Athens Mayor Steve Patterson and challenger Damon Krane answered questions about city housing code enforcement, infrastructure and the economy from news media and city residents Tuesday at the Athens Public Library.
About 70 people gathered to watch the two mayoral candidates answer questions submitted by the audience during a public forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Athens County. This candidate forum was the first in a series by the League and was moderated by Beverly Flanigan.
The floor opened with Patterson stating what he accomplished during his first term as Athens City Mayor.
“The mayor strives to have a safe, open, welcoming, inclusive community, which is why I have been very effective in bringing people together from the university, from the city, from the business sector to come together to work together,” Patterson said. “That is why I received the elected official of the year award from the National Association of Social Workers,” Patterson said.
Krane followed with his history of organizing students and disempowered people to fight for a world that is more than just democratic. Krane, who is running as an independent, wanted people to know that he is more than just the “anti-slumlord guy.”
“With me as mayor, I’m confident we’ll win the Athens we deserve,” Krane said.
Many of the questions submitted by the audience focused around infrastructure and how dwindling city funds should be allocated toward making improvements to the city as student enrollment drops at Ohio University.
Both candidates fielded a question about what needs and issues exist in each region of the city.
Patterson spoke about hearing from citizens on the south side about water line breaks and improved sidewalks; on the north side with street slippage and street maintenance; on the west side with safety.
Krane asked why the city has seen more improvements to more affluent parts of town rather than addressing what he described as “deplorable” state of infrastructure in parts of town that are struggling economically.
“I would reverse that approach and focus more on the people who are struggling and need people’s help the most,” Krane said.
He later said the city could benefit from enforcing city housing code and increasing fines as a source of revenue to make infrastructure repairs.
The candidates were also asked how they to bring economic opportunity to the city and what they would do to combat the loss of the many uptown businesses that closed their doors in the past year.
“One of the first things we need to do is diversify our local economy,” Patterson said.
He said the city needs to make sure they are able to adapt to an expected increase in tourism as a result of the 88-mile Baileys Mountain Bike Trail construction over the next few years. He said they are already expecting new businesses, such as Menard’s, but need to look into expanding opportunities to the technology sector.
Patterson also said he wants to see more economic and residential development in places other than East State Street.
Krane said continually creating new tourism assets isn’t the way forward because the region already has a lot that should be promoted more. He also stated that food businesses closing uptown is the fault of commercial landlords.
“Commercial landlords are pricing out would-be food service tenants with ridiculous rent rates,” Krane said. “Commercial landlords are banking on naive newcomers… Lotsa Pizza couldn’t even make it on Court Street and they’re this corporate chain.”
Another key issue of the night was safety in the city and whether or not to change the model of policing for the city.
Krane said that he is in favor of disarming and defunding the police and spoke against establishing a joint headquarters for both the Athens and OU police departments.
Patterson disagreed on all of Krane’s points and stated the need for police officers to be armed in order to prevent tragedies like the mass shooting recently in Dayton.
“There are cases where (firearms) are needed...I hate to think what would’ve happened in Dayton, Ohio had law enforcement not had firearms,'' Patterson said.
The issue of safety in the city was also brought up because of the increasing numbers of reported sexual assault and rape. Both candidates agreed something needs to be done to destigmatize the issue to help victims feel safer to report and hold their attackers accountable.
Throughout the night, Krane related many of his answers back to his housing code enforcement plan called “Operation Slumlord Smackdown” which he has made a centerpiece of his campaign.
“The city bends over backwards to let landlords off the hook and the city loses revenue as a result,” Krane said.
Before the forum wrapped up, Krane waived his original final statement in order to point out campaign donations given to Patterson by Athens landlord John Wharton. He said over 40% of Patterson’s campaign donations came from Wharton when he ran uncontested in 2015.
Patterson argued that these numbers were misleading and said that his opponent should look at them again.
“As a civic leader and as your mayor, I think I have a proven track record of working for all the citizens of Athens,” Patterson said.
The next forum will take place on October 3rd at 6:30 p.m. in the Athens Community Center and will involve the At-Large candidates for Athens City Council.