CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Saturday's municipal primary in St. Albans is heating up.
Incumbent Mayor Dick Callaway has a billboard on MacCorkle Avenue. Challenger Pete McCuskey has a half-page advertisement in the newspaper. The winner will be the Citizens Party's mayoral candidate in the city's June 1 general election.
Meanwhile three candidates - Mike Eakle, Tim Watts and Scott Russell - are vying for the Peoples Party's nomination for mayor.
Several council seats also are up for grabs Saturday due in part to the fact that incumbents Helen Warren and Stephen Donelson are not seeking re-election.
The polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday. A list of polling places and other election information is posted on the city's website, www.stalbanswv.com.
Callaway, the incumbent mayor, was elected councilman-at-large in 2006. Following Greg Jones' death after less than a year as mayor, council appointed Callaway to serve the remaining three years of Jones' term. Callaway was elected mayor four years ago and is seeking a second full term.
Callaway said that when he became mayor, St. Albans had always been characterized as a bedroom community.
"I saw the area losing chemical plants and industry, and I saw that we needed to develop a profile to stimulate our own economy," he said. "It was obvious the biggest industry in West Virginia was tourism.
"I put in Main Street programs to bring the heartbeat back to the town, and I got the Alban Arts and Conference Center started to bring people to town that would not normally be there," he said.
"In 2008 we started the Alban Arts Academy. That brings students in from all over. It has grown each year. Right now it offers 15 subject areas in the performing and visual arts.
"That's the beginning of bringing people into town to enjoy the arts," Callaway said. "The other thing is to upgrade the streets - those types of things.
"We're strategically located to bring a great many people into the area," he said. "We not only have two rivers, we have a nearby casino that brings people in, and we're next to major highways. We have all of these elements that need to be pulled together and promoted on a wider basis to bring people in."
Because of these assets plus the development of the Marcellus Shale, "I can see that prosperity could break loose," Callaway said.
"If we're not prepared for that, we will find ourselves playing catch-up. So I would like to work on projects that would prepare us. Instead of looking back and licking our wounds, look forward. I can see the possibility that our future will be much brighter than our past has been."
McCuskey is a semi-retired law-enforcement firearms instructor and construction manager. He takes care of his elderly parents and brother. This is his first bid for public office.
Asked why he's running, McCuskey said, "I volunteered time all of my life to the city. In high school and going through college, I worked for every department in the city. People kept coming to me, wanting me to run for mayor four years ago. I didn't feel comfortable then.
"Now it feels comfortable. I feel I have the heartbeat of the city. The city has fallen into disrepair, and the drug problem we have - every block, somebody knows somebody is selling drugs or making methamphetamine and nothing seems to be getting done about it."
In his newspaper advertisement, McCuskey says, "Senior citizens are afraid. Parents are afraid. Families are afraid to move here. That's no way to live. When we actually face it in the eye and say there is an illegal drug problem here, then, we can start to crawl out of this hole.
"Under the current mayor, the police force does not have discretion to pursue a proactive policing program," McCuskey's ad alleges. "We don't have experienced leadership from the mayor's office. I have decades of experience in law enforcement training and public safety."
The ad goes on to charge that "the current mayor has not been managing basics like repairing sidewalks." The ad concludes, "Good leadership is about building upon the basics. Once we get the basics right, then we can build a future. Together, we can rebuild."
In the People's Party primary for mayor, Mike Eakle (pronounced "Eck-l") said he wants to clean up the city, "make it more welcoming to people who want to move here.
"We've had a lot of drug issues," Eakle said. "We need to work harder on trying to eliminate some of that."
Eakle represented Ward 9 on city council in 1998 but had to resign because of a family issue. He served for 25 years in the Kanawha County school system, first as a teacher and then as a counselor. He is one of the founders of beBetter Health Inc., a company that employed up to 100 people in Charleston before it moved to Atlanta.