In Shadow of Mayor's Race, Erlanger Will Elect a City Council, Too
There is more than a mayor's race in Erlanger this year.
The race for city council in Erlanger has fifteen people seeking twelve seats.
There were originally 16 candidates, but Marc Fields dropped out of the race.
The mayor's race features current city council members Jessica Fette and Randy Blankenship, while current Mayor Tyson Hermes is running for council this year.
The River City News talked to most of the candidates.
Kathy Cahill has lived in Erlanger for 51 years, and is married to Tom Cahill, with whom she has three children and seven grandchildren.
Cahill has been on council for eight years and has been a part of hiring the past two city administrators, Marc Fields and Matthew Kremer, she said.
Cahill said that she is happy with where the city is now and where it is headed, and namely that there is some financial cushion in the bank in case of another economic downturn.
But there is still room for improvements.
"I would like to have an Erlanger Senior and Community Center," Cahill said. "It is also important that we implement programs to stop the opioid epidemic that is rampant in Erlanger and Northern Kentucky."
Vicki Kyle moved to Erlanger when she married her husband, Joe, 45 years ago, and they have one son and two grandchildren.
Kyle taught at Lloyd High School and St. Henry District High School for 33 years. She said she wanted to serve on council because she would like to give back to the community, and because she loves Erlanger.
Kyle has been a member of city council for 22 years and said that she is especially proud that she helped to establish the present Parks and Recreation Program, the Community Service Scholarship, and the Erlanger Business Council.
She said she has also worked with mayors, council members, and department heads to attract businesses and create a balanced budget to allow for lowering taxes and offering competitive salaries and benefits to employees.
Kyle said the city is heading in the right direction, but she believes in continuing to explore ways to keep the city improving and moving forward. She wants to continue to attract businesses, lower taxes, and offer top notch services to the residents. She also hopes to improve roads and sidewalks, fight against blight in the city by improving code enforcement, and to listen to citizen input.
In the mayor's race, she sides with Blankenship.
"I am supporting Randy Blankenship for Erlanger Mayor because he has the leadership skills and experience needed for the position," Kyle said. "Randy works well with members of council and respects their opinions and ideas."
Corine Pitts was born in France where her father was serving in the U.S. Air Force, and moved to Kentucky when she was 5. She relocated to Erlanger from Campbell County in 1996. She has been married for 32 years and has two daughters.
Pitts has been on council for 12 years and believes that her work is not yet finished.
One thing she is most proud of is working with Planning & Development Services of Kenton County (PDS) to have a video made of flood and road damage on Stevenson Road, which will be used to try to win $3 million in state funding to add to the $1.8 million already pledged.
Next, she noted the founding of a Facebook forum for citizens, and no city officials. She said the site has more than 250 contributors.
Pitts said that the past four years have been difficult for city council, but that the government has still been able to accomplish some important tasks.
Moving forward, Pitts wants to bring back a welcome packet for new residents, launch a book-share station like those in Edgewood and Indianapolis, and to lower the insurance premium tax.
She also wants to see Houston Road widened, and the work on Stevenson Road to continue.
Pitts also supports Blankenship for mayor.
"There are three things you can tell me that will absolutely lose my vote for any politician," Pitts said. "Do not try to win my vote by what party you belong to, what race you are, or what gender you are. To me that is not important. I vote strictly on who I think will do a better job. I feel that person is Randy Blankenship. He has been our go-to leader through some pretty rough times these past four years. His leadership has helped us as a council achieve many good things. He was instrumental in meeting with Neyer, our city administrator, and economic development director, on tax incentives that ultimately got the Showcase properties alive again. So far we have Coca Cola, Perfetti Van Melle, and Duro Bag going in up there. I think he has a great plan and goals. Along with that he has life and council experience that qualifies him to be our mayor, and I think he will be a good one."
Hermes has presided as mayor in Erlanger for the past four years, winning a narrow election in 2014 over an incumbent. Now, he is running for a seat on council.
He grew up in the Cincinnati suburb of Delhi, but graduated from Covington Latin School. He met his wife at the University of Cincinnati, and after graduation, they moved to Kentucky 21 years ago. They have three children.
As mayor, he cites a reduction in the city property tax rate for four years in a row, and new payroll tax incentives for new and existing businesses, as achievements.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in the city with Coca Cola and others moving into town.
