As of next January, Gambier will be getting a new mayor. Mayor Kachen Kimmell, who was elected in November 2015, announced that she would not run for a second term in November.
“I didn’t want to run a campaign knowing in my heart that I didn’t really feel like I was committed to four years,” Kimmell said.
Following encouragement from Kimmell, village council member Leeman Kessler ’04 has set his sights on becoming the next mayor. On Aug. 27, Kessler posted a picture of him and his son in front of the Gambier Post Office. He captioned the photo, “This mayoral run is officially on, y’all.”
Four years ago, Kimmell beat out council members Liz Forman ’73 and Betsy Heer to become mayor, but she said that it’s unusual to have a contested election in a town like Gambier. For the second time in his political career, Leeman Kessler will run unopposed for an elected position.
“After 2016 I think a lot of folks realized that democracy and politics are not a spectator sport, and you need to if you can get involved on all levels, especially locally,” Kessler said. “And so, I sort of took the plunge and jumped in.”
Kessler moved to Gambier with his wife, College Chaplain Rachel Kessler ’04, in 2015, and soon became involved in local politics. In early 2017, Kimmell recruited him to join the Planning and Zoning Commission, and he was elected to Village Council in the fall of 2017. Kessler is currently part of the Village’s finance committee, and he was involved in the search for Village administrator R.C. Wise. He is also a part of Strategic Plan committee, the group looking to redefine Gambier’s future.
Kessler said he and Kimmell had been talking for some time about her successor, and that she had been essentially preparing him for the position from the start. In fact, Kimmell has long been focused on grooming a new generation of local leaders. The end of her term, she says, coincides with a greater shift in Gambier’s political landscape as the old guard is replaced with a new generation of incoming Gambier residents.
“It’s time for new voices,” Kimmell said. “People who have been here a very long time have a very different idea about how closed we should be, and [they’re] not very much [in favor of] development. I think young people, new people in town, have a super different idea about it. They might want a couple more businesses, or they might want an increase in housing density somewhere so more people could live here—a number of things that previous residents have been against.”
Along with Kessler’s seat, which will open when he is appointed mayor in January, two other council seats are up for grabs. Kimmell said that three candidates are currently in the running, and that whoever receives the fewest votes will likely take Kessler’s seat in January. (This is made possible by a strange statute in Ohio law that allows anyone to put themselves forward to be on the Council on the day that a new seat appears.)
Kimmell plans to stay in Gambier with her husband, Associate Vice President for Planned Giving Kyle Henderson ’80, but she made it clear that she will not run for Council again. She described the position of Mayor of Gambier as the best job she’s ever had, and expressed gratitude for all that the role has taught her, namely the surprising power of local government at affecting change.
For his part, Kessler is eager to take on the challenges of leading the Village.
“Every little extra thing I do on [the] council or as part of the community teaches me so much about how the Village works, how the county works, how the state works,” Kessler said. “And I’m really and excited (and only moderately terrified) at the lessons that await me in January.”