Mayoral candidate Jerome Poynton captured the public's attention with his battle to preserve his 15th Street home from demolition and prevent city officials from proceeding with a planned sports field on that spot in East Wheeling, but he said his campaign is about more than just thwarting the project.
Immediately after Wheeling City Council approved use of eminent domain last June to take Poynton's home and three other residences to make way for the field, he took up the fight. He claimed evidence supports rumors that the field is not entirely a public project and there are "closed door" private interests driving the plan. However, his legal counsel was unable to convince Circuit Judge Arthur Recht in January, and the city won the right to purchase the home at fair market value. Poynton and newly hired lawyer Steve Wylie of Charleston are working to appeal the decision.
Soon after Recht's decision, Poynton announced his campaign for mayor against incumbent Andy McKenzie.
His campaign calls for more disclosure to the public on various matters, such as funding for the sports field and plans for the 1100 block of Main and Market streets once the buildings there are demolished.
"The citizens are the boss," he said, noting tax dollars pay for salaries and projects. "We need to answer to the people. ... Sunlight is the best disinfectant."
If elected, not only does he pledge more transparency, but he said he also will pursue his vision for a "21st century Wheeling," based on "progressive" ideas established in some larger communities. He has ideas for a "town square" - instead of a sports field at the planned location - with a majority of the surrounding homes to be restored. He said a number of community sources contributed to the idea.
Starting in the downtown, Poynton said he would like to research a "global electronic village," which he described as a digital-friendly area with a complete wireless network. He said he does not know the cost, but he plans to research how he could start it on a small scale and build it up for the entire city.
"I realize that the aged population is not computer literate, but the younger who are potentially interested in relocating to Wheeling and setting up a business in Wheeling are extremely digital literate," he said.
He also said local parks are equally important, from the largest fields to the tiniest playgrounds.
"Maintenance issues need to be better coordinated for fields where regularly scheduled events do not happen," Poynton said. "Parks should be inviting and not lying fallow. Citizens should feel free to visit parks for pick-up games and not have to trudge through weeds. There are several fields and parks that look and feel abandoned. ... This needs to be improved."
Regarding a $36 million water treatment plant project that may result in an 80 percent increase in customers' water rates, Poynton said the West Virginia Public Service Commission restricts how the city can approach the plan. However, he said the city could explore incentive programs to lessen the impact on those who use less water.
On taxes and fees, he said various revenue sources need to be revisited.
"I think it is important to know if B&O is driving business away from the city. All around us - in Ohio, Pennsylvania and even in Moundsville - infrastructure and jobs are being created for the Shale industry, none of which is happening in Wheeling. Why is this? I believe business stay away from Wheeling because of the closed nature of political decision making and insider trading, so to speak. If B&O is a culprit, we need to reassess this. Wheeling needs the jobs that are presently going to other communities."
Poynton is a 58-year-old property developer, filmmaker, published author and play producer. He purchased his Wheeling residence in 2007 and spent some years rehabilitating it. He moved to Wheeling from New York City due to health complications following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. He said he also has extensive experience in social services.