"Businesses now know Erlanger is open for business," Hermes said. "As you may know, businesses also pay a majority of the revenue in Erlanger. By building a larger economic engine, we have been able to lighten the tax burden on the residents. My plan as a council member will be to continue to lower taxes like the franchise fee on utilities, or the insurance premium tax. I also want to focus on getting our roads and sidewalks into a maintainable condition."
Hermes said that he is happy with the direction of the city.
Moving forward, Hermes wants to see sidewalks become more of a priority.
In the race to replace him as mayor, Hermes supports Fette.
He said that he knows the difference between someone who is telling him the truth and someone telling him what they think he wants to hear, in noting his reason for supporting Fette.
Patty Suedkamp moved to Erlanger in 1968 when she married Bruce, her late husband. They raised three kids and have eight grandchildren. She has been a member of city council for 22 years and served the city in various capacities since 1980.
Suedkamp noted successes as building up the eastside communities, sidewalks, lower taxes, balanced budgets, realigning McAlpin Avenue to line up with Garvey Avenue across Dixie Highway, the new Sun Behavioral location, the redevelopment of the Showcase Cinema site, and improvements to Stevenson Road.
Suedkamp served as chair of the Erlanger-Elsmere Renaissance Committee and has attended the Citizen Police Academy twice. She has also chaired every city council committee at some point, with the exception of public works.
Suedkamp is supporting Blankenship for mayor.
"I am voting for Randy Blankenship," she said. "In my opinion, Jessica Fette is not ready."
Gary Meyer is looking to return to city council after serving one term in 2015 and 2016. He grew up in the Cherry Hill section of Erlanger, and then moved away, before returning to Erlanger in 2010. He and his wife, Katie, have five children. He works for a global company that supports technology and analytics.
During his one term on council, Meyer said that he is proud to have been part of the decision that started the process for the city to assist residents in improving sidewalks.
"I want to be on council now to push additional fiscal responsibility," Meyer said. "There are plenty of opportunities to further reduce expenses without impact to city services. In addition, I would like to see the city adopt further transparency through a mechanism like OpenGov.com."
Meyer said that he likes where the city is headed, and that Erlanger needs innovative thinking to keep the progress going.
He supports further reduction of taxes, such as the franchise fee placed on Duke Energy bills. He would also like to introduce some Smart City initiatives.
Meyer supports Fette for mayor, because, he said, she has a record of getting things done. Meyer criticized what he called Blankenship's division on council.
Rebecca Reckers is a native of Cincinnati who moved to Erlanger about ten years ago. She and her husband, Ted, have a baby on the way.
She earned a master's in business administration from Northern Kentucky University.\
Reckers is running for council because, she said, she wants to help make the city a better place to live, work, and raise a family.
She said that she is passionate about the people of Erlanger and that her fresh ideas would improve the dynamic of city council and improve the sense of community in the city.
Reckers said that there is room for improvement in Erlanger, particularly in the area of the city tax code.
She said that she would also work to improve accountability in the eyes of residents and businesses.
Reckers is not taking a position in the mayor's race.
"I will not be publicly endorsing or supporting any mayor candidate," Reckers said. "I'm happy to serve with the mayoral race winner next year, whoever that may be."
Donald Niceley was born in Rockcastle County, Kentucky in 1935, and moved to Northern Kentucky when he was 17, in search of a job. He moved to Erlanger in 1971, with his three children. Now he also has two grandsons and a great-granddaughter.
Niceley has served on council for two years, and said that he is proud of his votes to support the Erlanger Business Council, and to lower taxes.
He is most proud of the hiring of a police social worker.
Nicely has been supportive of Mayor Hermes's agenda, and notes the redevelopment of the Showcase site as a highlight. There is more work to do, however, he said. Nicely supports further business growth and a further reduction of taxes, such as the elimination or reduction of the insurance premium tax.
He supports Fette for mayor.
"I've been in Erlanger for nearly 50 years, and am thrilled with the direction Tyson Hermes has taken us over the last four years," Niceley said. "I believe Jessica Fette is the only choice to continue moving Erlanger forward to even greater achievements. She is unmatched with her drive, ambition, compassion and problem solving skills. I completely support Jessica Fette for mayor."
