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While many county offices will effectively be decided on May 20, the election fun will just be beginning for those running for elected offices in La Grange.
Thanks to a 20-person council primary and a 3-person mayoral primary, candidates for council and mayor will be whittled down to 16 and 2, respectively, this primary election day.
In the mayor’s race, three familiar names will square off for a chance to make it to the general election in November. Longtime Councilman Joe Davenport, former mayor Elsie Carter and resident Brian Oerther are competing to be the next mayor.
Current Mayor Bill Lammlein, who is fulfilling a promise to serve just one term as mayor, will join seven of the eight current councilmembers in hopes to make the cut to 16 for the general election.
All three mayoral candidates said they are happy with the campaign so far, relying mostly on face-to-face campaigning. And all three have the city’s financial situation at the top of their priority list, if elected.
“My big pitch is to make sure the city is financially stable,” Davenport said. “I’m going to watch the budget and if we do what they said we will without the compensation tax, I’ll make sure it comes off.”
Davenport said safety and making sure La Grange “is a good place to live” are his other priorities. He added his 19 years on the city council as well as his reputation, should help propel him into the general election.
“Everybody knows ‘Joe the Butcher,’ ” Davenport, who spent his career working at Kroger, said. “They know I’m honest and trustworthy.”
Oerther, a teacher, previously ran for mayor in 2010, before switching to a candidacy for Congress. His goal is to pay off the debt from Oldham Reserve as soon as possible to end the occupational tax.
“We’re getting pinched with high taxes already,” he said.
Oerther said he’s called other cities of comparable size to La Grange which have also incurred a junk bond rating to brainstorm solutions. His main goal would be to expand tourism, especially in the Oldham Reserve.
“It will help with employment and give La Grange and Oldham County residents something to do as well,” he said.
He said the current mayor and council, as well as previous ones, have been directionless with the project.
“I don’t think there is any clear cut direction on what they want to do with the current leadership or under Elsie’s leadership,” Oerther said. “We’re not even using the money from the occupational tax to pay down the debt yet.”
Oerther, the least known of the three candidates, said he’s not sure whether he will survive the primary to make the general election. Oerther said he has a “50-50 shot” with many people telling him that he’ll advance with Davenport or advance with Carter.
For Carter, who lost to Lammlein in 2010, a return to the mayor’s office would be a return to sound financial footing, she said.
“I’m going to try and eliminate the occupational tax,” Carter said. “And we’re gonna do that by reducing our financial burden.”
Carter said she has been in talks with a developer who is interested in putting residential, retail and more into the Oldham Reserve property. Such an investment would negate the need for the occupational tax, she said. Another goal would be convincing Moody’s to remove the city from junk bond status.
“So I’m already focused on that,” Carter said. “And I’m going to work on that whether I’m mayor or not.”
Carter said she wanted voters to know accusations from the city about her stealing equipment after leaving office in 2010 were untrue. And she said the current mayor, Lammlein, had to apologize for not having a transitional meeting with her when she asked for one.
“I left the city in good condition,” she said. “And I have the energy, experience and interest to do this job.”
Other priorities for Carter include safety, traffic alleviation and Oldham Reserve.
“I’m counting on people knowing who I am, what I’ve done,” she said. “It’s not name recognition, it’s what I’ve done. I want to be there.”
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