October 3, 2019 at 4:41 p.m.

Ritter, Robbins seek office

Incumbent, council member vying for mayor of Dunkirk
Ritter, Robbins seek office
Ritter, Robbins seek office

By Rose Skelly-

Both candidates vying to be mayor of Dunkirk have long records of public service in the city.

Gene Ritter, the incumbent mayor and Republican nominee, and Jack Robbins, a current city council member on the Democrat ticket, will face off Nov. 5.

Ritter, 54, an engineer for Workhorse Custom Chassis in Union City, was elected mayor in 2015. Prior to that, he was a member of the board of works for four years and was on Dunkirk Park Board. He currently serves on the Dunkirk Industrial Development Corporation, Jay County Development Corporation, Jay County Solid Waste Management District, Jay County Chamber of Commerce and West Jay Community Center boards.

“I decided to run for re-election because I’m not done,” Ritter said, discussing his various efforts to draw businesses and investors to the city. “Everything that I’ve been close on with the Stewart Brothers Building and the Depot, I want to see all those things through. … I think I have the personality to make all those things possible.”

Robbins, 64, a retired union laborer, is in his second term as a Dunkirk City Council member. He previously served as health and safety officer for six years and zoning administrator for four years, and is currently the president of DIDC and the blight administrator and ADA coordinator for Dunkirk. He views his years in public office as stepping stones to the position of mayor, and plans to draw on his past experience if elected.

“Start at the bottom, learn your ordinances, learn your handbook policies, learn your positions on city council and then when the mayor step comes, like right now, I’m ready for it,” Robbins said.

“I think I know everything that needs to be done. And I know all the people, I know the boards, I know everybody, what direction they’re already going in.”

During preparation for Jay County’s Stellar Communities application over the past year, Dunkirk’s downtown revitalization plan was updated with proposals for vacant buildings, a potential pedestrian trail and streetscaping ideas. Both candidates endorsed the plan, which was finalized early this year.

“Through DIDC we’ve got the Stewart Brothers Building that’s partially finished … I’d like to see that finished and a nice business go in there,” Robbins said. “Downtown we’ve also got some façade down on some of the buildings, we’re getting ready to do the murals … If the Stellar happens, I could just go on and on. We’ll wait and see what happens there.”

Ritter noted his repeated efforts to attract new businesses to the vacant buildings in Dunkirk’s downtown. In the past year, the Glass Capital Café and Sculpt Fitness have opened in the downtown area, and he wants to keep the momentum going.

“Growth in Dunkirk’s always been pretty much my main goal. Without growth, you’re going to die, and I’ve said that since the day I walked in the mayor’s office,” Ritter said. “It’s basically filling all of our empty buildings, which I’ve actively tried to do through marketing and through knowing people and networking and just getting myself out there.”

The Jay! Region is one of four finalists for Indiana’s Stellar designation; the winning region will be announced in December and will have access to millions of dollars in grants and funding. The county’s plans include $7 million worth of projects in Dunkirk, including renovations to the library and Glass Museum, continued façade work and constructing a walking trail between the city and Redkey. 

Ritter said those developments would be a boost for the whole county. Even if the Jay! Region doesn’t end up winning, he said he will continue working towards those goals through different funding mechanisms. 

“I think they’re all very good priorities and I think it’s going to give us a great head start on making those a reality if we get the Stellar designation,” Ritter said. “I think it’s going to be a huge shot in the arm for the whole county but specifically our revitalization plan as it pertains to Dunkirk.” 

Robbins said he would help support the progress of Stellar through facilitating conversations between public officials, citizens and charitable groups.

“I would pull all the organizations together, the boards, and get them all on the same path and I think with everybody working the same direction, it’s going to happen a lot easier,” Robbins said. “If we could get that, there’s really no end to what you could do.”

With the departure of two of Dunkirk’s six police officers this summer, city officials have discussed different ways to improve employee retention. Ritter proposed a raise, something he’s fought for since his election.

“I’ve been pushing ever since I’ve been mayor to do something about the wage,” Ritter said. “I think we just need to stay on top of the equipment a little better than we have, but I think a big part of it is the pay scale. So I’ll just reenergize that push.”

Robbins, on the other hand, wants the city to focus more on improving and enforcing its ordinances. Given the low cost of insurance for officers (all city employees pay $1 a year for their health insurance coverage), he said Dunkirk’s pay is actually comparable or better than other area departments.

“You’ve got to get your ordinances up to code and get your fines up to where people realize, ‘Hey they’re getting serious about this, we need to help them,’” Robbins said. “You can raise wages up but if you don’t have revenue you’re just going in the hole.”  

If elected, Robbins said his main focus would be continuing to improve the streets and roads of Dunkirk through additional Community Crossings grants from Indiana Department of Transportation. He said he would also encourage more private investment in new business, rather than utilizing taxpayer funds.

“I did every position the town’s got, almost. I know all the departments, all the supervisors from these departments, we’re really working together right now,” Robbins said. “We’re here to spend the taxpayers’ money wisely and like I said I think I’ve learned all of that stuff and I’m ready.”

Ritter focused on several of the initiatives he’s worked on to make himself and city government more accessible to the public, including publishing audio recordings of city council meetings and being available for drop-in office hours twice a month. If re-elected, he said he will continue working to help meet the city’s expectations and goals.

“I feel like I’m extremely honest. I only care; I have no agenda, I’ve had no agenda since the day I started to try to become mayor eight years ago,” said Ritter, who first ran for mayor in 2011 but was defeated by Ron Hunt. “I don’t hide anything. All I want is good for the city and I care about the people here and I care about the people in the whole county.”



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