That’s what Alex Coogan did before visiting City Clerk Janice Jones to officially file to run to become the next mayor of Wheeling. He asked his friends, his family, and he thought long and hard.
What should he do? This time, anyway? Coogan, a resident of Wheeling who has a full-time job managing more than 90 rental units while also owning two used-appliance stores, had previously conducted campaigns for city council and the Ohio County Board of Education. He lost both times by convincing margins, but in the end that did not deter the young man.
The 30-year-old Coogan scribbled out a check for $50 to cover his filing fee, and checked “MAYOR” before handing over the paperwork to Jones. At that very moment Coogan became one of four candidates. There was Tony Domenick, also a Wheeling Island resident who had run for the mayor’s position five times before 2016; there was current Vice Mayor and Ward 6 Councilman Gene Fahey; and there was Glenn Elliott, a graduate of The Linsly School who moved away in 2000 to attend college and then law school, but moved back to the Upper Ohio Valley in 2009.
Coogan didn’t care. He filed, and then the open-minded conservative soon learned the Wheeling folks had caught the fresh-idea, non-establishment fever even on the local level, and the call for brand new leadership proved true except in the municipality’s second ward. Elliott will become Wheeling’s next mayor, and incumbents David Miller (Ward 4) and Don Atkinson (Ward 5) were defeated in re-election bids.
“I ran for mayor because I thought I offered an insight into what business owners are looking for and what this valley is looking for, and that would have come from a 30-year-old who plans to live the rest of his life this city,” Coogan said. “I also believe I could have added to the conversation about what entrepreneurs like me are looking for from this city right now.
“My plan didn’t involve turning everything upside down because not everything needs turned upside down,” he said. “I decided this time to run for mayor because I believe my voice would provide a better direction for this whole city. I have always believed that the city of Wheeling should have council members who are at-large, and because of that belief I thought running for mayor would be the best fit for me.”
More voices, he insisted.
“If the city had at-large council representatives, there would be more voices that are concentrated on the entire city instead of just one section of it. Now, I am not opposed to each ward being represented; I just believe there should be at least two at-large representatives, as well,” he said. “But that’s really why I ran for mayor. I wanted to focus on us as a whole. I wanted to focus on bringing us all together.”
Whenever asked about his goals, Coogan’s first two words were always, “Charter Review.”
He would then follow with, “It’s high-time every single one of those codified ordinances needs looked at, too.”
A prime example?
“The Vicious and Dangerous Dog ordinance, for one. That ordinance is a joke for a lot of reasons, but the biggest one is the fact it’s a non-issue,” Coogan said, “ Plus, they didn’t even consult the county’s animal control officer, and they included no way to enforce it.
“It’s a joke, and it needs erased, and there are lot of others that do, too,” he added. “Far more, I’m sure, than I even know about right now.”
Coogan for Council … BOE … Mayor?
He may be just 30 years old, but the name, “Alex Coogan,” has appeared on the city’s and county’ ballots before. Four year ago he wanted to represent Ward 2, and two years ago he filed to run for the Ohio County Board of Education.
“I ran for the school board because at the time I ran, the candidate was unopposed, and that was the only candidate I didn’t believe in,” Coogan said. “And I’m not a person who believes anyone should run unopposed. I believed it should be an open dialogue, and anyone who is unopposed doesn’t have to say a word. And being a member of the school board is a very important position.
“The last election cycle was filled with elements of controversy and the main reason for that is how important a seat on that board really is,” he continued. “But when I realized later was that there were better candidates than I was for that seat, so I backed off, and I told the media that I backed off so the voters would find out.”
In 2012, Coogan was defeated by the only incumbent to win again this year, Ken Imer. Four years ago Imer defeated perennial council candidate Charlie Ballouz by a single ballot, and this year he won re-election by just eight votes over challenger Loma Nevels.
“I ran to represent Ward 2 (in 2012) because I love my Island. I love my Island with all of my heart,” Coogan said. “There are lots of great people on the Island, and there are many great projects in motion at the time, and I thought that we needed a person in that seat who was vocal. So that’s what I did.
