CHARLESTON, W. Va. – With the primary election in West Virginia just five days away, the race for mayor of West Virginia’s capital includes the incumbent and two candidates who have served a total of zero days in office politics at any level.
Longtime Charleston resident and lawyer Martec Washington challenges current Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin in the Democratic primary while retired small business owner and military Lt. Col. Lance Wolfe runs unopposed on the Republican side.
Goodwin, who announced her re-election bid in January, was elected in November 2018 and was sworn in as Charleston’s first female mayor in January 2019.
The majority of his tenure has been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic that began in March 2020. Goodwin told MetroNews his administration “rolled” before the pandemic shut down the city, the state and the world.
“After the first year, we spent a lot of time reorganizing and revitalizing all of our divisions, all of our departments. Then we had to completely change our focus and focus on the health and safety of our citizens. It was our number one job. Period. End of paragraph,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin has touted the city’s response to the pandemic, becoming the first city in West Virginia to request an emergency declaration because of the virus. Charleston and Kanawha County have been touted as a model for municipalities across the country as the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s vaccination and testing efforts have been featured in several national media stories.
Goodwin said his administration had weathered the pandemic’s two-year challenge as well as it thought.
“When people said to me during the pandemic, ‘you didn’t ask for that,’ I said yes, I did. I asked regardless of the challenges in front of me and Charleston. I didn’t know it was going to be a global pandemic, but we rose to that challenge. We made sure we did everything we knew how to do and did it better,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin added that a second term would give him administration opportunities for “unfinished business,” especially as COVID-19 cases continue to fall to pandemic levels. She said these ongoing projects will continue to use the Charleston Land Reuse Agency to rehabilitate and demolish homes, fill the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center with ongoing events, double the road paving budget, distribute funding for the American rescue for various projects, and build a public safety building.
During his re-election announcement, Goodwin noted improvements to city parks, city parking lots, and 17 new permanent public art installations during his first term. She also noted how her administration increased the Rainy Day fund from $4 million to $18 million.
“There are so many great opportunities that we still have ahead of us. There are so many big plans we have in mind that we want to see happen,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin’s opponent in the primary, Washington, is a familiar face in the city, especially on the West Side because he grew up there and attends many community events. He said his campaign is about branching out into Charleston’s many neighborhoods to meet with citizens.
Washington told MetroNews his advocacy for Charleston began as a child when he helped create a playground on the West Side through the Boys and Girls Club. It continued into his 30s as he said he helped bring a West Virginia Health Right clinic and wellness center to the West Side this year after conversations with Angie Settle, CEO of the organization of health.
He attended dozens of council meetings but never held a seat or political office in his life. Washington said he didn’t believe his lack of political experience because “I’ve served Charleston all my life.”
“Why wouldn’t you want me to be mayor because I’m already here doing it and showing that it comes from the heart,” Washington said. “Why wouldn’t you want a mayor from the heart to take care of your town?” I tell people that I’m ready for any challenge that comes my way because I’m still here in Charleston.
Focusing on the city’s youth is a priority for Washington. He said he wanted to make sure there were enough job opportunities to keep them off the streets.
Washington said his goals as mayor include fully defunding the police department, paying police better pay and holding police accountable for their actions.
“I want the police department to be proactive, not reactive. I want them to be in our community to try to prevent things from happening. I also want the police department to take care of public safety,” he said.
On his campaign website, additional goals for a Washington administration include creating better jobs, improving wages for city workers, expanding economic opportunity, creating a safer city. , cleaner and healthier, reopening the city’s trash bag program, and creating more entertainment for kids and adults. .
“I just want to lead Charleston into the 21st century. I want the place we love and call home to be everything we want it to be,” Washington told MetroNews.
Running unopposed on the Republican side of the ballot, there is another “rookie” politician in Wolfe. Wolfe is a retired small business owner and military lieutenant colonel who believes his life experiences will translate well into an office as mayor.
After high school, Wolfe joined the United States Navy with service in the Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnam in 1971-72. After his naval service, Wolfe attended Virginia Tech to earn a bachelor’s degree. After graduating in 1977 from Virginia Tech, Wolfe returned to Charleston where he worked primarily in the private sector until 1984 when he accepted a full-time position with the West Virginia Air National Guard.
After retiring from the military after more than two decades of service, Wolfe joined his father’s engineering consulting firm and retired in 2016.
Wolfe originally filed for a city council seat in the neighborhood where he lives, but said he wanted to challenge the current mayor’s administration because no one was on the GOP ticket.
He said there were “too many problems” facing the capital.
“We have real issues with public safety, public health and economic development, and bringing businesses back to Charleston. But it’s all about cleaning up the city and solving our homelessness problem,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe said his campaign anchor will be the homelessness issues facing the city. He said he would like to separate the “criminal vagabonds of the city from the citizens who need support”. He said the current administration is not tough enough to deal with the situation.
He added that the city needs to address homelessness issues first, as it hampers economic development. Wolfe said businesses won’t want to move into Charleston until “it’s cleaned up.”
“I’m sick of beggars and people standing at the foot of bridges begging for money and having to walk down the street to get around the tents on the sidewalks. I can’t believe we live in a society that condones this activity and I want to change it if I can,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe, who was born in 1951 and grew up in the East End, spent his childhood living on the hill above Laidley Field. He said he was working to resolve the identity issue with his campaign and put a face to the name.
Wolfe said the summer would be interesting for him but he’s ready to lead Charleston immediately.
“I don’t think we can continue four years like this. We have to make changes and it has to be a tough change,” Wolfe said.
Primary Election Day in West Virginia is May 10. Full coverage is at wvmetronews.com and will air on the MetroNews Radio Network beginning at 7:06 p.m.