Mayoral candidate Jim Lienhoop described his Republican primary victory against incumbent Kristen Brown as an enormous compliment from the voters and a strong signal of their readiness for a change in leadership at City Hall.
“The community came together and said we want to go in another direction,” he said.
Lienhoop, an at-large member of Columbus City Council, defeated Brown by nearly a 2-to-1 margin in Tuesday’s primary. He currently has no opposition from the Democratic Party for the November general election.
A large cheer and long round of applause filled the banquet room at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center when Lienhoop took the podium and addressed those who attended the Bartholomew County Republican Party’s results watching party.
“We have got a great team, and I will be proud to lead them in November,” he said.
A couple of things seemed to resonate with voters, Lienhoop said after his speech to the crowd.
“I think that Mayor Brown’s treatment of city personnel resonated with the voters. I think the turnover of city department heads was a key factor,” he said.
Lienhoop also said he thought voters recognized the difference between recruiting new employers and existing companies that are growing.
“I think they realized that Mayor Brown had not made the effort to engage the Economic Development Board and participate in that activity. I think they understand how important that has been to Columbus,” he said.
Lienhoop urged his supporters to reach out to Brown’s supporters in an effort to work together, saying Columbus is their community, too.
He said the city council and Brown still must work together the rest of the year because a 2016 budget must be crafted, work must be done on developing the former Walesboro airport for economic development and the city is likely to deal with the possibility of adding protections for age, sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s human rights’ ordinance.
Election night started well for Lienhoop when early voting totals were released a little after 6 p.m.
Of the 3,117 early votes cast, he garnered 1,992 (67.6 percent).
He said the number of early votes showed that those who voted early had their minds made up and were voting for a reason.
Lienhoop, 61, is a certified public accountant and served on the city council beginning on an interim basis in late 2005.
He was filling in for District 5 representative Craig Hawes, who was the commander of the National Guard’s 215th Area Support Medical Co. and was serving overseas. Hawes resigned in late August 2009 after serving several overseas duty tours, and Lienhoop was permanently appointed to replace him. Lienhoop was elected as an at-large councilman in 2011.
While incumbent Mayor Kristen Brown ran on her record of the past four years, Lienhoop was not shy about criticizing her actions.
Lienhoop told voters the city has $17 million more in tax incremental financing than during former mayor Fred Armstrong’s administration, but Brown had not personally recruited any new businesses to Columbus.
And he said the city had experienced nearly 100 percent turnover in department heads during Brown’s time in office, which he blamed on the mayor’s tone and management style.
Lienhoop picked up an endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police, saying it represented a vote of no-confidence in the mayor by her employees.
While the mayor said the shortage of skilled workers was hampering economic development, Lienhoop promised he would re-establish ties with the economic development board, something he said the incumbent had failed to do in the past four years.
Lienhoop told voters he would look for different kinds of manufacturing companies who might want to call Columbus home — pharmaceuticals, for example — or build on something Columbus already has — higher education.
He emphasized to voters there had been a little too much “my way or the highway” in the current administration and not enough listening or taking into account the views of others.
Assistant Managing Editor Julie McClure contributed to this story.
Kristen Brown 2,699 (36.8%)
Jim Lienhoop 4,640 (63.2%)