MANSFIELD -- Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker asked local Republicans on Tuesday night to elect him to a third term in office -- and to give him a GOP-led City Council.
"We have an opportunity to get our Council in a favorable manner so we can get things done," Theaker said during a Candidates' Night event at The Waterford, sponsored by Richland County Republican Women.
"We have had a lot of obstacles we have tried to get past. The administration has to do a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes. Then we take that work to Council to get things moving forward," Theaker said of the Democrat-controlled local legislature.
"Council has to be the ones that move it forward and keep it going and that's where the problem exists ... because we do have obstacles. We do have problems we need to get through," said Theaker, who on Nov. 5 will try to earn his final, four-year term in office.
Theaker is opposed by Democrat Don Bryant, a current At-Large member of City Council. The two will meet in a public debate on Oct. 17 at the Renaissance Theatre, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
The Republican candidates Theaker endorsed -- Jason Crundwell (2nd Ward), Stephanie Zader (6th Ward), David Falquette (At-Large) and Gerald Strouth (write-in candidate for 4th Ward) -- also spoke during the evening.
Cliff Mears, candidate for City Council president, could not attend, though Richland County Commissioner Marilyn John spoke on his behalf.
Theaker said unemployment in Mansfield is the lowest it's been in a decade and that the crime rate is lower than it was 10 years ago. "That's a big thing because we have constraints on our budget and we try to do as much as we can," he said.
The mayor, who helped lead the city out of state-ordered fiscal emergency, pointed to economic development in the downtown, including a spate of new restaurants and nightspots.
"Look at downtown Mansfield and how it's growing," Theaker said. "There is so much going on downtown and we just want to continue to move forward. What we do as city administrators is to try to remove the obstacles so the downtown can continue to grow."
Theaker also pointed to ongoing efforts to build a dry dam in the city, a project he said would remove 106 acres on the north side of the city from the flood plain and lead to greater development opportunities.
The mayor also pointed to a city-wide water meter replacement program that will more accurately measure usage and increase water revenues, and a new $44,000 police outdoor shooting range, a project that once carried an estimate price tag of $1.67 million.
Theaker praised ideas developed in the Mansfield Rising plan, though he cautioned progress takes time.
"There is an awful lot of money that needs to be raised. But there are an awful lot of good ideas and we are working on those great ideas. I had a boss one time tell me you can't eat an elephant at one sitting ... you can only take one bite at a time.
"That's what we have to do. That's what we are doing. We can't move forward without one bite at a time," Theaker said.
"Seven years ago, my philosophy was I wanted to have a city where people wanted to come, live, work, worship and raise a family. And we have done a lot of that. We have achieved great things in the City of Mansfield. We just need to keep that moving forward," Theaker said.
Crundwell, development director at Mansfield St. Peter's, is making his first run at public office, opposed by first-time Democratic candidate Cheryl Meier.
Crundwell said he has been walking the ward and listening to residents. He said he would focus on code enforcement issues in the city and also recommended the city employ a full-time grant writer, seeking outside funding while also freeing up department heads to focus on managing their areas.
A Realtor who once worked as City Council clerk, Zader is in her first run for office. She is running in the 6th Ward, opposed by Democrat Jean Taddie, who was appointed to Council in January to fill an unexpired term.
Zader said she would focus on working together in the city, saying she had seen ideas opposed and efforts undermined for political reasons. "The people who suffer from that are the residents of Mansfield," she said.
Falquette, who now represents the city's 1st Ward, is running for an At-Large seat. He is opposed by Democrat Phillip Scott, the current Council president. With a background in engineering, business and sales, Falquette said he has worked hard to respond to citizen concerns as a Council member.
He cited the dry dam efforts, as well as the work to extend the bike trail to Trimble Road and ultimately to the downtown. Falquette also praised the Mansfield Rising plan, also citing low unemployment in the city.
Strouth, the station manager for Mansfield Ambulance Service, is in his first run for public office. He is opposed by Democrat Alomar Davenport and a second write-in candidate, Brenda Collins-Vaughn.
A registered Republican, Strouth described himself as a conservative when he filed write-in paperwork in August. Strouth said he believes the 4th Ward, where has lived for 42 years, has "been forgotten" and would like to return its voice to Council.
John said Mears, currently an At-Large Council member, would be an excellent Council president and described him as a "quiet leader" who is a great listener who has represented all six wards well in his At-Large role. Mears is opposed by Democrat Aurelio V. Diaz, making his first run for office.
Lexington incumbent Mayor Eugene Parkison also spoke, though his race against challenger Brian White is non-partisan on the Nov. 5 ballot. Parkison cited business development and job growth in the city, as well as low crime rates and a willingness to cooperate with townships and other cities and villages.
A trio of Republicans who will be on the ballot in 2020 also spoke Tuesday, including John, running for state representative, State Rep. Mark Romanchuk, who is running for state senate, and Richland County Juvenile Court Judge Steve McKinley, who will seek to win the seat to which he was appointed earlier this year.