On July 1, 2016 Glenn F. Elliott was sworn in as Mayor of Wheeling, W.Va. The following is a transcript of his inaugural address.
On behalf of my fellow members and colleagues on Wheeling City Council, thank you so very much for joining us today for this ceremony.
It is an honor to stand before you today in this beautiful, historic theater in Downtown Wheeling—a venue that delights as much in July of 2016 as it surely did on its opening night on Thanksgiving Day in 1928. Like the city that it calls home, the Capitol Theatre was built with purpose and conviction. And while it has witnessed times of unbridled prosperity, it has also weathered the storm of economic decline. We know this storm well in Wheeling, because for too many years it has strained our civic institutions and stifled our collective capacity to dream. But we gather today in a wonderful exception to that rule. The beauty that surrounds us in this hall was not the result of luck or magic. It was instead the byproduct of vision and partnership by civic leaders a decade ago. At the time, the idea of this community taking ownership of a weathered, aging theater was met with tough questions, obstacles, and outright naysaying. But I am happy to report that the naysayers were wrong. The lesson of this magnificent structure is that we should never discount the power of shared vision for our future. And we should never doubt the strength of partnership in changing our reality.
Which brings me back to Wheeling. It may have been a long, cold, economic winter for the Friendly City, but Spring has come. To live in Wheeling today is to occupy a community absolutely brimming with potential. For the first time I can recall in my lifetime—and for those keeping score, that’s roughly four and a half decades—there are more conversations about Wheeling today using the future tense than the past. For many, the decision as to whether to invest in Wheeling has been replaced with the question of where to invest in Wheeling. At long last, we are seeing more historic buildings being purchased for redevelopment than scheduled for demolition. And we are poised to see economic and population growth—a combination that might have been unthinkable for City leaders several decades ago. Today, Wheeling is a city on the rise.
As we continue along this path to prosperity, those of us on City Council will have great expectations placed upon our shoulders. As we should. Each of us worked very hard to earn the trust of the voters knowing full well that just might win. And to the winners go the responsibilities. I believe I speak for all my fellow Council members when I say that we welcome the task that lies before us. But we also recognize that the challenges ahead will require solutions that extend beyond any one City Council meeting or even city government itself. We will need to foster more partnerships like the one that saved this theater. And we will need to find a shared vision for the future. I campaigned for this office not on the basis that I had all the answers to Wheeling’s challenges, but rather on the promise that I was willing to listen, and to learn, and to leave no stone unturned in my quest to find workable solutions. I have no doubt that we will find these solutions together.
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As we begin, we must look to cities that are succeeding in solving the problems of our time, and we must study and adapt those strategies as needed to fit our unique circumstances. Wheeling is not the first city struggling with an aging infrastructure and a prevalence of blighted, dilapidated properties. Nor are we the only community grappling with the cycle of addiction and the array of problems that the drug trade brings with it. We must use whatever tools we have in our arsenal to direct private investment, public funding, and civic attention towards solving some of Wheeling’s vexing problems that continue to compromise our competitiveness.
And we must also empower our neighborhoods in this effort. A city is only as strong as its weakest neighborhood, and right now there are too many neighborhoods in Wheeling failing to meet their potential. City government must be part of the solution, but we must also foster more civic engagement at the neighborhood level if we are truly going to solve these neighborhood-level problems once and for all. Our success as a city lies within making all of our neighborhoods safe, thriving places to raise families.
During our journey these next four years, we must also be mindful of Wheeling’s historical prominence in West Virginia. After all, we are the founding city of the Mountain State. It was in this city, just several blocks from where we convene today, that West Virginia was born. Our DNA has always been that of a forward-looking city, and in a time when our State desperately needs an image makeover, Wheeling needs to lead the way. We have done so before. We can do so again.
But we need your help. To those of you in the audience, my charge is simple: Engage. Engage.
No single Mayor, City Council member, non-profit organization, or business can change this city alone. Only by working together can prove to all the naysayers once and for all that Wheeling is back. And that we are back for good.
So, again, I implore you as you leave this theater today to accept my challenge of engagement.
Engage your employer in the change you want to see in this community.
Engage your employees, provide them with the opportunity to be agents of change.
Engage your non-profit organization or church congregation to rethink its role in the future of this city.
Engage your children. Instill in them a confidence that Wheeling can be the backdrop of their future.
And engage yourself.
Go forth and seek out your friends and family who have left the Ohio Valley seeking greener pastures. And tell them that what they seek could be found with a 26003 ZIP Code. Let them know that Wheeling is a community on the move.
And never shy away from sharing your ideas for a vibrant Wheeling with me or my fellow Council members. We stand ready with open ears and open minds to engage you in re-imagining Wheeling into a city of the future.