Having served 16 years on the Richmond City Commission, Robert Blythe is seeking to fill a new role as the city's mayor. The 2018 election will see at least three new commissioners, and Blythe feels like his experience could be a positive force for the city he has faithfully served.
"I have the experience, and some things don't need to be entered into without perspective," he said, adding the decision to run was also a personal one. If elected, Blythe will be Richmond's first African-American mayor. The hopeful candidate said he wants African-American children to know that this door is open for them.
"I was blessed to be able to open that door to the Richmond City Commission in 2002, as its first and only (African-American) member...I always say if not you, than who," Blythe said.
On Nov. 6, Blythe will face fellow city commissioner Jim Newby for the mayoral seat.
Born and raised in Richmond, Blythe still lives on the street where he was born. After attending and graduating from Richmond City Schools in 1967, Blythe obtained a Bachelor's degree from Eastern Kentucky University in math with a minor in French in 1971. Blythe spent his first year of teaching in Garry, Ind., then was hired to teach at Madison High School. In 1978, he was offered a job in IBM's sales office in Ohio, where he worked three years, during that time he admitted he felt the call to preach. Blythe was offered a job pastoring First Baptist Church on Francis Street in 1981, and obtained his Master's in divinity from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and, later, a Doctorate of Divinity from Covington Theological Schools.
After returning to Richmond, having maintained his certification to teach, Blythe taught once again at Madison High School and then Madison Southern High School. In 1993, Blythe took a job teaching math at EKU, where he stayed for 18 years till his retirement in 2011.
Blythe ran for city commission in 1973, when he said he was too young to take the seat at the time, and again in 1977, but lost by only 11 votes. However, in 2002, Blythe won his bid and afterwards was elected eight times, twice running as the first choice among the four-person commission and serving twice as mayor pro tem.
Additionally, Blythe is a member of numerous boards and committees, among them the Madison County NAACP and the Richmond Rotary.
Asked about his ideal Richmond, Blythe said a city where everyone gets along, not that they wouldn't disagree but would handle those differences with respect, and a city that is becoming safer and cleaner, and has returned to the ideas of neighborhoods where children can safely play and folks care about their fellow man.
"I believe strong neighborhoods ward off a lot of what we consider evil in society," Blythe said, noting if you know your neighbors you know when something doesn't look right at their home. "Ideally, we would also encourage children to learn. That doesn't always have to be a four-year degree. That can also be learning how to do something with their hands, but to learn a trade and something that will give them a living."
Of his accomplishments, Blythe said he's proud of his election to office as commissioner, as well as the part he played in passing a keg tracking ordinance to help elevate the purchase of liquor for minors at parties and keep adults accountable. He is also proud of his 37 years of service pastoring First Baptist Church, during which time a new church was constructed and paid off 17 and a half years early.
If elected, Blythe noted a few issues he would like to address for Richmond, which includes the creation of an intergeneration center for seniors and youth with programming for both. Secondly, he wants to make sure a program is implemented to keep the city clean.
"Cleanliness affects everything from business to living," he said. "We have to get on the same page with getting that stuff up and out of the way."
Regarding the drug epidemic, and the trickling down effect of crime related to it, Blythe said he would commit to provide the police department with what they need to combat the problem.
"They have always had that commitment from me," he said.
Blythe also noted the need to continue wholesome youth programming, such as little league, Richmond parks, after-school programs and more for youth enrichment.
He also said greater attention needs to be given to address abandoned properties that affect neighborhoods and safety, as well posing a danger as drug misusers often engage in their addiction at abandoned locations. Also, a look should be taken at homelessness in Richmond, which he said needs a coordinated effort maybe in the form of a coalition, to alleviate the impact.
Blythe would also liked to tackle fixing city streets, such as Water Street.
Regarding the city's issue of parking, Blythe said the problem isn't that Richmond doesn't have enough parking spaces, but how those spaces are used.
"We may have to get back to stiffer control on time and add signs telling people where parking is located and hours parking is available," he explained, adding he does not feel Richmond needs a parking garage yet.
About current Mayor Jim Barnes' proposed First Street Project, which would turn the street into a fountain square and remove the parking lot beside the Madison County Courthouse and install a garden park near city hall, Blythe said more conversations need to occur with the county who would be most affected, specifically by the loss of a parking lot.
Blythe added that he feels the decision for such an expensive project should not be made until the new administration is sworn in, and after another town hall has been hosted to allow more input from the people.
"We need to just sit down and talk about the issues," he said. "It's the people's money."
The 69-year-old candidate, who will celebrate a birthday the day before the election, says he has appreciated the opportunity to serve for 16 years as commissioner and provide 40 years of leadership to the community in various ways.
"If elected, I commit to always do my best for the people of Richmond," Blythe said.
Reach Critley King at 624-6623; follow her on Twitter @critleyking.