort Hood and the city of Harker Heights.
Ready to serve
In 1997, he decided to seek election to the City Council, after he said friends "twisted his arm."
On his first council, Mullen served with Mike Helm, current KISD board chairman.
He described his first experience with city government as "magnificent."
"It was outstanding," Mullen said. "We decided to create Carl Levin Park and the new city center. I learned so much."
He cited numerous construction projects during his first tenure as a council member as being among his best memories. Such projects included the construction of city hall, the recreation center, and swimming pool.
"We did it all with almost no money. It was quite an exercise in finance, construction and citizenship building," he said.
Mullen served on the council from 1997 to 2002. In 2005, he ran for mayor and said his decision to run came from a desire to guide the city through transformation.
"I could see that the city was going to have significant change. We were in for major changes in the direction of city," he said. "That period of time, it was at the height of the war. The war had a big impact on the local area. I thought we were going to grow."
"My sense of things was that the city was poised for tremendous growth. We didn't know what direction though. It could have become a carbon copy of Killeen, or something different. In any case, I knew we were going to have tremendous financial and economic growth."
"That's why I ran for mayor. I wanted to be part of that change. I wanted to help that new direction."
Mullen said the opening of the Market Heights center was one of the best moments of his tenure.
"When that project was brought to us, I could immediately see the possibilities. It was a tremendous boon to the city. It brought in other things peripherally."
"What I like about local politics is the opportunity to build a city. We have actually done that. We've turned this into a modern city," he said.
Mullen, a Purple Heart recipient, said some of the most meaningful work he did was with wounded soldiers at Fort Hood. He also made trips to Walter Reed and San Antonio to visit wounded veterans.
"There was tremendous sadness seeing how hurt they are. But it's also tremendously uplifting to see how they overcome their hardships. Emotionally for me, that's been the strongest single piece to this whole experience."
Mullen said he plans to continue visiting and working with wounded soldiers as much as he can.
His favorite place in Harker Heights is the library, which he called "the soul of the city."
As for the future of Harker Heights, Mullen called the combination of changes in civic governances, Army commands and other organizational shifts a "perfect storm."
"I see the role of Harker Heights to be a stable presence in the region. All of the council, the mayor and the staff will have been here for some time. This is an opportunity to continue excellent policies and be a stable force in the region."
"We've got great leadership. All of our folks are known throughout the area. I think we're going to continue to grow. More things are coming."
As for giving advice to new Mayor Mike Aycock, Mullen said it wasn't necessary.
"Mike knows more about how to run a city than I do. He doesn't need any advice."
Mullen and his wife, Candy, have been married for 45 years. They have two sons, Scott and Carter. Scott lives in Australia and is married with one child, Lila. She is 18 months old. Carter is an environmental scientist. He and his wife live in Washington, D.C., and are expecting their first child.
Contact Rebecca Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548. Follow her on Twitter at KDHheights.