Politics

Write-in Mayor Winner in East Liverpool Begins Transition

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — Write-in mayoral candidate Greg Bricker was, to say the least, skeptical when his learned from incumbent Mayor Ryan Stovall that he had won the race in last week’s general election.

Monitoring incomplete results on the Columbiana County Board of Elections website, Bricker answered his phone to find Stovall on the other end, conceding the election and congratulating him.

“I was still skeptical,” Bricker laughs., “It was, like, ‘I wanna believe you, but … ‘ ”  his bright blue eyes twinkling as he smiles at Stovall during a joint interview at City Hall.

Stovall knew he had lost before the elections board released results because he and his supporters were checking precinct tallies at polling places throughout the city.

“Greg out-worked me and [the third candidate] Brian [Kerr] both. It wasn’t surprising that he won. I expected to do better than I did, but when you lose where you grew up … getting 40 votes there and in third place, that trend continues [across other precincts],” Stovall says.

Stovall was referring to the Klondike neighborhood in which he grew up, where residents have been battling the city over the closure of a railroad bridge that has left them, albeit temporarily, with just one ingress and egress to their homes.

“What killed me there was that bridge,” Stovall admits.

Ultimately, Bricker took the seat with an unprecedented write-in total of 43.6% of the vote, with Kerr taking 36.47% and Stovall, 19.92%.

Write-in candidates winning in contested races would appear to be relatively rare in the county, according to Kim Fusco, elections board director, who said that, in recent memory, she can recall only former state Sen. Charlie Wilson winning locally in such a race.

In fact, Fusco admits being “amazed” when she saw the number of people writing in Bricker’s name and says she called the Ohio secretary of state Tuesday night when it appeared the write-in candidate was “getting a lot of votes” in the East Liverpool race.

Fusco was advised by the state when a write-in candidate receives an equal or greater number of votes than a candidate on the ballot, every vote for the write-in candidate must be counted by hand.

“We stayed that night and hand-counted 917 ballots,” Fusco reports.

A “minimal” number of the write-in ballots were found to be invalid, she notes “We’ll take any deviation of the candidate’s name as long as there’s no one with the same name on the ballot.”

She recalled a “Nick Bricker” that was disqualified and says, “Obviously, if someone put ‘Jimmy Buffett,’ it was disqualified,” but most wrote some form of Bricker’s actual name.

“People were serious and focused. They knew what they wanted,” Fusco says of the write-in voters.

Now that the election is over, Stovall and Bricker say they are working together for a smooth.

When asked to list his major accomplishments, Stovall begins with the on-going renovation of the former Ferro Corp. building in the city’s East End by FRXHealth and conversion into a medical marijuana cultivation and processing company.

“That place has been shuttered for at least 20 years. [The medical marijuana industry] has to go somewhere, and we need the jobs here,” he says of the business, which operates a dispensary in the city.

Secondly, he points to the LED highway lighting project along the state Route 39 corridor. It is important not only for safety but also aesthetics, bringing hope to residents that something they have wanted is getting done.

Lastly, the reported increase in population of 22 new residents – the first increase in 67 years is considered by Stovall as a major accomplishment, with the city the only local community showing any increase. This, he says, could be attributed to the gas and oil industry bringing people to the city. 

One of Mayor-elect Bricker’s primary initiatives has already started, as he calls businesses to ask, “What will it take to get you down here?”

Bricker says he wants to complete an inventory of every empty building, identifying each owner, why it is empty, its square footage and what the structure needs to accommodate a business.

“One of our challenges is, there is nothing turnkey down here. I was fortunate, when I went out on my own, I only had to paint and put wall up,” says Bricker, who operates a financial planning business on Market Street. 

While both agreed negative campaigning most likely steered the course for Tuesday’s election, outgoing East Liverpool Mayor Ryan Stovall (left) and incoming Mayor Greg Bricker agreed they want a cooperative and smooth transition between their administrations.

He points out the city was meant for 30,000 to 40,000 people and ponders, “Can we sustain these buildings? I can count 15 empty buildings around the Diamond. I get calls every day from people to do their payroll and bookkeeping and I’m a financial planner. There is a serious need for a CPA who does bookkeeping and payroll. What could work down here (in the downtown)?”

Bricker describes the “vicious cycle” in the city. “The housing is a mess. Why? Because there are no jobs. Why are there no jobs? If we can get one business at a time to come down here, it creates a snowball effect.”

Outgoing Mayor Stovall points out city council has been discussing legislation that would require owners of commercial buildings to take care of those structures.

To assist with his mayoral office duties, Bricker plans on retaining current administrative assistant Robin Torkorchek, who has served three previous mayors.

He will, however, be replacing Service-Safety Director Brian Allen but has not made that choice. “I have a couple of people in mind but have kept it quiet because they currently have jobs. It’s an important role so I have to do a serious vetting process to make sure I get the right person.”

Allen and Stovall have set a meeting with Bricker to go over pending issues and projects.

According to Allen, in addition to the normal everyday issues, Bricker will be updated on upcoming union contract negotiations with the police department, renewal of employee health insurance, which includes a cost increase, a pending lawsuit filed by the city over damage to the water intake pier in the Ohio River, and a possible 15% water rate hike to cover cost of deteriorated water lines. Other projects include the Elizabeth Street Bridge replacement, Fourth Street brick resurfacing project and waterline replacement, an extensive upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant to satisfy the EPA, paving Route 39, purchase of equipment for the fledgling storm water management program and the pending traffic camera legal battle, which was on the ballot Nov. 5.

While voters were able to cast their ballots for or against the traffic cameras, Judge Scott Washam ruled the votes could not be counted until after he rules whether petitions to place the issue before voters were filed correctly by a citizens group. Attorneys have until Nov. 25 to file arguments.

Asked if he has any advice for the incoming mayor, Stovall laughs. “Hopefully, his term starts better than mine. I had three landslides in the first four months.”

He advises Bricker, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help, because you’re never ready for everything.”

Bricker says he appreciates that Stovall and Allen are working to create a smooth transition, which shows they want what’s best for the city. “They could easily just leave the key under the mat.”

In turn, Stovall says he has every confidence the new mayor will get the job done. “He’s very smart. It’s just a learning curve. If I hadn’t been running, he would have had four votes from my house.”

Pictured above: East Liverpool Mayor Ryan Stovall (seated, right), his Service-Safety Director Brian Allen (standing) and mayor-elect Greg Bricker met briefly to plan a meeting to review pending projects and issues before Bricker takes office Jan. 1.

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.