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Race for Elsmere Mayor Focuses on Whether City is Moving in Right Direction

The mayor's race in Elsmere features an incumbent seeking his third term and a challenger looking to stop it.

Mayor Marty Lenhof faces Preston Ritter on November 6. 

Lenhof grew up in Erlanger and Elsmere, Ritter in Florence, Erlanger, and Elsmere.

Ritter said the national political climate inspired him to seek office at the local level.

"Our political discourse has gone from reasoned discussion to insults and finger-pointing real quick," Ritter said. "And as a side effect, nothing gets resolved. I wish to see that change. So, I've decided to run on the local level of politics in order to, in my own small way, exact the political change I desire."

He opted for a shot at the city's top elected position.

Lenhof was first elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Prior to that, he served on city council for four years.

"I learned a lot being on council," Lenhof said. "But when I stepped into the mayor's job, I was shocked at how much I had to learn. I have been learning as I go and now I feel that I know how to lead the city. But being a councilman is an excellent way to be introduced to city government for the first time."

Lenhof pushed for the hiring of a full-time city administrator. Alex Mattingly, who had been assistant Covington city solicitor for five years, was brought on.

"I felt that someone needed to be here at the city building full time," Lenhof said. "Council felt that we never had a city manager, why did we need one now? But the person we hired was also a lawyer, and we were able to reduce some of our legal fees. Truthfully, a city manager job pays for itself in savings to the city."

Mattingly was eventually hired for the same role in Florence, and now Matt Dowling serves as Elsmere city administrator.

The city has since adopted its first strategic plan, with the help of the Kentucky League of Cities.

"We had multiple meetings, and the residents came and got involved," Lenhof said. "Out of those meetings we came up with four different task forces: residential, economic development along Dixie Highway, a railroad group, and green space. With the residents being involved with these task forces, we feel that the city is moving in the direction the citizens want it to go."

But Ritter disagrees and sees the city as stagnant.

"I have lived here for eleven years, and apart from a tiny park across from the city building, which I consider to be a waste of city finances, I cannot point to much I see as having been done to improve the quality of the city or the lives of its residents," Ritter said. "I look at our neighbors and I see cities growing and expanding. I want that for Elsmere, too."

Lenhof said the city park came about as a result of the green space task force created as part of the strategic plan. $150,000 is budgeted each year for initiatives laid out in the plan, and the park was selected as a priority for some of those funds.  

"I have seen people taking wedding and graduation pictures at the gazebo," Lenhof said. "What we would like to do is take the big stones we have, one in front of the city building, and one with police names on it and place the stones over there so people can stop and take in a little history while they stay there."

Ritter said that he seldom sees people at the park. He added that he would like to see the creation of a family-friendly park where neighborhood kids could hang out safely.

Until then, he said, the city should focus energy on tacking its drug problem.

"Our city has unfortunately become a place of frequent drug use, and I believe this is something we should not tolerate," Ritter said. "So, one of my main concerns will be to work with the local law enforcement to purge this poison from this community in order to make it a safer and healthier place for all residents."

Ritter accused Lenhof of inaction when one resident, according to Ritter, moved from the city after finding no resolution for a problem drug-using neighbor.

Lenhof countered that no city is free of drug problems, and noted that he did not recall the issue with the neighbor as alleged by Lenhof.

The mayor said that the police department will have a new K9 officer in December, and part of its tasks will be to sniff out drugs.

Lenhof added that the city also works with the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Task Force and that there are new school resource officers at Arnett and Howell elementary schools.

As for growth opportunities, Lenhof pointed to the city's industrial park and a sanitation project that will soon be finished there, and a $2.5 million bond initiative to be used to reconstruct 13 city streets and re-pave 14.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor