HUNTINGTON — Nearing the end of a peculiar spring election season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, six Republican mayoral candidates in the city of Huntington will finally go head-to-head during the Tuesday, June 9, primary election.
The winner of the race in the Republican Party will go against current Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, an unopposed Democrat seeking his third term in the position, in the general election in November.
Those running for a chance to compete against Williams are Scott Caserta, Steven Davis, Tom McCallister, Steven Simmons, Kenny Bolen and Andy Battista.
Here are the issues that candidates (listed in alphabetical order) want to tackle:
Battista, 72, has a background in business management, working with the community, serving veterans, as a Vietnam War veteran himself, and most recently was an employee of Chapman Printing before retiring.
After living in Westmoreland for years, Battista said he has observed several negative changes in the city that he would tackle if elected mayor, the first being a focus on financial transparency.
“I am a taxpaying citizen of this town, and where is the money going?” Battista said. “It’s transparency. That’s what it boils down to. Nobody knows; too many fees. We’ve got to do something with these fees.”
Battista said he would start by abolishing the city service fee of $5 a week for individuals working within city limits. The fee currently brings additional dollars into the city to fund services like the police department and Public Works department.
After making budgetary changes and cutting costs in other areas, Battista also said he would make it a priority to get drugs off the streets with the hiring of additional police officers.
“We need to beef up the police department. We have way too few police officers. We’ve got to beef up the program to get young people, men and women, interested in that career,” he said. “Right now with the trouble we’re having, it’s going to be difficult, tough, getting police officers, but I’m willing to take on this task.”
Another goal of Battista’s is to address flooding issues in the city, even if that means seeking federal funding to avoid taxation of residents.
Bolen, 68, has lived in Huntington for 49 years and has worked in several professions and with community outreach programs, including founding the Old Central City Association and the event Old Central City Days, among other events and celebrations.
After building relationships with people in the city, Bolen said he would prioritize bringing life back to Huntington by becoming more financially conscious.
“I want to make some changes. I feel that there are a lot of things that are overlooked, and there are so many wonderful people who have just been forgotten,” he said. “We need a major reduction on some of the salaries in City Hall, starting with the mayor’s salary. I think the mayor’s salary should be based on the population.”
Bolen said the change in the way the mayor is paid would be an incentive for the city to focus on building up the dwindling population once more.
To help families live a more affordable life in Huntington, Bolen said he would also work to abolish what has been dubbed the “rain tax,” or the water quality fee.
“Along with reducing the salaries, the removal of the ‘rain tax’ would be my primary goal,” he said. “And I want to get the drugs off the street, help the homeless and help the seniors. We’re a city of seniors that are often overlooked.”
Caserta, 56, is a lifelong Huntington resident who spent 12 years on Huntington City Council working under three mayors, spent more than 30 years in emergency services and has been an employee of Special Metals for 25 years.
Caserta said he believes he is the most experienced candidate in the field of city government, and he is willing to stand up for the residents of Huntington and provide increased financial transparency to the public.
“I have questions about funding and current budget issues that can only be answered from within the mayor’s office,” Caserta said. “I will find those answers, and with increased budget transparency under my administration, you will also.”
Caserta said his priorities as mayor would lie in restoring safety in the community, beginning with fully staffed fire and police departments.
“I will work with the recovery programs that have demonstrated success and address our drug problems at the street level. I will have a zero tolerance for drug traffickers and dealers. Vagrancy and loitering will be addressed, and our city ordinances will be enforced,” Caserta said. “We can once again be a city where people can work and raise their families without fear of crime, drugs and sharply decreasing property values.”
Caserta said he will work alongside City Council, Cabell County commissioners and state and federal leaders to establish a prosperous community.
Caserta said he was also in favor of addressing flood issues and halted economic development in the city.
“It’s time to turn some shovels. Our business leaders need an avenue to be heard and provide input into the economic development of our city to provide job opportunities,” he said. “As mayor, I want to see real development of our Harris Riverfront Park, not more plans to be rolled up and stored on shelves.”
Davis, 59, has years of various experience in several facets of management, has been a certified arborist since 1994 and is the current sales, marketing and field support manager at Rotor Blade LLC.
Davis said in a previous questionnaire submitted to The Herald-Dispatch that the biggest issues he sees in Huntington are crime, vagrancy, dilapidated housing and poor budget management, among others.
“No one wants to build a home next door to vacant, dilapidated buildings. No one wants to move their family into a neighborhood where there are drug addicts walking the streets or criminals stealing their kids’ bicycles,” Davis said in the submitted document. “Cleaning up our city has to be priority No. 1. I will support our police, fire and code enforcement to make this happen.”
Similar to the ideals of other candidates, Davis said he would address Huntington’s decreasing population by prioritizing safety.
“I will make it safer for people to live here. I will make the city a fun and enjoyable place for families,” he said. “I will also reduce the burdens on developers who want to invest in multifamily housing and encourage mixed-use zoning. I will work with Marshall (University) to give its graduates an incentive to stay in Huntington after graduation.”
McCallister, 79, currently retired, is a former Huntington City Councilman and was one of the original 11 members of the Huntington City Charter Board with over 40 years of experience in politics.
McCallister said his knowledge of Huntington as a whole sets him apart from other candidates, and while he’s watched several mayors over the years struggle to learn the ins and outs of the city, he wouldn’t have to face that learning curve.
“I have a lot of training in that area, and I’m ready to go,” he said. “In general, there are many problems here, but there are no real problems that can’t be solved, and they would be solved under my leadership.”
McCallister said he has seen an increase in transient people in the city over the years, and bringing safety back to the community would start with addressing this issue.
“Starting with the people that come from other places to basically make Huntington their easy-touch for food, sleeping on the streets, grocery carts all over, breaking into houses — that would be No. 1 for me, to get those people back to where they belong,” he said. “The city’s ordinances, I would enforce those absolutely.”
In agreement with other candidates, McCallister said he would address flooding concerns in Huntington, specifically in the underpasses and on 3rd and 5th avenues.
“I’ve watched the failures that have come to Huntington that have tried to run the city, I know where not to go, and if you’ve been involved in something for 40 years, you’ve learned something,” he said. “I’d take care of the water and sewage problems here, the flooding, the (underpasses) — in general, I’d take care of that.”
Simmons, 59, has worked in Huntington for 42 years, 41 of which have been at Chapman Printing Co., and has raised his family in the community.
While Simmons said he’s witnessed many downfalls in the community over the years, he believes many good things about the city remain as a whole.
“All people want to talk about is the negatives, but there is a lot of positive here,” he said. “The main thing is I would love to keep the business in Huntington. We’ve got to make it accessible to where they stay, and plus drawing business in.”
Simmons said this could be achieved through tax breaks to new businesses in the area, which would create a “domino effect” in increasing the population.
“I believe that a lot of companies are moving out, and with business moving in, that would also bring in families, and we could make some changes to clean up the area,” he said. “That’s the main goal. We are losing too many people and businesses.”
Simmons said he would love to see business owners and employees in the city thriving and making more money — in turn, this would result in financial security in other facets of government and services.
“I’ve worked for the same company for 41 years, and the company first started on 1st Street. We moved to 10th Street, and the difference in the area started changing for the worst,” he said. “Then we moved up to 1st Avenue, and you drive through Huntington, and I can see the changes. It seems like nothing is being done to stop that. That’s why I’m doing this. I think I could make Huntington better than what it is.”