By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
LINCOLN PARK — When Thomas Karnes takes the oath of office as the city’s next mayor during Monday’s regular city council meeting, he will have hit the ground running.
Karnes had several meetings last week with city managers and department heads in the wake of his general election win over Mayor Patricia Diaz Krause.
Karnes takes office with confidence that the challenges facing the city can be overcome, an optimism generated by voter response to non-candidate issues on the ballot.
“Look at what the citizens did,” Karnes said. Both a police and fire millage renewal and road-repair bond issue were approved — by nearly 80 percent of the votes for public safety funding.
“If they need it, they’ll pay for it,” Karnes said. “They’ll work with us.”
More than a top administrator — which Karnes did as police chief from 2004 through last year’s retirement — he sees the role of mayor to be the city’s top advocate. His strategy will be to bring together employee unions and department heads, nonprofit groups and city officials.
“Everything we do is to make Lincoln Park a better place,” Karnes said. “We all have to have the same mindset, not fragmented or arguing.”
Specific paths toward solutions have yet to be determined, but Karnes said the city’s most pressing issue is and has been clear.
“The number one priority is financial stability,” Karnes said. The mayoral inauguration, he said, will be one example of the way things will be done: low-key and at no cost to taxpayers.
“If we’re in a financial crisis we have to act like it,” Karnes said.
Karnes said regional economic recovery puts Lincoln Park well-situated as a candidate for new or relocated businesses. Downtown and other commercial areas are, he said, “no more than two minutes from a freeway,” and former destination-shopping outlets including Lincoln Park Plaza are ripe for development. Improvements made to Fort Street and other major roadways in recent years primes the pump, with more on the way after this month’s street-repair bond approval.
“What we need is someone to believe in us,” Karnes said. A business can thrive in town, he said, citing Fort Street Brewery as a local success story.
“If it works for him it will work for others,” Karnes said. “We just have to have a positive attitude. An attitude of failure is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
FInancial recovery will, Karnes said, be the key ingredient to a renewed Lincoln Park. The city is not expected to return to its peak population of 50,000-plus residents, but can instead forge a new identity where the sum is greater than the parts.
Karnes was optimistic by voter participation — and support for municipal investments — as well as the active service organizations in town: Exchange Club, Rotary Club, Lions, Eagles and other nonprofit agencies continue their efforts to make the city a desirable place to live and do business, and Karnes hopes his two-year term of office will see the various groups come together.
“The focus for me will be on the small stuff, the quality-of-life issues,” Karnes said. Blight removal, community activities, neighborhood watch organizations and other pieces fill in the promising puzzle.
“The voters have said they’re willing to do this,” Karnes said. “I’m asking them to take the next step. It’s up to all of us to make this happen.”
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected])