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St. Albans primary races heating up

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."

People's Party

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.

Tim Watts is in his first campaign for public office. "I'm running because of the condition of our city - the drugs and the crime, which I believe most people agree go hand in hand. Also, the condition of our city parks, the all-around wasteful spending, and the people who have run this city into the ground for 20 years. No one has any accountability."

Watts said he has been a stay-at-home dad for most of the last 19 years and has spent the last two years caring for family members full time. He is an Army veteran and worked for the phone company in the early 1990s.

Scott Russell owns Scott's Home Repairs. This is his first campaign. "I was asked 25 years ago to run," he said. "I was a lot younger. Now I'm a lot wiser. Owning my own business helped me gain a lot of knowledge."

Russell said he's running "because of the kids - nobody seems to want to do anything for the kids." He wants to establish a mentoring program whereby seniors will work with the community's youth.

"The main thing we have to have in this town is unity," Russell added. "That's what I've said since day one."

St. Albans Council

The Peoples Party did not field any candidates for council. But there are several contests in the Citizens Party's primary.

Four candidates are running for three council-at-large seats. Incumbents John Boles and Jerry Cogar are seeking re-election, but long-time councilwoman Helen Warren isn't running for another term.

Matt Kelly, who made an unsuccessful bid for the state House of Delegates on the Republican ticket earlier this year, said he's running with a goal of "bringing families back to St. Albans.

"I feel like many people are moving because there's nothing being offered the kids," he said. Kelly wants to develop a skate park in Ordnance Park. Also, "I would like a secondary police detachment at Ordnance Park to monitor that area at all times so the kids feel they can play safe and have fun."

In addition, "I'd like to see the Hansford Senior Center have some improvements and more activities, more wellness opportunities."

Candidate John Caudill did not return a phone call.

Jason Philabaum and Lee Roberts are vying to represent Ward 3.

Philabaum, 28, moved to St. Albans five years ago. "I love it here," he said. "I want to represent my neighbors. I've been talking to my neighbors. They want to see more city ordinances enforced so far as maintaining your yard, pulling back trash cans. People like where they live. They want to see it kept up."

Roberts, who was appointed to council in February, said that because the Peoples Party didn't field any candidates for council, "I think we should do away with the primary and just have a general election. I also want to reduce the city's wards from nine to six, to save money. And I'd like to go from three to two council-at-large seats."

A retired Union Carbide Corp. employee and the owner of Tornado Products Co., Roberts added, "My opponent is a very fine young man. I'm thrilled a young man like that wants to get involved in city government because it seems like apathy has become more prevalent.

"To see young people get involved in city government pleases me. I would not want to discourage this young man, no matter what happens in the election. I think he has a good head on his shoulders and I applaud his efforts."

In Ward 9, Garry Pennington and Shelly Ellis are seeking the seat being vacated by Stephen Donelson.

Pennington said, "I've done volunteer work all of my life. I'm retiring June 1, and I wanted to continue working to improve the city, help the youth and hopefully help the senior citizens."

Pennington has been an independent insurance agent for 20 years. He recently sold Group Insurance Services.

Ellis did not return a call seeking comment.

Eva Mayes, whose name appears on the ballot, sought to withdraw but ballots already were printed, said City Recorder Veronica Westfall.

Running unopposed for re-election to council are: Ward 1, Robert Keiffer; Ward 3, Ron Colby; Ward 4, Cheryl Thomas; Ward 5, Dan Cain; Ward 7, Desper Lemon; and Ward 8, Kevin Pennington.

Loretta Griffith is running unopposed for re-election to represent Ward 6. Patricia Withrow, whose name appears on the ballot, sought to withdraw but ballots already were printed, Westfall said.


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