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Candidates in Covington Races Take to Stump

Both candidates for Covington Mayor, three for Covington City Commission, and three for the school board (well, four if you count Mark Young whose candidacy to fill the remainder of a vacated seat is the subject of a court battle), as well as Republican state senate candidate Chris McDaniel, took to a tree stump in Wallace Woods Saturday for that neighborhood's annual Corn Roast & Cake Auction. Following the speeches in which they attempt to sell themselves each candidate was assigned a fresh-baked cake to auction off to the crowd. Funds raised from the event help the Wallace Woods Neighborhood Association fund a scholarship for a Covington student. Each candidate took a turn on an actual tree stump placed before the crowd. 

"I feel I am the best person for mayor at this time in Covington's history," said City Commissioner Sherry Carran who is seeking the city's highest office. "I understand the strengths of Covington, the neighborhoods, the infrastructure, I understand development, redevelopment, economic development, and land use issues. A lot of things are in place. The city needs focus right now. I believe I am the best person bring focus to make these things happen." Carran highlighted her time spent on various boards and committees such as the area planning commission, the Linden Gateway small area study, and the Latonia small area study.

City Commissioner Steve Casper is challenging Carran to become Covington's next mayor. "I want to change the face of Covington," Casper said. "We have had no housing strategy. What has occurred is strictly by happenstance. I want a strategy controlled by the city and not many entities like the Housing Authority and section 8." Casper added that he hopes a new housing strategy would address foreclosures and vacant, blighted properties. He also reiterated his call to turn Seventh Street into an entertainment destination modeled after Louisville's Fourth Street Live, adding that incentives are necessary to draw businesses to Downtown. "There's no reason for business to go in that area unless we create a vibe. There are two-hundred fifty thousand people who visit Madison Avenue (for the Madison Event Center and the Madison Theater) and they have nothing else to do."

Incumbent City Commissioner Steve Frank made his case for reelection to a second term. He made a familiar argument that he is "a numbers guy" who ran for his first term after serving on Covington's audit committee. "Without any reservation, I was certain we were going to go bankrupt and it's still a touchy," Frank said, noting that the current administration of which he is a part has cut $3 million from the budget without raising taxes and rolling back the city's payroll tax from 2.5% to 2.45%. "We'd be bouncing paychecks today."

First-time candidates Chuck Eilerman and Greg Paeth also sought votes in Wallace Woods on Saturday. "We need mature and experienced leadership there," Eilerman said, noting that a run for city commission was the next logical step in a decades-long period of service to the community. He served on boards for Devou Park, Mother of God Church, the urban design review board, and "almost everything there was to do", he said, also adding that he spent time in state government working for the Governor and in the state budget office and that he has sold $10 million in real estate in Covington over the last several years. "Covington is poised for an era of great economic growth and I want to be there to help move it forward." 

Paeth served as president of his neighborhood association in Old Seminary Square from 1999 to April of this year and is making his first run for office after a long career as a journalist. He moved to Covington in 1975 after taking a job at the Kentucky Post where he worked until the paper was closed in 2007. Currently, Paeth serves on the board of the Urban Partnership which is working toward creating a business improvement district in Downtown Covington and he previously served the Westside Action Coalition, the Covington Neighborhoods Collaborative, the urban design review board, the vacant property review committee, and worked on the city's most recent strategic plan. The housing code would be one of his top priorities if elected. "We have to follow through to make sure owners are taking care of the properties they own," Paeth said. "We haven't been diligent enough in the past."

Three candidates for Covington School Board that have endorsed each other's candidacies in the race for three of five seats also attended. "Pay more attention to the schools than you ever have in the past becuse we have a chance to turn things around," said Everett Dameron who is making his fourth run over the last sixteen years. This time, he has attracted the support of a small movement of people that have created an online community called Fix Covington Schools that has spent the past several months calling for reforms to Covington Independent Public Schools while lobbing criticism at the current superintendent and board of education. "The Covington schools are not poor but the money is not reaching the schools." Dameron has been a longtime critic of the district's $45 million budget and its cost-per-student ratio and has argued that even with those costs, CIPS's test scores rank toward the bottom in Kentucky.

For his part, Dameron hopes to see more contracts awarded through a bid process instead of through automatic renewal while improving communication between the district and the community and also improving access to early childhood education. Candidates Tom Miller and Jo Rogers share Dameron's vision and efforts. 

"There are some members of the school board who have never read the budget and still they voted for it," Miller said, noting that he decided to run after becoming part of the Fix Covington Schools group and out of concern for the what he saw as the quality of education his granddaughters were receiving. A 1959 graduate of Holmes High School ("Back when Holmes was one of the top schools in the state."), Miller has attended nearly every school board meeting in the past year where he has become a vocal critic. "It seems they resent any public comment."

Rogers is a former school teacher who now educates at the University of Cincinnati and highlighted her work in a local district with similar demographics to Covington. "With a dedicated group of educators and administration and leadership from a superintendent and board of education we were able to bring these students up," Rogers said. "I know poverty or income level should not be a determining factor in what a child can accomplish." One way to get them out of poverty is to get them a good education, she said, "and that's not happening here."

"You have to change leadership and make sure the culture is changed from the top down."

Mark Young also hopes to run for the school board but not against Dameron, Miller, and Rogers, all of whom he supports. Instead, he attempted to file to run for the seat vacated by Denise Varney who announced her resignation August 2. State law suggests that an election be held since the resignation occurred before the filing deadline for November's election but the issue over when the resignation was actually accepted has become the catalyst for a legal battle. Young went to court Friday to have his name placed on the ballot where a judge asked for more information and may make a judgment this coming week. "Our kids are being given a raw deal year after year. They are being handed worthless diplomas," Young said. 

Taylor Mill businessman Chris McDaniel, the Republican nominee to represent Covington and some surrounding cities in the Kentucky State Senate, also took to the stump. Initially he thought he could not afford time away from his work and his family to seek the office but then decided that he could not afford not to run. He expressed that his two top goals would be addressing the state's debt brought on by pension and Medicaid costs, and the investment in infrastructure, education, and tax policy reform. "We need to invest in our infrastructure and address the debts of the past to make Kentucky the best it can be," McDaniel said.

NOTES:In the state senate race, McDaniel faces Democrat Jim Noll, a Villa Hills city councilman. Other candidates for Covington City Commission include Ed Faulkner, Neil Gilreath, Roger Hamilton, Mildred Rains, Michelle Williams and Chip Terry who has launched a write-in campaign. Other school board candidates include incumbers Mike Fitzgerald and Glenda Huff, and challengers Joyce Baker, Christi Blair, Kerry Holleran, Rebecca Pettigrew, and Joseph Petty.