ELYRIA — In the first of several planned town hall conversations titled “Frank Conversations,” independent candidate Frank Whitfield kicked off his campaign for Elyria mayor Wednesday by asking a group of residents what they want to see in their city.
“Don’t worry about the how. Capture the what,” he told the crowd of 25 that gathered in the basement of the House of Healing Outreach International Church on West Avenue. “Let me worry about the how.”
Whitfield’s first question to Elyrians was: “How might we transform neighborhoods in Elyria?”
He said there would be “no judgment on any ideas” to improve the city.
Whitfield urged participants to first focus on the city’s strengths, and then write down as many ideas as possible for Elyria “to have the neighborhoods we want.”
Attendees then brainstormed the city’s strengths, which included its people, its diversity, the city’s schools, parks and recreation centers and neighbors who know and help each other.
Resident Ethan West said he left Elyria in the early 2000s and moved to Tampa, Florida, but later returned to live in Elyria. One of his ideas to help improve the city’s neighborhoods was to reach out to those who have moved but returned to the city where they grew up.
“Coming back, you come back different,” with new ideas and perspectives, he said.
Elyria resident Larry Klipstein said Elyria needs to engage high school students or community college graduates by offering programs in technology, medical careers and engineering, or small-business grants and programs like “Small Business Saturdays.”
“Midway Mall isn’t coming back,” he said, and portions of it could be turned into a citywide recreation center or training center.
Transportation also was a key aspect of Wednesday’s conversation, from getting aging residents to the store or medical appointments to offering a “swim shuttle” for children who can’t easily walk or bike to one of the city’s pools.
Brandon Nixon said Elyria needs better transportation citywide, and agreed with Klipstein and West that a citywide community center would be a big draw in conjunction with the existing neighborhood rec centers.
And all neighborhoods should be treated equally, no matter if they are North, East, West or South, Klipstein said.
“Just because we’re not in a six-figure house or making a six-figure income, doesn’t mean we don’t matter,” he said.
Whitfield will face incumbent Mayor Holly Brinda and fellow independent candidate and former Elyria mayor Bill Grace in the November general election.
Whitfield urged all residents to tell all the candidates “here’s what we want,” then ask “What can you do to make it happen?”
Future “Frank Conversations” will focus on the city’s economy and culture, Whitfield said.
“Think about other people’s,” he encouraged his supporters. “Ask yourself ‘What is it like in other people’s shoes?’ People around here are still struggling. Everyday people, here in Elyria.”
Growing up on West Avenue, Whitfield said he was not, nor is he now, ignorant of the challenges that drugs, crime and violence bring to the city. Instead, he said he views them as challenges to Elyrians’ empathy and sense of community that can be overcome by working together.
“We should be proud to be from Elyria,” he said. “If we want to see progress, we don’t have a choice but to do this together.”
A husband and father of three who resigned as president and CEO of the Lorain County Urban League in order to run for mayor, Whitfield is calling his campaign “WElyria.”
He said that’s because it’s not about him.
“It’s about us,” he said. “This campaign is not about me. This is about us, collectively.”