Four candidates - including the incumbent - are vying in Tuesday's primary election to become the mayor of Covington, a city, which, with about 41,000 residents, is by far the largest of Northern Kentucky's cities.
The top two finishers in Tuesday's primary will face off in the November election for a two-year term as mayor. The mayor with four elected city commissioners set the city's agenda and direction.
Two of the candidates are familiar names to most Covington residents – incumbent mayor Sherry Carran, running for a second term; and former state legislator Joseph U. Meyer, a former secretary of Kentucky's Education and Workforce Development Cabinet under former governor Steve Beshear.
Meyer and Carran are the overwhelming favorites to move on to the November general election.
The two other candidates are far less known and are making their first bids for public office – Matthew T. Winkler, a 27-year-old pizza delivery worker who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan as a Marine; and Alfonse J. Mele II, the senior wine consultant at Dep's Fine Wines.
Who are the candidates for Covington mayor?
Carran and her husband Bob came to Covington in 1990 and live in Covington's Botany Hills neighborhood, in a home she designed using her background in architecture.
She and her husband were involved in the restoration of a number of historic properties in the city before she first became a city commissioner in 2007, serving three two-year terms before she was elected Covington's first woman mayor in 2013.
Her campaign website is www.sherrycarran.com.
Alfonse J. Mele II
Mele is a first-time candidate for public office. He moved to Covington 20 years ago; and lives in the downtown area. He was general manager of a restaurant in Covington that is now closed. Now, he works as the senior wine consultant at Dep's Fine Wines, which has stores in Covington and Ft. Thomas.
He has no campaign website.
Joseph U. Meyer
Meyer is a long-time political figure in Northern Kentucky and a fourth generation Covington resident.
From 1982 to 1988, he was a Kentucky state representative and served in the Kentucky Senate from 1989 to 1996. In 2009, he was appointed by then-governor Steve Beshear to be secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.
His campaign website is www.meyerforcovington.com.
Matthew T. Winkler
A Covington native and graduate of Holmes High School, Winkler is the youngest candidate in the race at age 27. He works as a pizza delivery driver, but he served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and was deployed to Afghanistan twice. This is his first run for public office.
Winkler has no campaign website.
On Monday, May 9, a myriad of issues important to Covington residents came up at a mayoral candidates' forum at the Madison Avenue Christian Church, where about 100 people gathered to hear the candidates speak. The following are some of the issues addressed at the event.
Heroin and opiate addiction:
It is obviously a growing problem not just in Covington, but throughout the region.
Communities in Northern Kentucky need to continue working together to fight the epidemic, Carran said.
"I have been serving on the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response team for the past two years,'' Carran said. "One thing that most people understand now is that there is less of a stigma to this because we know now that it impacts people in all income levels. That has helped get more state dollars to combat the problem."
Carran supported legislation in March passed by a majority of the city commission approving a needle exchange program. It requires approval by three other municipalities in Northern Kentucky.
Meyer doesn't support needle exchanges established permanently in Covington neighborhoods, but he is not against mobile needle exchanges.
"This is a huge problem,'' Meyer said."Covington's response has to be driven by collaboration with other police departments and the other communities in Northern Kentucky to address this."
Mele called himself a "firm believer in needle exchange." But more needs to be done, he said.
"You have to go to these doctors, these pain clinics and get them to quit prescribing pain-killers like Oxycontin,'' Mele told WVXU. "That's at the root of the problem."
Winkler said on-going education is needed – not just at the grade school level with the police DARE program, but throughout high school.
"You have to make young people see this is not just a fear tactic, that there are very real consequences to their actions when it comes to drugs,'' Winkler said.
Is Covington a welcoming place for minorities, including the LGBT community and Latinos?
Carran said Covington has become known in recent years as "a place where all are welcome" In 2015, she said the city adopted a "Diversity Statement" which says that the city is dedicated to a diverse population and economic opportunities for all.
Meyer said the city is, indeed, a welcoming place, but said "we should be doing better. There should be more African-Americans in leadership roles"
The Latino community in Covington is "growing by leaps and bounds." The city and Covington schools, he said, "should be helping them achieve the American dream."
Winkler said a network of city-wide block parties in all city neighborhoods that used to happen in Covington should be brought back to help promote diversity.
"It was a great way to bring diverse groups of people together in a fun way,'' Winkler said.
Mele said that since he has come to Covington he has always been impressed by the diversity of the city, particularly in recent years.
Dealing with homelessness and pockets of poverty in Covington:
Mele said "we need to be doing everything we can to feed the homeless. I volunteer myself at meals for homeless people. I think we take care of the homeless here. But it is a problem in every city in the country."
Meyer said the concentration of poverty in certain Covington neighborhoods – particularly those south of 12th Streets – has to be addressed.
"I would develop a fact-based approach and a task force to determine what the city's responsibility is in these issues," Meyer said.
Winkler said "the long-term solution is not to give people hand-outs, but to create opportunities for them to improve their lives and lift themselves out of poverty."
Carran said far too many people in Covington are living in poverty.
"What they need is help in learning how to lift themselves up,'' Carran said.
Housing vouchers have been increased for homeless veterans in Covington, she said.
The city's role in improving city schools:
The Kentucky Department of Education has ranked the Covington Independent Schools 170th out of 173 in the state.
It became a contentious issue between Carran and Meyer at the Madison Avenue Christian Church debate.
"You can't have a great city without great schools,'' Meyer said. "For 40 years now, the city of Covington has chosen to sit back and point a finger at the school district."
Meyer said he would start a "mayor's office of early education" to help ready young children for entering the school system. He said he would also increase extracurricular and recreational activities for children.
Carran bristled at Meyer's suggestion that the city was just laying the blame on the school system.
"I take issue with the idea that we are just pointing a finger at the schools,'' Carran said. "We have excellent relations with the public school system. How do you think it makes these kids feel when they are told their schools are no good?"
The city, Carran said, has played a vital role in providing money for summer school programs.
Winkler said that schools have "changed from being places where students learn to places where students learn to take tests."
In the end, though, Winkler said, "it is parents who are not taking responsibility for their children's educations."
A sense of community; and a long term vision for Covington:
Mele said he believes the city does have a sense of community, and senses a city-wide belief in volunteerism. But he believes much more should be done to develop the city's riverfront – both on the Ohio River and the Licking River.
A kayaker, he said he would like to see liveries on the riverfront.
"Every city should have a mayor who kayaks,'' Mele said.
The rivers, Mele said, "are our untapped gold mines. All we have to do is build it and they will come."
Winkler said he is personally proud to be a Covington resident and native.
"Spending two tours of duty in Afghanistan makes you appreciate Covington,'' Winkler said. "And my family has been here for over 100 years.
"If some don't feel pride I the city where they live, they need to go out and help fix it,'' Winkler said. "Get your hands dirty."
Covington, Winkler said, "should not just be looked at as the place across the river from Cincinnati that people go through to get to football and baseball games or pass through on their way to Newport on the Levee."
Carran said she has "enormous" pride in the city and believes that she has helped make it better, by doing things like bringing a farmer's market to Covington and working on urban forestry, one of her special interests.
The city has made great progress in recent years, Carran said, "but I would like to see that progress go further south into Latonia and South Covington. It still bothers me to see all the blighted properties in these areas."
Meyer said that what he wants for Covington "is for this city to be a vibrant urban environment that is true to its roots."
"I want to see a city where basic services are delivered quietly and efficiently and in a fiscally sound manner,'' Meyer said.