Steve Patterson

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson speaking during the event in the Athens City Council chambers in 2018. Photo by Kayla Beard.

After weeks of consideration, Athens’ Democratic Mayor Steve Patterson decided not to run for Congress in the upcoming special election, citing uncertainty in the future Ohio’s solidly Republican 15th district after redistricting and reapportionment.

He reached the decision following many conversations with Ohio politicos, people considering campaigns for the seat, and past 15th district candidates — including Rick Neal and Joel Newby, both Democrats who lost their respective 2018 and 2020 races by fairly wide margins against outgoing Republican Rep. Steve Stivers, who's stepping down May 16 for a top lobbying job.

“It was an honor to really take a deep dive and consider it strongly,” Patterson, who’s served as Athens’ mayor since 2016, said in an interview. “That’s not to say I wouldn’t consider running in the future sometime for a higher office, but it’s just not in the cards this time around.”

Patterson was hesitant to initiate a campaign with Ohio slated to lose one congressional seat as a result of a decline in population, and the precariousness of what the 15th district might look like in 2022 after its lines are redrawn, especially considering the district’s representative could be left out when all is finalized.

Another dimension of his decision not to run was his ambition to capitalize on the incoming nearly $5 million in federal stimulus for Athens.

“That’s an opportunity that almost never comes and to be able to effectively put that money where there’s the greatest need here in the City of Athens was something that played into my decision making,” Patterson said.

He also took into consideration his twin children, knowing the campaign trail would have forced him to often be away from home.

Patterson, an Air Force veteran, said he would have campaigned on infrastructure, broadband expansion, affordable housing and aiding veterans in an effort to attract support among a reliably Republican constituency.

He said his connections with people involved in several statewide organizations could have bolstered a potential campaign, one where he would have been an underdog. A Democrat hasn’t won the district since 2008.

Patterson spoke highly of a meeting he had with Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington), another Democrat who’s strongly considering a run for the seat, in Athens at Donkey Coffee while pondering his decision.

“That (meeting) really didn’t have anything to do with my decision making. It was good to be able to sit down with her, though, and understand what her background was … It was equally good for her to understand from my point of view what the real needs are in the southern end of the district,” he said.

Another Democrat considering initiating a campaign, according to The Columbus Dispatch, is state Sen. Tina Maharath (D-Canal Winchester), an Ohio University graduate.

Five Republicans have launched campaigns for the seat, including state Sens. Bob Peterson (R-Washington Court House) and Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard); state Reps. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) and Jeff LaRe (R-Violet Township); and Fairfield County Commissioner Jeff Fix.

Gov. Mike DeWine set May 17 as the filing deadline for partisan candidates to be placed on the ballot.

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