For the second time in as many mayoral elections, the candidates seeking the city’s top office are on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to the St. Clair Regional Airport, although the division doesn’t appear to be quite as wide this time around.
On Tuesday, April 2, city residents will pick the next mayor by casting ballots in either Ward 1 or Ward 2 at city hall. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The mayoral race is the only contested one on the ballot. For the first time, the man elected will serve a four-year term.
Three-term incumbent Ron Blum and challenger Ramon Dominguez share a deep love for and commitment to their city and share some of the same concerns. When it comes to the future of the airport, however, the views differ.
Blum has made closing the airport located on the north side of the city a priority since he first was elected to office in 2007. The issue has been a focal point of his campaigns and his terms in office, and he has worked hard during his six years in the chair trying to make closure a reality to pave the way for proposed retail development.
“I feel it’s important to utilize our assets in the best way possible,” Blum told The Missourian. “Our comprehensive plan determined that the best use of that airport land was for retail.”
The mayor took those thoughts a step further.
“I am not against general aviation,” he said. “Aviation is very important to our country. But we’ve developed a plan that will not only benefit aviation through the closure of our airport, but it will also benefit this city and surrounding airports. It’s a good plan. It helps us and it helps the aviation community. It’s a win-win for everyone to close our airport.”
The 40-year-old Dominguez told The Missourian that even though he is in favor of retail development and believes St. Clair is in desperate need of it, he would prefer that the airport remain open.
“If we can close it and use the land for retail, great,” he said. “But, I truly don’t know if we should close it. I really don’t have enough information on it, but if it stays open, I think we can make it viable again and make it work to St. Clair’s advantage.”
Then, when specifically asked if he is in favor of closing the facility, he said, “No.”
“I think the land there is critical because it’s on the highway,” Dominguez said. “But, I think we can survive and find other ways to bring retail in if we keep it open.
“But we desperately need more retail.”
Dominguez said if elected he would formulate plans to attract businesses. He also said at this time he does not know what those plans would be.
“I won’t know until I get into it,” he said.
Dominguez said he would look into whether the city can make Interstate 44’s exit 239 an option for more development.
“We just don’t have exit 240,” he said. “We don’t always have to focus on exit 240. Maybe we can develop other land.”
As far as the comprehensive plan, which was finalized in 2009, Blum believes it remains a viable document.
“It’s still a road map for St. Clair’s future,” he said. “We continue to evolve, and the plan gives us guidance. It’s a very important tool for us and we need to keep using it.”
The comprehensive plan, put together during Blum’s second term in office, used the input of countless local citizens through three public participation meetings and an official public hearing. It contains sections on existing conditions, including demographics, the physical environment, community facilities and resources; a needs analysis, which covers public participation, land use, street plans, transportation improvements, capital improvements, parks, recreation and open space and economic development; and an implementation strategy.
“We put together the plan based on the needs of our community,” Blum said. “It’s a community document. It belongs to everyone in St. Clair.”
And, he said as the city grows, it will be essential to update the plan when necessary.
Dominguez said he is not familiar with the document. He did say, however, that community involvement is essential.
“The more people we have involved, the better,” he said.
Dominguez said he also believes the opposite is true in that city hall and the administration need to be more involved in the community.
“I think our community needs to know who their mayor is,” he said. “I don’t think ours does. I think there needs to be a better physical presence in our city from our leaders.
“If I’m elected, people will see me at all events.”
Dominguez describes himself as a leader. At his place of employment, Parker Hannifin in Washington, he has been a supervisor for 12 years and currently oversees about 25 people. He also is in charge of the safety programs at the business.
“Anything I don’t know, I’m willing to learn,” he said. “I know I can do it. People who know me know I have the ability to do this job.”
Blum, 57, is a retired businessman who has spent his six years in office keeping St. Clair’s motto of “We’re open for business” at the forefront.
“We have a lot of different projects in the works,” he said. “I want to see them through to fruition. It’s an ongoing thing as we continue to evolve as a community.
“We can’t be complacent. We have to have a vision and a plan for that vision. There is still a lot to be done, and we need to use our vision and its plan to meet the needs of our community to the best of our ability. It’s an ongoing process, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
Blum noted that the city has managed to operate and move forward and still have a balanced budget for at least the past five years.
“We’ve been frugal with funds, and have been able to put away some money in reserves” he said. “Yet, we’ve also been able to accomplish some critical things. It’s just like running a business. You work with the funding you have and only spend within your means.”
Both men agree one of the city’s biggest challenges is repairing its streets and finding the financial resources to pay for it.
“We’ve improved our infrastructure over the years,” Blum said in reference to the three main road improvement projects nearing completion in the city as well as repairs and replacement of water and sewer lines. “We’ve been able to do that despite the down economy.
“There is still a lot to do. Many of our streets need improvements. We’re working on a way to get that done but still stay within our means.”
Prioritizing needs, Blum said, is always one of the biggest challenges of city government.
Dominguez said the city’s inferior streets are an eyesore.
“One of my main things is the streets,” he said. “They’re terrible. We have several streets ... we just need to make our city look better and more attractive. Better streets would help.
“I will look into this and get to know our budget so we can figure out a way to get this done.”
Dominguez said his short-term goal, if elected, would be to form a bond with the community and “earn their trust.” As far as the long term, he said he would try to formulate a plan that would make it attractive for the city’s youth to want to stay in St. Clair.
“I want to make this one of the best cities around and have people be proud to live here,” he said. “I want to make sure every kid who leaves wants to come back. I would never give up on that. Young people are my priority. They are our future. We need to keep them here.
“I just want to make our city better. I truly care about St. Clair. I’m passionate about our city and its future. I want what’s best for all of us.
“There are a lot of good people in St. Clair, and I think it’s a great place to live. I have faith in this city.”
In regards to faith, Dominguez said one of the city’s strengths is its church base.
“I think we have a good religious base here,” he said. “I have very strong religious beliefs and I know people in varying faiths also do. That is so important with everything that is going on these days.
“No matter what happens, you always can fall back on your faith.”
As far as his goals, Blum mentioned the spray park currently being built, bringing a recreation center and new swimming pool into the city, expanding both the business and residential climate and improving the city’s wastewater capabilities.
He also mentioned St. Clair’s youth.
“We need to take care of our young people,” he said. “We need to find ways to keep them here. We need to make sure they want to stay and want to get involved. That may be a challenge, but I think we can find the resources to do it.”
That conversation returned to the retail segment.
“That is the key for just about everything,” he said. “We need more retail to increase our tax base. We need that increased tax base so we can accomplish some of the things we need to do, like fixing our streets, bringing in that rec center, expanding our wastewater capabilities and making our city attractive to youth. It’s all about revenue and getting the retail to gain that revenue.
“It’s all about that vision, investing in it and making every dollar count.”
And, Blum said, if residents re-elect him to a fourth term, he will continue to work hard.
“I can honestly say I believe I’ve worked hard as mayor of this city,” he said. “And I will continue to work hard. I will continue to promote St. Clair every chance I get. I will use all means available to us to make progress. We all want a better quality of life. That’s what I’m trying to do here.
“I can honestly say I feel I’ve done the best I can. I’m happy with what we’ve accomplished. I sleep pretty well at night.
“I just want us to be able to do more, and I want to help get those things done.”