In The Bigs – LGBT, 12th Street, the Blues

It’s a little different in Wheeling.

Ten cities in West Virginia have councils that have dared to establish protection for discrimination against members of the LGBT communities, but they have done so without a Human Rights Commission that is empowered to enforce it. In the Friendly City, though, the municipality has a nine-member commission that meets once per month and is active with adjudicating such complaints involving alleged discrimination based on gender, race, and age.

OK, so it’s a lot different in Wheeling.

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott supports establishing LGBT standards in Wheeling.
Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott supports establishing LGBT standards in Wheeling.

But following two years of meetings with advocates from throughout West Virginia and the Wheeling area, a 4-1 vote was recorded last week to forward a Resolution to Mayor Glenn Elliott and the six council members that recommends the city enact LGBT standards. The lone “No” vote was cast by Commissioner Pastor Don Marsh.

Now, it is up to the mayor and the six city council members to work with City Solicitor Rose Humway-Warmuth to decide what the LGBT ordinance will look like. There is not a state or federal precedent on which to rely, so the elected officials have some weighty decisions to make while crafting the standards, and Elliott said the first step is to meet with the members of the Human Rights Commission to begin developing a codified ordinance.

“I believe it’s time for Wheeling to adopt these standards like several other cities in our state have,” the mayor said. “If we truly wish to be the ‘Friendly City,’ then an anti-discrimination ordinance is necessary here.

“This will not be a rushed process because we are going to welcome as many people from the community as want to participate. We want to hear from our residents so we can move forward with their thoughts in mind,” Elliott continued. “This is an issue I mentioned during my campaign, and I have spoken with a lot of people about it, so I believe it will be important to welcome our citizens to a public hearing so they have their chance to offer their opinions.”

While 10th, 14, and 16th streets in downtown Wheeling, 12th Street has been a one-way path for many years.
While 10th, 14th, and 16th streets in downtown Wheeling are open to two-way traffic, 12th Street has been a one-way path for many years. (Photo archived by James Thorton)

One-Way to Become Two-Way 

For as long as I can recall, 12th Street has been a one-way road from Main to Chapline streets.

But that is soon to change thanks to action taken by former Mayor Andy McKenzie and the former council. Before their terms were completed, they voted unanimously to change 12th Street to a two-lane road from beginning to end.

The new traffic lights have been installed, but Gus Suwaid, district engineer in the Northern Panhandle for the state Division of Highways, said the change will not just take place one day. That’s because he believes a public awareness campaign needs to take place prior to the alteration.

“It was a two-lane roadway many years ago, but most people only remember it as it is now,” he said. “There will be a lot of confusion at first, and that’s just because people many people have known it as one-way for so long. That’s why we want to take our time, make sure we get the word out with press releases to our local media outlets, and then make the change when we are confident that people have been informed.

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W.Va. DOH District Engineer Gus Suwaid.
W.Va. DOH District Engineer Gus Suwaid.

“Once it is changed and people are used to it, making 12th Street two-way will allow motorists to get around the downtown area a lot easier,” he said. “Right now 16th, 14th, and 10th streets are two-way but with 12th Street being one-way, it makes it tough, so I think people will enjoy it once they are used to it.”

One point Elliott made with Wheeling voters during his mayoral campaign concerned the downtown district’s traffic patterns and improving them to increase the amount of safe walkability in the area.

“If you think about it, the traffic patterns in downtown Wheeling have been established in favor of cars and trucks and not for those walking around the downtown,” Elliott said. “It was something I discussed with a lot of people before I was elected as mayor, and most folks think that those patterns need addressed.

“I think we should also look at Main and Market streets to consider the same thing with those streets,” the mayor said. “I know that Main and Market streets are a state highway (W.Va. Route 2), but it is two-way once you get into the North Wheeling area, so it might also work in the area of our downtown.”

"Wheeler staged "Blues Tuesday" so more and more local residents can be introduced to the Blues.
Wheeler stages “Blues Tuesday” so more and more local residents can be introduced to the Blues.

Warming Up to the Blues

This evening at River City Restaurant, Heritage Blues Fest founder Bruce Wheeler will present yet another “Blues Tuesday” warm-up concert with national artist Rick Estrin and the Nightcats. Tickets are just $20, and the eatery has “Wing Night” each Tuesday evening.

Wheeler, also the executive director of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, began “Blues Tuesday” series as a way to continue introducing the genre to local folks in the Wheeling area. For the first few years of the Heritage Music BluesFest people would travel into Wheeling to attend the event, but residents of the Wheeling area did not. However, the event, founded in 2001 by Wheeler and his family, now attracts fans from the Upper Ohio Valley and beyond. It is scheduled for Heritage Port on Aug. 12-14, and tickets can be purchased here.

River City offers its full menu and it is also "Wing Night."
River City offers its full menu during “Blues Tuesday” concerts and it is also “Wing Night.”

An extra feature this year will be on the second stage where the Blues Society of Northern West Virginia will hold its first IBC competition in order to select an act to travel to Memphis for the International Blues Challenge. More information can be found by visiting the organization’s website.

The day before the 16th annual BluesFest begins in Wheeling, there will be a kickoff party at River City on Thursday, Aug. 11. Jim Adler and IBC winners Ben Hunter and Joe Seamans will be the featured performers.