Mayoral candidates debate
HUNTINGTON -- During a passionate debate Wednesday night in front of members of the Fairfield West community, Republican Huntington Mayor Kim Wolfe and Democratic challenger Councilman Steve Williams shared similar views on where Huntington stands now, but they differed on what direction they wanted to take the city in the future.
Wolfe touted his record as mayor, saying since he was elected in 2008, the city's crime rate has decreased and the jobs have increased.
"Four years ago, we talked about what direction the city needed to go in," Wolfe said. "We have a team of people that literally have been able to clean up the streets of Huntington. There are parts of the town that, four years ago, you wouldn't even drive through that people now are comfortable enough to walk through on a daily basis."
During the event at the Marie Redd Senior Center, which was the 10th in a series of A.C.T.I.O.N. community forums, each candidate had the chance to answer questions from a four-person panel including Councilwoman Sandra Clements, Rev. Leroy Gainey, community member Jordan Fanning and Janet Dooley, interim dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Marshall University.
Wolfe said that, according to numbers from the Huntington user fee, 600 new jobs have been created in Huntington in the past four years. When asked what he would do to continue to create jobs Wolfe said he would likely not change much of his strategy, which relies on making the city a desirable place for small businesses to be established.
While Williams agreed with Wolfe's facts and figures, his plans for the future were a little different.
Williams said Huntington's improvements are notable and good for the city, but he said where Huntington is now is not comparable to where he thinks it could be in the future.
"There is a quote I came across recently that said, 'The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss, but that our aim is too low and we hit,'" Williams said. "If our only marker is ourselves, then we won't be making our city the best it can be. I want to see Huntington become an exceptional city, and we need to be looking at how we can be better than places we are up against like Lexington (Ky.) and Roanoke (Va.)."
Wolfe and Williams agreed on issues like supporting the A.D. Lewis Community Center, residents' right to protest on city streets and dealing with the city's aging sewage and draining system, and both were against contracting out municipal service jobs.
The candidates began to differ when it came to their opinions on where the future of the city is headed in terms of job creation, exploring green energy options, finding its identity, and working with Marshall and local residents to explore those options.
When Dooley asked each candidate about what sort of identity or niche Huntington has that other cities don't, Wolfe and Williams had differing ideas.
Wolfe said while Huntington is on the right track, he said there is no clear identity for the city just yet.
"Now that we are getting the city cleaned up we are looking for visionaries to promote the city," he said. "We have these nice, historical buildings, a good riverfront, a good arts community and the university. We have a lot of places we could take the city, and we need to decide what it is."
Williams used the phrase "Miracle on the Ohio" in what he said would play to the city's strengths of overcoming not only its crime issues but also its strides to go from the fattest city in the nation to one of the healthiest.
"In branding ourselves against competing cities, we have to find what needs our city can fill that other cities can't," he said. "We have to ask questions like, 'Where are we? What do we have? What do we want?'"
In closing Wolfe said that while he and Williams have worked together to make progress in the city, he said his record speaks for him.
"What I have is proven results," Wolfe said. "There is a very big difference between applying for mayor and actually doing the job. It's easy to debate when what you have to show is better than what was there four years ago."
Williams said he was pleased with how he and Wolfe have worked together for the city, but he said their expectations for the city are different.
"I feel like everything in my life, my business experience, my time as city manager and public service on state and municipal levels, has lead up to this point," Williams said. "I have high expectations for this city to be an exceptional city, and I think my experience shows I have been and will be a tough advocate for this city and for its residents."