Democratic Mayor Richard K. Mavis has led the city of Mount Vernon for nearly two decades, having first taken office in 1996. Earlier this month, he defeated Republican challenger Matt Starr to earn another four-year mayoral term.
What are your plans and priorities for Mount Vernon with your reelection?
On the short term, we have a couple of projects that we would like to see finished, including finishing up the downtown connector bike trails, the Mount Vernon Avenue bridge replacement and getting traffic in and around the city of Mount Vernon. In terms of parks, we have added about 150 acres of park ground with Ariel–Foundation Park, and we have a good relationship with the conservancy to make that park more usable and get promotion for it. We hope to have a variety of activities, not only for the local people, but for people coming in.
How do you feel about the College expanding into Mount Vernon with the Buckeye Candy Building?
Kenyon is going to be a big part of creating the climate I previously mentioned. Sean Decatur has opened some doors that were not fully opened before. He has brought more of a Kenyon presence into a variety of activities in the city, as far as social activities or business activities. I think Kenyon made a very important move — not only have they come into the city, but they’ve recognized a historic building in our community in the central business district. As they put together the future of the program, the employment of [Director of Community Engagement] Jennifer Odenweller, who has a high-profile image within our community, was a good move. I think Sean Decatur gets credit for this. He recognized, if Kenyon’s going to have a bigger and larger presence in the city of Mount Vernon, we’re going to need someone to lead that.
What do you feel are the greatest strengths of the relationship between Mount Vernon and Kenyon? What do you feel are the greatest weaknesses?
Kenyon has always offered opportunities to us on campus. Getting Kenyon to Mount Vernon has not been as recognizable. Having the facility here, I think, will bring more opportunities for us to realize and embrace opportunities that a student presence could bring to the city. One thing that Kenyon does now is they encourage students from their campus to get involved in the local community. Prior to this, years ago, basically kids went to a campus away from home and didn’t get involved in other things besides the social aspects such as restaurants, bars, movies. It’s to our advantage now to look at additional students that will be coming in and discovering Mount Vernon beyond just these things.
What have you done during your time in office that has helped strengthen the relationship between Mount Vernon and Kenyon?
We’ve brought Kenyon in on the development of Ariel–Foundation Park and trying to identify areas where we can have students and faculty working there. We also want students and faculty to work in partnership with the parks department. The other thing that many people don’t realize has been going on is the number of students that come to Mount Vernon to volunteer in various programs and agencies that we have here. Whether it’s the senior citizen program, whether it’s the youth program, Kenyon as well as [Mount Vernon Nazarene University] students have been participating in those programs for a number of years. I don’t think, as a community, we acknowledge and recognize that in a public way. From my perspective, we’ve taken advantage of that benefit without recognizing them publicly.
Going forward, what are the ways you feel like Kenyon students can be more of a support to Mount Vernon?
In a sense, we’re a smaller version of what you might see in larger cities. We have issues with the homeless, we have issues with getting transportation to them, we have issues with getting hot meals. We have a hot meal program through our churches. We have a senior citizen program. We have the youth programs. Kenyon students can have a very positive impact on all of these programs, whether it be youth, seniors, homeless, Interchurch Social Services, Salvation Army. All of those programs are continually looking for people to do a variety of things. In some cases, Kenyon students can just sit down with people and talk with them. In my experience with Kenyon students, many of them have the innate ability to sit down and have good communication even though they’re communicating with people who may have a very different background. Everybody knows where Gambier is. But I think the majority of the population will have an exposure to Kenyon College that they have not previously had. That spells positive activity.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.