“I was someone who was willing to bring fresh ideas to the table. But I was younger and greener then; I really was,” he admitted. “But I still enjoyed it because I had a lot of great conversations with people, and to this day I am still friends will a lot of those people. Lynne Walton is one of those people whom I would have never met had I not run for that seat, and Lynne is very involved with what is happening on Wheeling Island.”
This time he thought he would do better because he’d matured, possessed more developed ideas, and Coogan will admit he likes people better these days than ever before in his life.
But 399 votes? Out of the 7,000-or-so ballots cast in the race?
“I admit it. I am disappointed with 399,” Coogan said. “I felt I campaigned better than that, but, at the same time, I was not disappointed with the turnout at the polls. Am I sad about the fact I didn’t get the votes I thought I might get? Yes, but I am proud that so many people turned out with that much of an opinion.
“What I have to agree to is that people want this city to move forward in their own way, and I believe our newly elected officials will look at that and realize that,” he continued. “I think they will reach out. I think they will realize that this is a community-driven effort. That’s what they said. We’re all part of this community.”
Did the Canvas Will Push It to 400?
Black spray paint.
And her face was covered in the spray paint, too.
But that didn’t make Wheeling Island resident Loma Nevels cry. As a 30-year employee of the Wheeling Water Department she encountered racial defiance over and over again. What made the Ward 2 candidate weep was when someone on Facebook accused her of perpetrating the disgusting-in-nature vandalism herself.
But then Wheeling artist Amanda Carney jumped into action. The co-owner of Cat’s Paw Art Studio in Centre Market quickly transformed a blatant discrimination into something inspired by established equality. Carney made ugly into beautiful simply because the vandalism was absolutely unnecessary. Coogan agreed.
“Sometimes we need some hate to remind people what a whole lotta love looks like,” he said. “That’s what Amanda did, and that’s what I love about this city. People care.”
The results hurt, though. Glenn Elliott received 53 percent and Fahey took 38 percent. Coogan snagged 5 percent and Domenick 4 percent. Following the county canvas, though, Coogan did end up with 405 votes.
“I was surprised with the way the race for mayor turned out but Glenn did run an amazing campaign, and I think Gene ran a very great campaign, too. And yeah, I think my campaign was a good one, too,” Coogan said. “But only 399 people agreed with me, and that was unfortunate. But at least everyone showed who they are.
“And the people spoke,” he continued. “So, am a little surprised? Yes. But am I upset? No. But, at the same time, I don’t know what I would have done differently because when it came down to the money, I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t be able to compete that way with two guys who were going to spend thousands of dollars. I think I might have spent a total of $1,200, and Gene and Glenn spent a hell of a lot more than that.”
The new council, set to take office after July 1, will include six new members. It will be a body of government that will feature three married members, one with children, and an average age of around 40 years old. Terms such as “walkability” and “transparency” were included in most campaign platforms this cycle, and it’s apparent it caught the public’s attention.
“I want to see what happens now,” Coogan said. “During the campaign I got to know these people, and I don’t think that they did this for themselves. I think they all want to make Wheeling a better place. Granted, I didn’t agree with them when they said this and that, but I do believe they ran for those positions for the good of the city.
“Now, the war is over and now is the time to make peace and work toward making this city a better place. I’ll donate my skill sets to make that possible, and I hope someone calls me someday asking me to do just that,” he continued. “Seven people won and there were 23 candidates for those races. The people who lost didn’t go away. We’re still here. And I think the majority of us would be more than willing to help in any way we can.”
When he filed, Coogan knew what he was up against. Aside from his eight years of public service on city council, Fahey is, after all a Fahey, and Elliott has been media-popular since moving to downtown Wheeling in 2013. So he talked about things he thought made sense.
“Of course I wanted to win. I did. I really wanted to see that come true,” Coogan said. “Did I think the city was ready for a 30-year-old mayor? No. I encountered that issue a lot the last time I ran and again this time. But, at my age, I think I’m doing OK.
“Am I upset I lost? I put my heart into it and lost, so yeah, I guess I’m a little upset. But do I think the city is going to suffer without me? No,” he added. “I do believe the new mayor and the new council will contact me for whatever reason. At least I hope they do. I’m not going anywhere. I do love this town and I won’t turn my back on my community or my city. Never. Point blank, if you need me, I’ll be there to help.”
(Photos provided by Alex Coogan)