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Cromwell won't seek re-election to City Commission; field of candidates taking shape as filing deadline nears
The cake is nearly baked on this year’s batch of Lawrence City Commission candidates. (I said that just to see my wife jump out of her chair at the mention of cake.)
What we have been speculating on for weeks has now become official: Lawrence City Commissioner Aron Cromwell confirmed to me that he won’t be seeking re-election.
“I want to take a break this time,” said Cromwell, who was first elected four years ago. “I want to focus on other parts of my life.”
But Cromwell said he’ll also use the time to figure out his political future, which he said he very much plans to have. Cromwell said he expects to make a run for either the Lawrence City Commission or a state position in two years.
“I have enjoyed it immensely and learned a lot,” Cromwell said. “It has been fun trying to make a difference in the community. I know I’m going to need an outlet for that again.”
Cromwell, who served a one-year term as mayor, was a major player in pushing for the expansion of the Lawrence Public Library and also led the city’s task force on revamping the city trash collection and recycling system.
Cromwell’s decision means there will be at least two new faces on the Lawrence City Commission come April. Commissioner Hugh Carter already has announced he won’t seek re-election, but instead will focus on his new job with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.
I still fully expect City Commissioner Mike Amyx to file for re-election, and to do so soon. The filing deadline is now less than a week away. The deadline is noon on Tuesday.
If Amyx does file, that will make six candidates in the field. If the field grows to seven, the city will have to have a primary election on Feb. 26 to narrow the field to six.
As it stands, the race is shaping up to be a crowded field. Fans of political contests will get their money’s worth this year, I believe. There are at least five candidates who go into the race with either strong name recognition, a strong network of supporters or both.
Amyx will be able to run as the only true incumbent in the race, and he’s certainly one of the more tested campaigners in the city. Amyx first won election to the City Commission in 1983, went to the Douglas County Commission from 1988 to 1993 and then came back to the City Commission in 2005. And it doesn’t hurt that his job as a downtown barber shop owner allows him to see hundreds and hundreds of people every week.
Former City Commissioner Rob Chestnut also has a network of campaign supporters to draw on. He served on the commission from 2007 to 2011 and was a mayor during that term. Chestnut, who is the chief financial officer for a Topeka publishing company, also will be able to run a campaign with a heavy emphasis on controlling city fiscal matters. Chestnut had a reputation as a budget hawk during his one term on the commission.
Terry Riordan enters the race with good name recognition among some Lawrence residents who have ever had to take a sick kid to the doctor. Riordan has been a Lawrence pediatrician since 1983. It also is worth noting that Lawrence Mayor Bob Schumm was at Riordan’s announcement. I would expect Schumm, who was the top-vote winner in the election two years ago, to be a strong supporter of Riordan and to provide him some help in setting up a campaign structure.
The entrance of Jeremy Farmer, the executive director of Just Food, into the race will be one of the more interesting developments to watch. Farmer has built up some name recognition among the social service community during his nearly two years on the job. And a lot of potential voters come through the doors of the food bank.
But the more interesting element will be to see how powerful of a network the newly formed Cadre Lawrence group has become. Farmer is listed as a founding board member of the group, which started becoming active last summer. The group has a mission of helping create a more positive voice when it comes to growth and economic development in the city. When the group began, organizers told me that it wouldn’t be the type of organization that endorses candidates or raises money for campaigns. But, of course, individual members of the group can be active supporters of candidates. Already, the group has shown a strong ability to turn out people for City Commission meetings and other events; plus it has a very active social media and Web presence in the community.
Scott Criqui, an executive with a Lawrence-based home health care company, also has experience in creating networks in the community. Criqui has been fairly active in other City Commission campaigns during the last couple of election cycles, and has met a lot of people that way. Plus, Criqui understands the organizing process. He was a major player in organizing the effort that led to the city adding legal protections to its anti-discrimination ordinance for people who are transgendered. And Criqui has a head start in the race. He broke all sorts of records for being the earliest candidate to file for the race. He filed his paperwork in June, and has been raising money ever since.
Lawrence attorney Michael Rost doesn’t have some of the name recognition of the other candidates, but it sounds like he will run a campaign that features a strongly conservative financial platform. Plus, Rost is adding another issue into his race: the power and influence of campaign contributions. Rost told me recently that he is pledging not to accept any campaign contributions.
“In order to make the right decisions for Lawrence, it is crucial that the members of the City Commission speak for the community as a whole, not any particular interest groups,” Rost said.
So, the campaigns already are starting to take on their own interesting dynamics. And we haven’t even got into the issues yet.
Get ready. Election season is here. (But dear, sit down. Really, there’s no cake.)