Lawrence City Commission race attracts 11 candidates, including four new candidates who file on deadline day

Maybe Lawrence City Hall is the cool place to be in 2013.

Something has interest in City Hall on the rise. A total of 11 candidates — the highest number in years — filed for a seat on the Lawrence City Commission, with four new entrants into the race beating the Tuesday filing deadline.

Filings on Tuesday came from:

• Judy Bellome, the retired chief executive officer of Lawrence’s Visiting Nurses Association.

• Nicholas Marlo, a recent Kansas University graduate who works at the Lawrence office of Boston Financial Data Services.

• William Olson, who according to his paperwork appears to be a manager with the R Bar & Patio in Lawrence.

• Leslie Soden, the owner of a Lawrence pet care business and a former president of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association.

Those candidates join seven others who had entered the race in the prior days or months leading up to Tuesday’s filing deadline. The 11 candidates means there will be a primary election on Feb. 26 to narrow the field to six. Voters will choose three candidates in the April 2 general election.

The field of 11 candidates is the largest in recent memory. Only five candidates filed for seats two years ago. Eight candidates filed in 2009 and nine in 2007. A quick search of Douglas County records show the field is the largest for a City Commission race since 11 filed in 2003.

Other candidates are:

• City Commissioner Mike Amyx, a downtown barber shop owner.

• Rob Chestnut, a former Lawrence city commissioner and a CFO for a Topeka-based publishing company.

• Scott Criqui, a Lawrence human relations commissioner and an executive with a Lawrence-based home health care company.

• Jeremy Farmer, executive director of the Lawrence-based food bank Just Food.

• Reese Hays, chief litigation counsel for the Kansas Board of Healing Arts in Topeka.

• Terry Riordan, a Lawrence physician and former Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioner.

• Michael Rost, an attorney for a Topeka insurance company.

As expected, City Commissioners Aron Cromwell and Hugh Carter did not seek re-election.

As for the new candidates who filed on Tuesday, they bring a host of issues to the race.

Bellome, 67, said she wants to talk about ways the city can improve senior services and make the community more attractive for retirees.

“I certainly feel like I have the background of an expert on senior issues,” said Bellome who served for about seven years as the leader of VNA and had a long career in home health care prior to coming to Lawrence.

Bellome also said her time at VNA would serve her well in dealing with budgeting and managing growth issues. VNA’s budget grew from about $2 million to $6 million during her tenure, and the organization’s overall financial position improved, she said.

“I’m really interested in controlled growth and keeping a budget in check,” Bellome said. “But I do want to bring growth to the community. If we don’t grow, we die.”

Marlo is a 23-year-old recent graduate of Kansas University, and he said he’ll try to bring up issues important to younger voters.

“It seemed like it would be a fun thing to do,” Marlo said of his decision to enter the race. “Lawrence is kind of a young town. I felt like maybe it would be good to have a larger youth voice.”

Marlo said one issue he wants to explore is having more late-night public transportation available in the city. He said expanding the service might improve safety in the community by cutting down on the number of people who drive after drinking at a bar.

Marlo — who is a mutual fund representative with Boston Financial — said he’ll be getting up to speed on other city issues related to growth, development, taxes and the city budget.

“I will have to do a bit more research on those issues, to be honest with you,” Marlo said. “But there is always room for more growth and development. Lawrence should be a growing town.”

Soden, 41, is the owner of Pet Minders, a Lawrence-based pet-sitting business she founded seven years ago.

Soden also in recent years has been a frequent voice at Lawrence City Hall, serving as president of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association during the time the association expressed opposition to plans for a multistory hotel/retail building at Ninth and New Hampshire streets.

“I feel like I’ll bring a unique vantage point because I see both the neighborhood side of things and the business side of things,” Soden said. “I always have felt it is possible to be both pro-business and pro-neighborhood. That is what I will try to do.”

Soden also is a member of the recently appointed Joint Economic Development Council for Lawrence and Douglas County.

“The quality of life we have here in Lawrence is really important,” Soden said. “It is important to make sure that the type of development we bring to town doesn’t shoot us in the foot by screwing up the quality of life that brings people to live here.”

Soden also said she wants discuss ways for the city to restore funding to Bert Nash’s WRAP program that provides mental health professionals in Lawrence schools. She said she also wants the city to consider more ways to use green energy in its operations and encourage its use in the community.

Attempts to reach Olson for comments on his candidacy weren’t successful on Tuesday.