Mayoral candidates go head to head

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 17, 2003

Experience vs. change.

That is how the Ironton mayoral race may shape up as the community had an opportunity to hear from both sides at Thursday's "Meet the Candidates" forum at Ohio University Southern.

Current Mayor Bob Cleary touted the accomplishments made during his six years in office and vowed that the groundwork is in place for things to get even better. Councilman John Elam reminded everyone that the city has lost 1,500 jobs since 1997 and said that it is time for a much-needed change.

Email newsletter signup

Sponsored by the Ironton Co-Operative Club, the public forum attracted nearly 200 people.

Cleary, a 53-year-old business owner who has served as mayor since 1997, outlined accomplishments during his administration that are in various stages such as acquiring the land for the South Ironton Industrial Park, hiring an economic development director, building a new fire station, the water tank replacement project, floodwall gate renovations, street paving and continuing to build a relationship with Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital who will add $2.7 million in payroll to the city's tax base.

"Four years ago, I made a promise to run the city as efficiently as possible. I have done that," he said. "When I took over, the cash reserve, what they called the carryover balance, was $361,000. It grew almost every year and according to the current budget projections will be closer to $800,000 by the end of the year."

Elam, a 45-year-old grant manager for the Southern Ohio Medical Center, said that the facts are that Ironton has lost 1,500 jobs since 1997, for whatever reasons, and that the poverty level has grown to more than 20 percent. Elam said he would institute a business plan with short-term goals that would achieve long-term results.

"As mayor, I will make a difference by providing positive changes for the city," he said. "We can no longer sit idle by, while we continue this downward spiral. Folks, it is time for a change. You are voting on the leadership of Ironton."

Forum moderator Bob Smith asked the candidates questions submitted by the audience. One question focused on how each would enforce the laws to keep the streets clean.

Cleary explained that the street sweeper has been fixed after the funding to buy a new one fell through. He also talked about the success of the alley cleanup that has been an ongoing partnership with the municipal court.

Elam said he agrees that the streets need cleaned up and said that it would take teamwork to make a difference.

When asked how he would continue economic development, Elam said that it is important to avoid losing any more than what has already been lost.

"If we had been able to maintain what we had we would have really been in pretty good shape," he said. He added that it is important to invite businesses in to town as a united community.

Cleary countered that his administration has hired an economic development director and continues talking with numerous clients for city property. He emphasized that the city had no control over the companies that left.

"When Cabletron said they were no longer making computers, we couldn't stop that," he said. "When Ironton Iron said they were no longer in the steel business in Ironton, there was nothing we could do."

Both agreed that drugs remain a problem in the city and that the only way to stop it is to target the sources.

The candidates also agreed that developing the riverfront and the Depot building is extremely important. Elam said it is painful to see the building in such poor shape, while Cleary said that $200,000 in Empowerment Zone funds is set aside to do the repairs but that it has taken longer than expected to get started.

As the final question, the candidates were asked what makes them the best choice for Ironton.

Cleary said he has gotten a lot of things started and would like to be there to finish them out.

"I have a lot of experience. I have lived here my whole life and worked here," he said. "I know what it takes to make the system work."

Elam said that he is the best candidate because of the reasons behind his motivation.

"What makes me the best candidate is that I have a reason," he said. "I have a wife and two children that my life revolves around.. . . I want to be able to have my family close to me. I will make a difference and that is a guarantee."

Several members of the community said that this forum helped confirm in their minds the decisions that they had essentially already made. Others said that their choice is not as clear.

The Rev. David Peoples said he was encouraged and excited by both candidates. He said that he believes both are working for the future and best interest on the city. Still, he said the burden lies with the voters.

"My prayer for the community is that they won't look at eloquent words or good speech makers, but look at the facts," he said. "If they do that they can vote on the one who has brought jobs to the community and has an actual plan that they can see."

Cindy and Paul Roach brought their son Cameron to the forum so he could learn about what goes on. Cindy said that she did not have her mind made up before the forum and will have to hear more and talk it over as a family.

"I am going by who will bring jobs," she said. "We need to keep our kids here."

The entire "Meet the Candidates" forum will be aired on OKTV channel 25 several times next week. The forums will broadcast at 7 p.m. Monday and at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday and Friday.