Bowling Green voters will soon have a new mayor for the first time in nearly a decade.
On September 1, the local mayor’s race got more interesting. Incumbent Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson announced he was withdrawing from the contest due to medical reasons. That’s also when he endorsed retired Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Alcott, who is the only candidate on the ballot. Businessmen Tom Morris and Chris Page are running as write-in candidates.
Morris and Page are making their first bids for public office. Alcott entered politics two years ago when he ran for State Rep. Jody Richards’ seat in the legislature. Alcott lost the Republican primary in that race.
"No one wants to lose a campaign, but when you lose, you persevere and you grow from it," Alcott told WKU Public Radio.
Alcott hopes to stage a comeback. His path to elected office is a little clearer this time, but he’s not expecting to coast to victory. One Saturday last month, Alcott set up a booth at the intersection of Russellville and Morgantown Roads. He waved to traffic and passed out campaign literature.
"Thank you!," he yelled to passing car horns.
Alcott is a Bowling Green native who retired from the Air Force in 2016 and returned home. If elected, one of his main goals is to unify city and county government.
"You know the city and county face off on different sides of the street," Alcott said. "I’m not here to make a united metro government, but I am here to be a leader and to unite leaders."
One of the issues Alcott wants both local governments to tackle is the lack of broadband internet access, which he sees firsthand as a teacher. He points out COVID-19 has forced many students to learn from home three days a week.
"I teach in the high school. I have JROTC at Warren East High School. My wife is a teacher, second grade at Alvaton," explained Alcott. "We have students say, ‘Sir, I couldn’t do my homework last night because broadband went out. Sir, I couldn’t do my homework because my mom couldn’t take me to a wifi spot.’"
Across town, Tom Morris canvassed a neighborhood just off of Cabell Drive. He has an app on his phone that lists the names of residents, their address, and party affiliation.
Although the mayor’s race is non-partisan, Morris is visiting mostly Democratic homes that he thinks will be friendly to his platform, which includes sustainable energy and recycling.
“We have a responsibility to care for the earth and this is kind of part of our responsibility," Morris said.
Morris has won endorsements from the Sierra Club and the Sunrise Movement. Professionally, he’s a landlord and a retired computer engineer. Wearing a mask and T-shirt reading 'Write In Tom Morris for Mayor,’ he walked up to a home on Smith Way whose owner was sweeping the front porch.
"Sir, excuse me. Hi. I’m Tom Morris and I’m running for mayor. I’d shake your hand, but not in these times," Morris said with a laugh.
The coronavirus pandemic is one of two challenges Morris is facing. The second is that he’s mounting a write-in campaign, which is forcing him to work even harder.
"It’s not very good chances, but I feel so strongly about what I’m running on, I’m willing to take that chance," Morris said.
Morris is backed by the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign for supporting local efforts to pass a law protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations.
"It’s a business-friendly position to take. Large businesses don’t want to move where they feel like their employees are not going to feel welcome," said Morris. "I understand there’s a lot of misinformation about it, and how it would force people to do things against their religion and it’s not true. I think it’s overblown scare tactics.”
Efforts to pass what supporters call a fairness ordinance have been unsuccessful in Bowling Green over the past decade. The LGBTQ also have an ally in Bowling Green’s other write-in candidate for mayor, Chris Page, who pastors Center Baptist Church in South Union.
"I don’t believe in discrimination against anyone for any reason," Page said. "Just because you don’t agree with somebody’s lifestyle doesn’t mean you should use the law to discriminate against them, and that’s what I believe.”
Page owns the Shake Rag Barbershop in a historic section of downtown Bowling Green. He talks a lot of politics with his customers, but he never planned to enter politics until Mayor Wilkerson dropped out of the race and endorsed Todd Alcott.
As he cut a customer's hair last week, Page told WKU Public Radio that he entered the race to give voters more options for mayor.
"The people of Bowling Green deserve an election, not a selection," Page said.
Wilkerson’s endorsement resulted in a complaint filed with the city’s board of ethics. The panel has since cleared the mayor of misusing city resources when he made the endorsement at City Hall.
If elected, Page says he would work to bring more affordable housing to the city and more investment to the Shake Rag District. He would also incentivize businesses and individuals to consume less energy.
Alcott, Morris, and Page have few days left to sway Bowling Green voters who haven’t already cast their ballots early in-person or through the mail.