Note: This story appears in the Thursday, March 7 newspaper on Page A1.
It has been eight years since the last contested mayoral race in Athens.
That may change this November, as local food truck entrepreneur Damon Krane is aiming to ensure there is a contested race this November. He announced plans this week to run for mayor as an independent.
Krane is the owner of the Hot Potato Food Truck and serves as president of the Athens Vending Association. He is also a member of the Athens Tenant Union and a founding member of the Southeast Ohio chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
He has been an Athens resident since 2016, having also previously lived in town from 1999 to 2009.
Krane hopes to run against incumbent mayor Steve Patterson, who has filed to run for re-election as a Democrat. Krane is still gathering petition signatures and has not yet filed to run for the seat. The filing deadline for independent candidates is May 6 at 4 p.m. (the day before the primary election).
Krane said the lack of contested races in town spurred him to seek public office. This will be his first experience in campaigning for office, he said. He described having decades of experience with grassroots organizing.
Although he’s planning to run as an independent, Krane said he is “typically a Democrat voter.”
“My decision to run as an independent in Athens is very pragmatic,” he said, adding that he hopes his candidacy will challenge the status quo of uncontested races.
“The current members of Council have won a total of 45 primary and general election bids,” Krane said. “But only 15 have faced challengers. So two-thirds of the time, peoples’ votes didn’t matter.”
Krane noted that competitive elections have often taken place through the primary ballot, with Democrats campaigning against one another.
“So, the only way to really have competitive general elections in November is for people who are to the left of the mainstream of our Democrats to run as independents,” he said.
He said his aim is to make local government “more accountable.”
“Republicans can only win if they run, and like most years, none are running in Athens this year,” Krane said. “It gives us this wonderful opportunity that most Americans don’t have: Since Athens has made this decisive decision, we are free to make the choice between establishment Democrats, like Steve Patterson, and left-of-center Democrats.”
Krane said that the timing of the May primary election leads to many students and city residents not being in town to vote. Being on the November ballot instead, he said, will lead to an increased voter turnout for the mayoral race and increase the voter base to beyond Democratic party lines.
In terms of his campaign platform, Krane highlighted the current state of rental housing in Athens. He noted that a majority of Athens residents live in rental housing, “yet every officeholder is a home owner, and at least two members of Council and the municipal court judge are landlords.”
Krane said he has rented from more than a dozen different locations in Athens and described taking landlords to court over issues he’s had as a renter. He called the current state of Athens renting a “paradise for predatory slumlords.”
Krane said there is a need to improve the city’s code enforcement office, citing experiences living in rental units he called poorly maintained, over-priced and “often downright dangerous.” He made note of the Carriage Hill apartment complex fire from 2017, which has recently become the subject of a lawsuit.
As reported by The Messenger, the lawsuit states the fire stemmed from an apartment that had been recently inspected by the Athens Code Enforcement Office. The lawsuit includes a notice of violation from the office with an order to repair, replace or install smoke detectors in the apartment where the fire originated. The apartment had been scheduled for re-inspection the day after the fire took place, the lawsuit claims.
Krane said the city should allocate more resources to the code office to hire more inspectors. He also said the city should work to improve environmental sustainability of rental units by adding insulation and weatherizing units — a move that he said would help both the environment and tenants alike.
The last contested Athens mayoral race was in 2011, when Paul Wiehl defeated Republican challenger Randy Morris.