LIMA — Both Mayor David Berger and mayoral candidate Keith Cheney have spent months making their case to voters on why they should serve as the city of Lima’s chief executive for the next four years, and on Wednesday, it was time to deliver their final arguments.
Both candidates met for their final face-to-face debate Wednesday at Veterans Memorial Civic and Convention Center, a forum sponsored by the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce. During the course of just more than 90 minutes, Berger and Cheney reiterated their core messages to voters while debating such issues as safety services, housing and the city’s business climate.
Berger said crime levels have dropped by 23 percent from 2008 to 2016, with a forecasted drop of an additional 13 percent by the end of this year.
“That’s been done through the creative approach that the Lima Police Department has had through pinpoint policing, which has taken illegal guns off the street, and also through community policing,” he said. “Our Fire Department has increased the safety of our residents. Just recently, the fire chief reported that the [Insurance Service Office] rating for the city improved as a result of the changes the city has made.”
Cheney countered that statement by pointing to the eight murders committed in the city in 2016.
“Lima, in 2016, was almost double the per capita murder rate of Columbus, Ohio, and, quite frankly, was almost the same per capita murder rate as Chicago,” he said. “We have a crime problem.”
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, Lima’s eight homicides in 2016 would equate to a rate of 21 deaths per 100,000 people, while Columbus’ 91 murders in 2016 would equal less than 11 deaths per 100,000 people and Chicago’s 765 murders would equate to 28 deaths per 100,000 people.
Cheney continued to press Berger on blighted housing issues, along with the decision to incorporate low- to moderate-income housing units into the First National Bank Building renovation project.
“Where are those children going to be able to play?” he said. “There’s no place for them to throw a football or hit a baseball. A building on Town Square is not where you should put government-assisted housing.”
Berger countered by saying that the project will also bring retail and market-rate housing to that building and that the city should be proud of working to save it. Additionally, Berger chided Cheney on criticizing the work of the Lima Land Bank, saying that he is being politically opportunistic with demolitions conducted by the Allen County Land Bank.
“Mr. Cheney had nothing to do with [the Allen County Land Bank’s] establishment,” he said. “He’s done photo-bombs. He’s basically shown up at demolitions and taken advantage of the public relations aspect of this.”
When it comes to business development in the city, Berger said that tremendous progress has been made, pointing to developments in Lima’s downtown and industrial base as an example.
“We’re seeing terrific downtown development and we’re seeing industrial development on a scale where, as you look around Ohio, Lima is one of the best examples of the resurgence of manufacturing in our state,” he said. “I believe it is important that we continue to do what we’ve been doing well.”
Cheney said that a population loss of 8,000 since 1989 and a poverty rate of almost one in three residents does not suggest a business friendly city, something he said he would be able to address with his relationships with business owners in the area and with a thorough review of city regulations to ensure they do not hinder business development.
“We’ll be known as a community open for business and a community that does government at the speed of business,” he said.