Two independent candidates announced campaigns for city offices in the last week, including the first person to challenge Athens Mayor Steve Patterson in this election cycle.
Chris Monday, 40, is running for an at-large City Council seat, and Damon Krane, 39, is running for mayor. Both are first-time candidates, and both are still circulating petitions. They, and other independents, have until May 6, to file with the Athens County Board of Elections.
Krane is originally from southwestern Pensylvania and has lived in Athens for around 13 years. He and his wife own Hot Potato Food Truck, and last year he founded the Athens Mobile Vending Association. Krane has been involved politically at Ohio University and in Athens, and describes himself as a Democratic socialist.
Krane said Tuesday that he’s been considering running for mayor for about two years, and decided that now is the time. In a Facebook post that he published on Monday, Krane explained that he is running as an independent in order to challenge Patterson in the general election, rather than the primary, with the hope of allowing more people, particularly Ohio University students, the opportunity to vote.
“(W)ith no other major party to challenge Democratic candidates in the November general elections, most Athens city races are decided in the May primaries,” Krane stated in the post. “Problem is, the May primaries happen after the majority of city residents leave town for the summer. So in the city elections that matter most, our most populous voting precincts have our lowest voter turnout – sometimes literally zero turnout.”
Krane added that Mayor Patterson has never been challenged, and that current City Council members have run unopposed 32 times.
“When it comes to council, our votes have not mattered more than two-thirds of the time. When it comes to mayor, our votes have never mattered,” Krane said Tuesday. “The consequence is that OU students have no voice in local government,” he added, noting that low-income families and renters are also left without representation.
Until recently, Krane said his “primary focus” has been grassroots community organizing, which he’s done a lot of in the last 20 years, “as opposed to being some kind of career politician.” Now, he said he’s begun to see how electoral politics can work hand-in-hand with grassroots organizing.
Krane argued that now is a better time than ever for more progressive candidates, noting that most millenials identify as socialists, and politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have gained popularity.
“The current climate is much more conducive to progressive candidates,” Krane said.
“The centerpiece of my campaign is something I call ‘operation slumlord smackdown,’” Krane said, explaining that 72 percent of local residents are renters, yet 100 percent of elected city officials are homeowners. Two of those officials, he added, (one member of council and a Municipal Court judge) are landlords themselves. He argued that city administrators have not allocated the necessary resources for Code Enforcement to effectively enforce the city’s housing code.
“I would describe Athens as an absolute paradise for predatory slumlords,” Krane said.
City Council members, he argued, are “extremely reluctant to punish slumlords… (yet are) happy to take your money” in the form of parking meter and other fees.
“Our Democratic officials have created a system of regressive taxation that takes from the poor and gives to the rich,” Krane said, adding that Mayor Patterson “never once during his years on council or during his four years as mayor has he mentioned predatory slumlords.”
Krane said he is a renter himself, and has worked “a wide array” of service-industry jobs.
“I think I’m a very different type of candidate for city office than we’ve seen in Athens,” Krane said, adding that since announcing his campaign on Monday he’s received nearly non-stop feedback, mostly positive. “... I think there really is a demand for change.”
Patterson already has confirmed his plans to run for re-election, and has filed with the Board of Elections.
In a brief interview Wednesday, Patterson responded to Krane’s assertions, saying that of the 1,979 registered rental permits in Athens, Code Enforcement officers performed a total of 5,625 inspections last year.
“That’s with five, six if you count (Code Enforcement Director) Rick Sirois, code enforcement officers,” Patterson said. “…When I took office in 2016 and hired Rick Sirois (that same year)… one of the things that I really pressed him to do is ensure safe conditions in these rental homes.” Code officers check for things like working smoke detectors and other code violations, Patterson said.
In 2015, before he took office, Patterson said only 4,155 housing inspections were completed, “so they’ve really increased the number of inspections since he (Sirois) took on (the role).”
Additionally, Patterson said the Athens Metropolitan Housing Authority “provides housing for those with the greatest need of housing,” whether through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development or Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing. “They are the ones who manage and administer housing to… mostly low-income individuals, veterans, those in need,” Patterson said. Plus, he said, the newly formed Affordable Housing Commission was also established during his term as mayor. “There is a lot going on… in the world of housing in the city,” he said.
The mayor noted that his job as mayor is not to create legislation in regards to housing or other matters; that’s the responsibility of the legislative branch, City Council.
“The mayor, on the other hand, is the one who is basically responsible for enforcing the laws,” Patterson said.
RUNNING FOR AN AT-LARGE City Council seat, Chris Monday is from Wapakoneta, Ohio, and has lived in Athens for 20 years. He said Tuesday that running for office is something he’s thought about before.
“I had kind of higher ambitions at first,” he said, explaining that he dislikes U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington, and had considered running against him. “But I’m a nobody, and I have no real experience other than my own paying attention and research,” Monday said. “…I began to think about the idea of starting at a lower level.”
Two experiences really pushed him to run, he said. The first was his experience with bed bugs.
“We decided to deal with them ourselves because it’s pretty expensive,” Monday said. “…I think that there should be public help for this because it is a community problem, from the rich to the poor. It’s just the people with money can take care of it faster.”
He wrote a letter to the editor to The Athens NEWS, which received positive feedback, and had someone recommend that he run for Council. Then one day, after picking his kids up from school, Monday said, “my two youngest were playing in the leaves with a bunch of other kids, just having the time of their life… and as we were walking away, I noticed my son was covered in dog poop, and I was furious.”
That was the tipping point that drove him to run for office.
“I’m going to actually try to do something about it instead of yelling into the atmosphere and hoping somebody else does,” he said.
Monday said he’s running as an independent because he’s never identified closely with either Democrats or Republicans. He added that he believes the entrenched parties create more division.
“There’s a lot of diversity (in views) but because of the nature of these two things, people want to take sides,” he said, adding that his ideal political system would not involve political parties at all.
“People might judge my views as socialist, as it is the curse word to a lot of people, but I’m not,” Monday said. “…I think that hard work should be rewarded, I just think that the playing field is unbalanced.”
Monday is also a renter, and has worked in the service industry for years. Some of his main focuses involve fighting for a higher minimum wage, pressuring corporations to give back to the community, and representing renters and service workers.
“I (also) want to get people to realize they are involved (in politics) whether they want to be or not,” Monday said. “…You’re paying taxes, you’re driving on the streets… you’re a part of it.”
Monday also hosts an open stage every Monday evening (of course) at the West End Cider House on West Washington Street.
Monday joins fellow first-time candidate and Athens resident Beth Clodfelter, a Democrat who is also running this year for an at-large council seat.
Also running for council seats, hoping to represent the First Ward, are Athens resident Arian Smedley and recent Ohio University graduate Sam Miller. Both are running as Democrats.
Other city officials who are seeking re-election include City Council President Chris Knisely, Law Director Lisa Eliason, City Auditor Kathy Hecht, and Mayor Steve Patterson. No other partisan candidates filed to run against them.
First Ward City Council representative Kent Butler, a Democrat, and at-large council member Patrick McGee, a non-partisan official, each have confirmed that they do not plan to run for re-election.