Kevin Burke has lived in Erlanger for nearly 15 years, and has been married to his wife, Dianna, for 36 years. They have two grown children and one grandson.
Burke has served on city council for nearly 22 years, and said that he is proud of keeping the police, fire, and public works departments up to date with equipment needed. He also pointed to lower taxes and a program to repair streets and sidewalks.
Burke said there is room for improvement, particularly in relation to infrastructure and economic development.
He supports the addition of a couple new parks and would work to further reduce taxes.
He supports Blankenship for mayor.
"I am supporting Randy Blankenship for mayor," Burke said. "His experience in working with the council is very important. I believe Jessica can't do that."
Shane Longshore lived in Erlanger as a child until he was 12, and then returned in 1999. He has a son and daughter.
Longshore previously served two terms on city council, and looks to return.
He said that he would like to work to create more jobs in the city, expand city parks, add green space, and improve code enforcement.
He would also work to keep the budget in line, he said.
Longshore supports Blankenship for mayor.
"It is with great pride that I endorse Randy Blankenship for mayor," Longshore said.
Don Skidmore and Renee Skidmore are husband and wife and serve together on the city council currently. Renee Skidmore was first elected in 2006, and Don Skidmore won a seat four years ago.
They have two children and two grandchildren.
Don is a graduate of Lloyd High School and his Erlanger roots brought Renee to town from her native Deer Park, Oh., after they met at the post office in 1975, and married a year later.
Don Skidmore serves on the public works committee, and said the public works department provides impeccable service to the city. Recently, the committee worked on replacing the retired Rick Bogart and hired Peter Glenn from Florence to lead public works, something Skidmore called a great choice.
He said the city is moving in the right direction with businesses wanting to move in, and that tax incentives being offered are good.
Moving forward, Don Skidmore wants to see improvements and beautification on Commonwealth Avenue, and to see full funding for streets and sidewalks in the city's master plan.
Renee Skidmore serves on the administration committee and said that she is proud of the city's choice to hire Matt Kremer as city administrator.
She also noted the city's economic growth and the lowering of taxes as achievements.
"I would like to see Erlanger recognized as a model for other cities to follow in our footsteps," Renee said. "We have our master plans, our dedicated employees, and hopefully a mayor who will keep us going in the same positive direction. Erlanger is in a really good position right now. I would like to see us purchase property for a senior center."
Both Skidmores said that they support a candidate for mayor with experience on council.
Tom Cahill, Jr., is a lifelong resident of Erlanger, having grown up on Jaqueline Drive, and now residing on Deerchase Drive. He and his wife raised three children.
Cahill has served on council for twelve years and his goal is to continue to improve the look of the city.
"I worked hard to increase our budget for streets and sidewalks," Cahill said. "I also work closely with our code enforcement in public works on blighted properties."
Cahill said the future is bright for Erlanger. The city, he said, rebounded from the loss of Toyota and the increase in pension contributions.
He wants to improve walkability in the city, and said that he is happy that the city received a grant through the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments to complete a sidewalk project on Narrows Road. A sidewalk study is also in place, he said.
Jim Speier grew up in Fort Thomas but raised his two children in Erlanger. He has lived in the city for 30 years, and is engaged to be married next year.
He is running for city council to represent the working class, and to build on strengths in the city.
Four years ago, while walking the streets of Erlanger, Speier said that he saw too many streets in disrepair, and too many businesses closed. He said that the direction has changed for the better since then.
"We have seen new engagement with business leaders, to work together in building the city and ensuring our businesses stay," Speier said. "We have seen improvements in our services and reductions in our taxes. Residents are very impressed with the community outreach programs."
Speier said that he would like to see more development in the city, noting Erlanger's prime location between highways.
He supports Fette for mayor.
Stephen Montgomery has been a resident of Erlanger his whole life. He and his wife, Linda, have three children and five grandchildren.
He has served on council the past two years, and is assigned to the finance committee. He said that the city has been able to lower taxes and increase city services because the finance committee has a good handle on revenues and expenses.
"If elected, I believe we can continue to lower taxes," Montgomery said. "I would like to have a tax incentive for homeowners who upgrade their property. I would also like to continue to improve the streets and sidewalks,"
He supports Randy Blankenship for mayor.
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor