My Soapbox: Sherry Carran, Covington's mayor-elect

Even though it’s winter, things are looking decidedly green in Covington, where architect and mayor-elect Sherry Carran sees sustainability as an important economic driver as well as an essential quality-of-life issue.

The 67-year-old Cincinnati native is the Northern Kentucky city’s first female mayor. An alum of the University of Cincinnati’s architecture program, she has lived in Northern Kentucky for more than 40 years and spent the last 23 in a home she built with her husband, Bob, in Covington’s Botany Hills neighborhood.

She shared her thoughts on her election, and Covington’s future, with Soapbox’s Hannah Purnell.

Q: What does it mean for you to be the first female mayor of Covington?
A: It means a lot to me to be elected mayor of Covington. Being the first female mayor is icing on the cake because I know it means a lot to others. It may send a message to young women or even women who have not yet developed a confidence in themselves that they can accomplish or contribute in ways they never thought possible.  

My starting goal was not to be mayor, but was to improve people’s lives by making their physical surroundings more pleasing and comfortable; that is why I received my degree in architecture. This goal led me to being involved in livable community issues and this led me to run for elected office.

I have never let a challenge scare me off from something that was important to me. When I decided to go into planning/architecture after working for five years after getting out of high school, I was not deterred by people thinking I was not capable or that I should be content in just having a job. It did help having people along the way who encouraged and inspired me.

I’ve been comfortable working with men. With that being said, a double standard does exist, and I have experienced that as a woman. When treated as if I did not have the same worth as my male counterparts, I ignored the offenders because of their small mindedness and went on as if didn’t matter.

Q: What kind of message do you think the voters of Covington were trying to send with your election?
A: I hope the message was the citizens of Covington want a mayor who will serve the public interest and advance the prosperity of our community as a whole; a mayor who understands that quality of life and quality of place matters if a city is to retain and attract residents and businesses; a mayor who understands and values the strengths that exist in our City and will build upon these strengths to enhance Covington’s uniqueness and desirability; a mayor who will bring focus to moving forward priority projects and programs; and a mayor who believes in the collaborative approach.  

Q: What are your biggest goals for your first year in office?
A: My first goal as mayor is to set a collaborative tone at City Hall and to set people’s mind at ease that the city will not be going back to old ways but staying on track with the positive momentum we have going from the help of (former mayor) Chuck Scheper and others.  

I hope to work with commission and city staff to set a few priorities for what we should accomplish for the coming year that are above what is already in place. One of the priorities that is getting ready to be addressed is a time frame and funding structure for addressing our infrastructure needs. This has been a city goal for some time, so it will be good to get this started.

Another goal that is important to me and a few others is to get our zoning code and map in order. This will take a focused effort and will take a significant amount of time. Getting the zoning code and map in order will make it easier for businesses or residents who want to invest in their existing property or invest in new development/redevelopment.

Q: What role does sustainability have in your plans for Covington?
A: I will encourage sustainability in almost every aspect of the city. It is the direction that is being encouraged by (Northern Kentucky’s) Vision 2015 and by southwestern Ohio’s Agenda 360 as a way to improve economic vitality and quality of life in our region. Action areas could be the areas of energy conservation, land, local foods, outdoor recreation and nature awareness, renewable energy, transportation, waste, water and green jobs.

I serve on the Green Umbrella board of directors, and this alliance facilitates collaboration among over 100 area nonprofits, businesses, educational institutions and government entities to focus on “the environmental, social and economic needs of today while preserving the ability of future generations to the same.”

Q: What impact will the new Gateway campus have on the heart of the city?
A: The new Gateway Community and Technical College Urban Campus will play a significant role in the positive changes expected in the heart of Covington. On Nov. 15, the college released the details of their Urban Campus Master Plan. The plan, estimated to cost $80 million over the next decade, proposes the adaptive re-use of nine existing properties, along with new construction.   

The Gateway Master Plan was anticipated in the recently completed Center City Action Plan (often referred to as the PUMA Plan) that calls out three primary geographic areas as the foundation for the physical framework of the Center City Action Plan. The Gateway Community College Urban Campus and the library are considered one of the primary areas, with almost 400,000 annual visits to the library and an anticipated student population of 2,500 to the urban campus. This activity, along with the creative energy radiating from these uses, including the future plans for the urban campus, presents an amazing opportunity to bring vitality to the Center City and to be an engine for innovation.  

Q: What inspires your public service?
A: I would say that my desire to make people’s lives better through improving their physical surroundings inspires my public service. My sense of responsibility to bring attention to issues that I believe are not in the best interest of our communities also plays a role.

Q: Who are your biggest role models? 
A: My husband is one of my biggest role models. He ran the public defender program in Northern Kentucky for almost 20 years. He worked hard and long hours for little pay because of his strong belief in our judicial system. I respect the high standard of conduct he has set for himself and others. He may not always be the most popular figure, but he is known for being a good, honest lawyer and has the trust of his peers.

Roxanne Qualls is another role model. She is an intelligent and collaborative(-minded) elected official who is always in learning mode. She has keen instincts on how to maneuver through the politics of being an elected official but at the same time, she does her best to keep politics out of her decision-making.

Q: What is your favorite place to hang out in Covington?
A: With so many new and old favorites in Covington, it is hard to pick. A lot depends on the mood I’m in or what night of the week. Almost every restaurant has a night where they offer specials in the way of food or drink or entertainment. I am looking forward to being out and about to visit some of my favorite places after a tough year of concentrating on the campaign.  

The Avenue was one of my favorite places because it was quiet around happy hour time and comfortable with a good mix of people, but sadly it closed several months ago. I'm hoping it will find a way to reopen.

Q: What is Covington’s best-kept secret?
A: Covington is becoming quite the biking community. Seeing people bike to work is commonplace, whether biking is by choice or necessity. Seeing people bike for exercise or relaxation along Route 8 and through Devou Park happens every day of the week, but on weekends it is cool to see the groups who bike together.  

Then we have the mountain bikers who come from all over to bike our Devou Back Country Trail system that is currently about three miles out and back with one of the areas toughest climbs and best descents. This trail system came about and is expanding thanks to the efforts of Chad Irey and an army of volunteers, and with support from Covington’s Recreation Director Natalie Gardner. 

Covington has also become one of the host cities for national cycle cross races in our region.

Q: What is the biggest misconception about Covington?
A: Some believe Covington is not a safe place to be, when in reality that is not the case. Yes, we have seen an increase in crime due to the increase in drug activity, but this is happening in communities all over. 

I believe there is this misconception because people confuse being uncomfortable with feeling unsafe. Sometimes people feel uncomfortable with the diversity of our population, but many view our diversity of population as a good thing.  

In fact, we are learning that many who are new to Covington comment they like Covington because there is a feeling of being welcomed that does not exist in other cities. This feeling has led to businesses locating and expanding in our city.

By Hannah Purnell

Read more articles by Hannah Purnell.

Hannah Purnell is a lifelong Northern Kentuckian who writes extensively about regional issues related to arts and culture, politics and economic development. 
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