Most of his neighbors do know him by name — and it’s no wonder. He’s lived on the quiet, picturesque streets of Dimmeydale all his life. Thorngate and his wife, Jess, are now raising their 17-month-old son, Leo, near Thorngate’s childhood home where his parents Roger and Jill still reside.
“I’ve had the same neighbors for 25-plus years. It’s a neighborhood where we take care of each other in times of need. The week after my son was born, multiple neighbors brought us food so that my wife and I could relax and enjoy the new addition to our family.
“And it’s a neighborhood steeped in tradition. This summer, we’ll be celebrating our 81st annual Fourth of July Parade! You’d be hard-pressed to find another event in the city that’s been going on for 81 continuous years. And I’d be remiss not to mention our annual yard sale, Halloween party and Cookies With Santa Claus.”
It sounds a lot like Mayberry, indeed!
FAN (AND FAMILY) OF FIRST RESPONDERS
Thorngate is genetically wired for public service and has a special affinity for Wheeling’s first responders. “My dad is a retired Wheeling firefighter, and my brother Greg is retired from the Wheeling Police Department. I chose a different career path than they did, but I always wanted to serve and to make a difference in my own way,” says Thorngate.
In 2006, Thorngate graduated from Wheeling Park High School, going on to pursue a marketing degree at West Virginia University. After receiving that degree, Thorngate immediately returned to his hometown to seek employment. “I didn’t want to be another statistic,” he shares. “I didn’t want to get my education and then move away. I wanted to come home and fight for the community that had given me so much during the first 18 years of my life.”
INTRODUCTION TO PUBLIC SERVICE
One of Thorngate’s first post-college jobs was at Ogden Newspapers. Though he worked in the advertising department, he began to closely follow the local political scene. “It was there that I started really paying attention to local issues and eventually caught the ‘political bug,’” he says. He has since moved on to his current job as a digital media strategist at Wheelhouse Creative, where he has been employed for about two years.
Thorngate began his public service career as vice president of the Dimmeydale Community Association. He enjoyed it so much that he decided to run for City Council in 2016. Thorngate was subsequently elected at age 28, making him one of the youngest councilors ever elected to office in Wheeling. At the time of his swearing-in ceremony, he was also a newlywed, having married Jess just months before. His wife fully supports his political career and shares his love of their charming neighborhood, even though she didn’t grow up here. Striking the right balance between family life and professional duties can be a challenge, but Thorngate seems to be walking that fine line with finesse.
CONCERNS OF WARD 5
“Over the last decade, Ward 5 has been a ward in transition. We’ve seen an influx of younger families moving into our neighborhoods, and it’s been an incredible asset. Families have the opportunity to grow, their children are playing outside, neighbors are socializing and building the inner workings of a strong community,” Thorngate states.
But growing neighborhoods bring growing concerns. “Infrastructure upgrades — bridges and roads, paving projects and storm sewer issues — are probably Ward 5’s top concerns,” he tells Weelunk. “We’ve had incredible amounts of rain over the past three years, and our current storm sewer system infrastructure can’t keep up.”
Another major issue within the ward is property code violations. “Absentee and non-compliant property owners are often a problem,” says Thorngate. “Council recently passed an ordinance to streamline the property code enforcement process, which we hope will help the situation.”
Finally, although Ward 5 is a stable, mostly middle-class ward, it has felt the effects of the opioid crisis just as much as other areas of the city. “It has touched almost every family in our area in one way or another,” Thorngate laments.
EDGWOOD LUTHERAN CHURCH CONTROVERSY
As many Ward 5 residents are aware, a financial institution is interested in purchasing the former Edgwood Lutheran Church and converting the property to a bank branch complete with drive-through service. Many are opposed to this proposal, as they are concerned that the traffic created by this new business might pose a hazard to their mainly residential neighborhood. Thorngate states that while he’s all for economic development, he also does not want to see the fabric of that neighborhood altered. “If this business is serious about investing in Wheeling, the city will do everything in its power to aid them during their property search,” he states.
“We’ve made progress,” Thorngate says with pride. “When this council was elected, the voters wanted change. We are working to give it to them.” Not everyone embraces change, of course, but Thorngate says that the majority of the feedback he receives is positive. “Mostly everyone I talk to is receptive to our council,” he shares. “They may not always agree with everything we propose, but they respect it.”
