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Is Connelly Political Enough to Get Re-Elected?

01.28.10 06:15 PM – Andy McDonald
The other day a friend offered his assessment of Mayor Steve Connelly’s State of the City address.

In his view, Connelly had come off as being strangely anti-industrial, seemingly reluctant to do the necessary heavy lifting to bring new manufacturing jobs to Berea.

I reminded my friend that Connelly and past city councils have actually laid a considerable amount of groundwork when it came to bringing jobs to Berea.

During Connelly’s tenure, the city has been very proactive in securing additional land for the industrial park, purchasing the Moore Farm, and under the Connelly administration, the city has built vital infrastructure, including additional roads, sewer lines, and sidewalks.

Steve Connelly also hired a full time commercial/industrial recruiter, and despite a dour economy, Tom McCay is still fielding inquiries and giving tours to prospective manufacturers and employers.

After I described just a few measures Connelly had taken to attract jobs, the guy’s reaction was interesting: “Why isn’t this being communicated to people?”

Why indeed. Doesn’t Mayor Connelly want to serve another term? Is it perhaps because he is at the point that he’s satisfied with his work and is ready to hand it over to someone else?

Mayor Connelly hasn’t said one way or another if he’ll run for reelection. In fact, he doesn’t have to file until August. But I think my friend’s question reveals an interesting irony about Connelly’s style.

Connelly is, by definition, a political figure, but he really isn’t a political animal in the same way that characterizes other public leaders.

I missed Mayor Connelly’s State of the City address, but I understand it was a stark contrast to the annual speech given by County Judge Executive Kent Clark. Clark’s message was: “Here’s what I’m doing for you.” Connelly’s message was: “Here’s what we need to be looking out for.” Clark’s tone was somewhat political; Connelly’s was more managerial.

That same sensibility has also been reflected in the way Connelly campaigns. He won’t buy political advertising. You don’t see signs bearing his name at election time. He probably figures if he’s done a good enough job, people are going to know about it and they’ll vote for him.

To many people, that’s probably refreshing, and perhaps comforting in a small town sort of way. But I wonder if that will work in 2010, particularly in a time when Berea is growing, and when more unfamiliar faces are going to be showing up at the polls.

Connelly’s emphasis on the managerial instead of the political is probably what prompted the mayor and the Berea City Council to bite the bullet and raise taxes out of fear that the city’s revenue base wasn’t diversified enough. Less than 18 months later, the economy took a nose dive. A mayor operating out of purely political motives would never have abided a plan to raise taxes. But then again, Connelly wasn’t up for reelection in 2008. Denise Hagen, Chester Powell, Truman Fields and Howard Baker were. As it happened, they’re the ones who ended up taking the bullets.

That’s why the 2010 mayoral race is especially interesting. If he runs again, it will be the first time Connelly faces the voters since the implementation of the tax hikes.

The question, then, is whether the apolitical, small town approach to campaigning can work again in the next mayoral race.

Mind you, Berea residents are living in a city that is solvent and, unlike cash strapped cities around the Commonwealth, is actually adding services when you consider the coming addition of the skate park. Many cities aren’t so lucky.

I was at a city commission meeting up in Richmond when somebody asked what would happen if Richmond ended the fiscal year with a deficit. Remarkably, one city commissioner nonchalantly replied that Richmond would be just like scores of other Kentucky cities that had budget shortfalls. The attitude seemed to be, “Everybody’s screwed up. Why should we be so upset if we’re screwed up too?”

Not in Berea. And for that reason, Berea is exceptional. But voters have to be reminded again and again of what they’ve got. In other words, as uncomfortable as it might be, sometimes the mayor has to blow the city’s horn and his own. The filing deadline may be in August, but the political season has already started.

Connelly has been a manager, but can he be enough of a politician to get reelected in 2010? Stay tuned.


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