October 4, 2019 at 4:56 p.m.

Dunkirk debate

Candidates share vision for city
Dunkirk debate
Dunkirk debate

By JACK RONALD
Publisher emeritus

Dunkirk’s mayoral candidates agree on one point: They care about the future of their community.

“I’m just a guy who wants to make Dunkirk better,” incumbent Republican Gene Ritter said Thursday night.

“If you cut me, I bleed Dunkirk,” said Democratic challenger Jack Robbins.

The two squared off for a debate sponsored by Jay County Chamber of Commerce as a part of a meet the candidates night.

Speaking before a crowd of about 35 at West Jay Community Center, the two candidates outlined their hopes and concerns for Dunkirk’s future.

Ritter, 54, is an engineer for Workhorse Custom Chassis in Union City. He was elected mayor in 2015, unseating then-incumbent Dan Watson. 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.


Robbins, 64, a retired union laborer, is in his second term on Dunkirk City Council. He previously served as health and safety officer for six years and zoning administrator for four years, and is currently the president of the DIDC board. He has administered the city’s blight removal project and served as Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator for Dunkirk.

Ritter acknowledged that his first term has been a learning experience.

“It’s been full of meetings,” he said.

Both candidates focused much of their attention on downtown development, where there have been some successes and some miscues.

A promised restaurant in the restored Todd Building has failed to materialize despite city support.

“They weren’t able to meet their commitment,” said Ritter. “It’s not a dead deal yet … but I don’t see any activity there.”

Robbins has been actively involved in efforts to restore the Dunkirk railroad depot in his role with DIDC.

“Things are moving in Dunkirk,” he said.

Ritter countered, “The right direction has been under my leadership.”

The two sparred briefly over efforts to assure that the stoplight at Main and Commerce streets is not eliminated by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

“We had two meetings (with INDOT) on that,” said Robbins. “We set up the public meeting. … We think we got it stopped.”

“We are going to keep our stoplight,” said Ritter, though Robbins expressed doubt that the decision is a “done deal.”

Ritter said he has worked on marketing the former Stewart Brothers Furniture building and has tried to attract a grocery to town.

“That is a tough, tough task,” he said.

Robbins said there’s potential for marketing sites in Dunkirk’s industrial park.

“Everything’s out there. We just need to market it,” he said. “We need to talk to (glass container manufacturer) Ardagh and see what they need.”

Robbins also said he believes the former Indiana Glass Co. site on the city’s west side still has potential.

“It could be of benefit to Dunkirk,” he said.

“But it’s a Brownfield,” said Ritter, “so it’s going to be an expensive task.”

“I’ll be a full-time mayor,” Robbins said in closing, a reference to Ritter’s job in Union City. “I don’t sugar-coat stuff.”

“I’d love another four years,” said Ritter. “I’ve learned a lot.”
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