One promise made by Thorngate when he was elected was to provide transparency to Wheeling’s citizens so that they were well-informed about the plans and workings of their city government. One way he and other councilors have worked to keep that promise is by holding monthly ward meetings. The Ward 5 meeting is held the third Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at Christ United Methodist Church on Washington Avenue. “It’s great to talk on the phone or by email, but face-to-face is always better,” Thorngate says.
He is also proud of the playground upgrades that have been completed to date. Next on the renovation schedule is the Edgington Lane playground, which is one of the most highly-trafficked playgrounds in town. Thorngate envisions a “destination play area” for that space, which could include play equipment, areas for various sports to be enjoyed, and benches where residents can sit and relax. Council is currently discussing options and ideas, and at a later point in the design process will be asking residents of the area for their input and suggestions.“I’d love to see that playground become a gathering spot for all ages,” says Thorngate.
Currently, a picnic pavilion complete with tables is being installed in the park near South/North Park streets. This build is a community effort spearheaded by Boy Scout Nathan Weekley as his Eagle Scout project. Thorngate would love to see this park become better-utilized once the pavilion is in place.
PROPOSED PUBLIC SAFETY BUILDING
Thorngate strongly supports City Council’s effort to construct a public safety building where Wheeling’s police and fire departments would have the facilities he believes they deserve. “Fifty-three percent of local voters agree,” he says. “We have police officers eating their lunches next to the drug testing area and firefighters sleeping with buckets beside them to catch water leaking from above. They deserve better conditions!”
Thorngate says that City Council is still working on a way to give Wheeling’s first responders this new building. They are looking at a handful of alternate sites as well as at ways to reconfigure their original building plan to make it more attractive to voters. They are also considering the implementation of a city user fee that would tax anyone working within Wheeling city limits a flat rate per pay. According to Thorngate, an employee would likely see only a couple of dollars withheld from each paycheck. For about the price of a cup of coffee each payday, citizens could provide better working conditions for Wheeling’s hard-working police and firefighters.
WHAT MAKES WARD 5 UNIQUE?
Small businesses and strong, established neighborhoods are what make this ward one-of-a-kind. “Small businesses are the lifeblood of Ward 5. Access to great food, nightlife and the overall walkability of our neighborhoods are all important in bringing our ward to life. Think about it … you can eat at Whisk, The Alpha, Country Roads BBQ. You can do your grocery shopping at Miklas Meat Market. You can have a ‘you day’ at Frederick’s Spa. And you can do it all without having to pick up your keys. We’ve also been blessed with countless service industries that provide good, high-paying jobs for our community. Ward 5 wouldn’t be what it is today without businesses like Dr. Joseph, Lou Nau, Duvall TV, Lynn Buch, Ditto, Etc., Bordas & Bordas, Oglebay Institute and Wheelhouse Creative,” Thorngate says. “My favorite part of Ward 5 is the older, established neighborhoods. Don’t get me wrong; I love new development, but there’s just something magical about the tree-lined streets of Woodsdale, Springdale and Dimmeydale.”
HAVE A CONCERN OR SUGGESTION?
If you’d like to reach Thorngate personally, his preferred contact method is by telephone. He can be reached at 304-312-1662. He can also be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the Ward 5 Facebook page on social media.
Will Thorngate run again in 2020? “I will definitely run again — I’m not done yet!” he says enthusiastically. “There is still so much I want to do for Wheeling. I want to leave my mark on this city that has given me so much.
• A lifelong Wheeling resident, Ellen Brafford McCroskey is a proud graduate of Wheeling Park High School and the former Wheeling Jesuit College. By day, she works for an international law firm; by night, (and often on her lunch breaks and weekends) she enjoys moonlighting as a part-time writer. Please note that the views expressed in her writing are solely her own and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone else, including her full-time employer. Through her writing, Ellen aims to enlighten others on causes close to her heart, particularly addiction, recovery and equal rights. She and her husband Doug reside in Warwood with their clowder of rescued cats, each of whom is a direct consequence of his job as the Ohio County Dog Warden. Their family includes four adult children, their spouses and several grandkids.