Owensboro City Commissioner Larry Conder says he will run for the office of mayor in next year's election.
Conder became the second person to publicly announce a bid for mayor, following Commissioner Pam Smith-Wright, who announced last month. Conder told "Live With Jeff" host Jeff Rhinerson on Tuesday that he has a "new vision for 2020" predicated on public safety.
"The most important thing today in our city is safety and making sure that everybody is safe, whether it's on the west side, east side or not; it doesn't matter, wherever they are," Conder said during the live Facebook broadcast. "You want everyone to be able to raise a family -- to be able to have jobs -- but if you don't have a safe community, all that may not matter. So, that's one of the biggest things that, today, we need to concentrate on."
He said he was inspired to run for mayor because of an uptick in violence that has plagued particularly Owensboro's west side since the start of the new year. Gun violence is a pressing issue, he said, that needs City Hall's immediate attention. He applauded the Owensboro Police Department's decision to reinstigate a flex team to address violence but said that real change takes more long-term creative policy approaches like extending hours at the Dugan Best Recreation Center or advancing early education opportunities for children.
"It is affecting our family units," he said. "It is affecting children. It is affecting the workplace. It's affecting everything is what it's doing. So, safety, which is something we sometimes take for granted, and we have for such a long period of time, is something we have to look at. We could have all the jobs in the world around here. We could have good workforce training. We could do all those things, but if we neglect or we don't have good programs, consistently, that address safety in our community, those other things may not matter."
Conder, 58, first appeared on the local political stage in late 2015, an early file in the eventual crowd of 10 that would run for the city commission in 2016. The businessman and real estate investor ran both his 2016 and 2018 elections on sound fiscal policy, promising voters to protect Owensboro and help it flourish ahead of "tough, future-oriented decisions."
So far in the race for mayor he faces Smith-Wright, whom he has trailed by an average 2.13 percentage points in the last two elections.
But that doesn't matter, Conder said, because the race for four city commissioners every two years is largely a popularity contest, especially without primary elections. Running for mayor, however, is different, he said; it takes distinguishing yourself as an individual with good policies.
"Name recognition from a city commission standpoint is paramount," he said. "It's almost like a popularity contest sometimes. ... (The) mayoral race is different. Even though we still don't have a primary, the mayoral race looks at one individual. What does that one individual stand for? What is their voting record, specifically, and how (they will) move the community forward? That's where the people change who they vote for and how they vote for."
It takes big ideas and bright minds to be a successful mayor, Conder said. That's what he said he believes he brings to the table. Now is the time to begin the groundwork for laying a new foundation for 2020 and beyond, he added, floating even the idea of what it might take to build a new bypass past U.S. 60 around the city of Owensboro. We're not there yet, he said -- not even close -- but the citizens of Owensboro deserve a visionary who will think that far out of the box.
He and his wife Rosemary are downtown property owners who were active participants in the city's core revitalization process years before. In 2010, the pair was collectively named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, and Conder himself was named a distinguished Brescia alumnus in 2012.
Under a new administration at City Hall two years ago, he approved of an unpopular set of occupational and insurance premium tax hikes that were designed to stem deficit spending and right the ship.
Conder is the director for operation and gas supply at the Public Energy Authority of Kentucky, which assists municipalities nationwide in meeting natural gas regulations across a broad, interwoven network. He was employed at Texas Gas for 15 years, beginning in 1980, but partnered to create Innovative Gas Services Inc. in the mid-'90s as the industry was deregulated. During that time, he earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Brescia University.
Prior to being elected city commissioner, he served on several local boards including the RiverPark Center Board of Directors, We Are Downtown Inc., the Owensboro Historic Preservation Board, Owensboro Riverport Authority and the Brescia University Board of Trustees.
Fellow Commissioner Pam Smith-Wright, 70, announced her own intentions to run for mayor early last month. If elected, she would be the first female and the first black mayor in Owensboro's history. She is the second woman to run for mayor after the late Mimi Davis campaigned in 2004.
Austin Ramsey, 270-691-7302, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @austinrramsey