The League of Women Voters of Athens County hosted Democratic Socialist Athens Mayoral Candidate Damon Krane and Incumbent Mayor Steve Patterson at the Athens Mayor Forum Tuesday at the Athens Community Center.
Krane started the forum focusing on young voter turnout, specifically Ohio University students. He originally wanted the debate on OU’s campus to boost student voter turnout, but Patterson declined, according to a previous Post report.
Patterson responded by highlighting his accomplishments over his first two terms as mayor. He said his goal was to make Athens the best city possible in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion.
He said all employees working on the recent infrastructure projects – including the Richland Avenunes pedestrian passageways, the Stimson Avenue improvement project and the round-about on 1804 Way – were trained through the National League of Cities, race, equity and leadership to understand how to become more racial equity conscious as a service to the rest of the citizenship.
Patterson said the most important way to lead and prioritize the people of Athens is through engagement among everyone.
“I view the role of the mayor is to reach out to all sectors within your community and engage with them, establish relationships, have our whole population help serve problems that are going on – but doing it in a civil way,” Patterson said. “The critical feature is having that open dialogue and being accessible.”
Krane wants to lead the people of Athens by prioritizing young people and trying to encourage their participation in community issues.
“Three-quarters of our population are you students, we need to be reaching out to them, particularly if we want our community to have the biggest progressive impact on the wider world that it can,” Krane said.
Both candidates had strong opinions regarding Athens housing, code enforcement and landlords.
Krane criticized the city’s understaffing problem within the Office of Code Enforcement and Community Development; he said it’s difficult to enforce quality living standards when there are not enough people enforcing code enforcement.
Patterson said he has been working with Athens City Council to raise some of the fines for homes, buildings and businesses to be reinspected. He plans to obtain more code enforcement officers and rental inspection officers moving forward.
He said he has been working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture to create a plan to access the Inflation Reduction Act monies, add energy audits in rental units and incentivize landlords to get better appliances.
The recent Ohio House Bill 245 – to ban drag queens from performing in any location other than an adult cabaret and the presence of anyone under 18 – came up during the forum. Both candidates showed interest in protecting drag culture; however, Krane brought up his attempts to get Patterson to debate alongside a drag show, but Patterson declined.
“We could have attracted national media attention,” Krane said. “We could have set such a positive example for the rest of the country.”
When asked about business, Patterson said he is working to continue to bring in new jobs for the people of Athens. Most recently, he said, the new construction of Marietta Memorial Hospital, which is a Memorial Healthcare System, will produce 30-to-160 new jobs at an average salary of $130,000 a year.
He said he has been working with the Athens County Economic Development Council to receive loan funds for minority and women-owned businesses at a low-interest rate for business development. Patterson said he has also been working with Black business owners to find out how to help incentivize their business development.
Krane said he works with a local vending association to help make it easier for restaurants to enter the market of mobile vending. He said he wants to promote similar initiatives and focus on the city’s art and cultural scene.
Low voter turnout was a heated topic of discussion in the forum.
Patterson said some voter turnout statistics may be skewed because there is no information on whether students voted absentee or back at their permanent addresses.
Krane argued that Patterson and the city should encourage OU students to cast their votes in Athens because they live there most of the year and should be more civically engaged in Athens.
In their closing statements, Krane criticized Patterson for not agreeing to his invitations to previous forums and invited him to have another mayor forum before the Nov. 7 election on OU’s campus. Patterson mostly ignored Krane’s criticisms and highlighted being a strong leader of Athens for the past eight years and how his engagement with citizens sets him above his competition.