Covington Chooses Change: Meyer Elected Mayor, Williams Back on Commission
It had been twenty years since Joseph U. Meyer's name appeared on a ballot but on Tuesday night he was in fighting form, cruising to a landslide win over Mayor Sherry Carran in Covington.
Armed with dueling battle cries of "change" and "stay the course", the campaign for the top elected post in Northern Kentucky's largest city had turned nasty in the home stretch, with each candidate upping the intensity of their promotional materials and rhetoric. But when the dust settled on Tuesday, Meyer was ushered into office on a wave of change that saw incumbents knocked off across Northern Kentucky, and the Kentucky House of Representatives - where Meyer himself had served in the 1980's - surrendered to Republican control for the first time in a century.
Even Elliott County - whose claim to fame is voting for the Democratic nominee for President in every election since it was founded in 1869 - went for Republican Donald Trump, the President-elect of the United States of America.
The Meyer campaign celebrated its 1,400-vote victory at Smoke Justis, a new restaurant and bar in the city's Roebling Point entertainment area. "I am very honored by the margin of victory," Meyer told The River City News. "The people of Covington have spoken that they want significant change in the city government. I am excited about the prospect of leading Covington for the next four years."
It was a decidedly less celebratory scene at Hotel Covington, the newly opened boutique hot spot on Madison Avenue, around the corner from the City Hall office that Carran will soon vacate after four years as mayor and six years as a city commissioner. Trading hugs with a small group of supporters and joined by City Manager Larry Klein, whom many believe will also depart City Hall amid the election results, Carran called Meyer to concede.
In the end, Meyer collected 6,764 votes to Carran's 5,290 (56 to 44 percent).
"It is hard to deny that Joe appealed to the majority of the voters and therefore I wish him nothing but the best as incoming mayor," Carran said in a statement released late Tuesday night. "Tomorrow will be a strange day for me at City Hall as the last ten years of my life have revolved around the city. Until my term ends, however, I will remain focused on the city's needs and on the many projects currently in the works."
Carran touted a revitalized downtown Covington where tens of millions of dollars have been invested during her first term - from the new hotel and restaurants, to highly praised residential developments like the Boone Block townhomes and the Mutual Building. Meyer's call for change emphasized what he saw as Carran - and by extension, Klein's - shortcomings: a poorly received paid-parking plan in Mainstrasse Village, a neglected Latonia business district, and low morale among the city's union employees who actively supported the challenger's campaign.
Those issues spilled over to the city commission race which saw both incumbents returned to office, along with a fresh face and a familiar one. By one vote, Michelle Williams finished on top of the field of seven, just ahead of Bill Wells, who won his second term. Williams was first elected in 2012 but her term was tumultuous - with the Kenton County attorney determining that she was illegally holding her office because of her criminal record. The Attorney General disagreed, and Williams completed her term - which often featured tense exchanges with Carran and Klein. She lost her reelection bid in 2014.
In January, Williams returns to City Hall as mayor pro tem.
On social media, she thanked her family and supporters, the public employee unions, and others, and said that she looks forward to working with the new commission.
Jordan Huizenga finished in third place, earning his second term, while Timothy Downing, making his first run for office, claimed the fourth and final spot on the commission with a come-from-behind finish in which he overtook perennial candidate Christi Blair who sat in the spot for most of Tuesday night. Blair ultimately finished fifth, ahead of John Flesch and Stuart Warren who were both making their first runs.
Incumbent city commissioners Chuck Eilerman and Steve Frank did not seek reelection, and were active in their support of their preferred mayoral candidate: Eilerman for Carran, and Frank for Meyer.
In the race for the Covington Board of Education, longtime incumbent Glenda Huff, who was a no-show on the campaign trail, earned more votes than anyone else in the 5-candidate field. She'll begin her fifth 4-year term in January. Joining her will be incumbent April Frese Brockhoff, who was appointed to an unexpired term last year and then elected in a special election last fall. She will now serve her own 4-year term. Tom Wherry, making his first run for office, was also elected. Huff, Brockhoff, and Wherry will join Jerry Avery and Julie Geisen Scheper, who did not have to run this year, on the board of education.
Former board member Mike Fitzgerald and first-time candidate Danielle Axtell finished fourth and fifth in Tuesday's election.
-Michael Monks and Patricia A. Scheyer
Photo: Joe Meyer celebrates his win at Smoke Justis on Tuesday night (RCN)