For a City Council member at large, representing the entire city forces a broad perspective — and sometimes changes political fortune.

In the past four years, two men have springboarded from the position into perhaps the two most powerful government jobs in Floyd County.

Democrat James Garner’s first at-large term found him on a politically split council under a Republican mayor, Regina Overton. At the end of the term in 2003, Garner displaced the incumbent mayor, spearheading a Democratic landslide that earned the party 10 of 11 elected jobs.

That lone Republican was at-large Councilman Mark Seabrook, returning to the panel after an illness-induced resignation the year before. As sewer renovations progressed, the Sewer Board member became even more visible and campaigned to join the Board of County Commissioners last fall. Seabrook was narrowly elected over Democratic Party chairman Randy Stumler, himself a councilman-at-large for the county.

This year’s at-large primary features familiar and new names on both parties’ slates. Democrats Donnie Blevins and Jack Messer are seeking re-election, while Republican Kevin Zurschmiede, who joined the council in January after commissioner-elect Seabrook’s departure, is pursuing a full four-year term.

Blevins has professed to feeling as if he is constantly the swing vote, but he has found himself at the center of attention for other reasons, too. A longtime city sanitation worker, Blevins, 39, was transferred to the Street Department when sanitation was contracted to a private company at the end of 2005. He has lobbied to shore up his new department’s budget and buy new vehicles, and Blevins also called for an investigation of alleged improper use of city sanitation trucks, but that never materialized. As of April 13, Blevins’ campaign expenses were $345.

Messer, 51, has been a city police officer for 24 years and has said he plans to retire in a few years. He served on the Redevelopment Commission through the Scribner Place approval process and came within a vote of being elected president this year. After Blevins and Beverly Crump asked to no longer lead proposals to improve hiring and budgeting in the Fire Department, Messer became chairman of a related committee. After interviewing several firefighters, the committee issued a report that scalded the department’s management and policies, sparking claims of political opportunism from Garner’s administration. Messer has spent $549 on his campaign.

Zurschmiede was a majority choice of Republican Party leaders to replace Seabrook, and the real estate broker and contractor got his feet wet fast with roles on the Plan Commission and Sewer Board. Zurschmiede, 44, has pushed for the council to defer more to its attorney Jerry Ulrich in providing opinions and writing resolutions and ordinances. He has come the closest of his colleagues to calling for a legal challenge of the Board of Works’ recent passage of a firefighter-hiring procedure, something the council ruled on in 2003. Zurschmiede has led at-large fundraising with $2,003 and has spent $943.40.

As in 2003, only five of 30 council candidates are female, and three of those are running for at-large positions.

Valla Ann Bolovschak, 45, proprietor of Main Street’s Admiral Bicknell Inn, has lobbied for railroad track improvements and the Ohio River Greenway paths project; Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed her to the commission guiding the latter. She videotapes virtually all council meetings and has occasionally taken the podium to cite state audits of the city as evidence of what she considers to be the Garner administration’s poor leadership. Bolovschak led all at-large candidates in campaign expenses at the reporting deadline, spending $1,036.63.

Similarly, Vicki Denhart is acutely critical of the current city government. A five-year county government employee, the 57-year-old Denhart is the sister of a retired police officer and of the county’s assessor, Brenda Egge. She spent five years working in local government and spent $652.12 on her council bid as of April 13, second among at-large Democrats.

Shirley Baird, 56, has spent somewhat less, at $78.61. The insurance clerk has banking experience and has been a mainstay at the podium in council meetings, even days after breaking her leg. Though a resident of the city’s west end, Baird has frequently attended meetings of other neighborhood’s associations.

Though the roster of at-large candidates comes from all districts, Steve Burks is the only representative of District 6, which could very likely expand if the city pursues annexation further north on Charlestown Road. At a council meeting several months ago, the Republican spoke up against any changes to firefighter hiring that would lower the intellectual standard of the written test. Burks has spent $595 on his bid.

John Gonder has spent more than any at-large Democrat — $736 — and is running on a progressive platform. The Plan Commission member ran for council in 2003 and attended several meetings this year as a neighbor opposing the Summit Springs condominium development near State Street and Daisy Lane. Gonder, 53, maintains an Internet site at johngonder.blogspot.com that describes his platforms.

James Hollis, 77, was a six-term county councilman and was the top vote-getter to miss nomination in the 2003 primary for city council at large. This year, Hollis is the only candidate not to submit fundraising and spending records to the county clerk. Hollis has also served on the Redevelopment Commission.

New Albany did not elect a black council member until Robert Mitchell in 1971, and since he left office in 1988 there have been no others. Tonye Rutherford is bidding to become the first black councilman since Robert Mitchell left office in 1988. The Republican works for the Printing in Time company on Grant Line Road and has spent $153 on his election bid.

Kenny Keilman has council and campaign experience above anyone else in the at-large field. He served four full terms from 1976 to 1992, when he left council to unsuccessfully seek the mayor’s office. Keilman also sought the District 2 seat in 1999 but lost to Democrat Bill Schmidt. Thus far he has spent $41.42 on his campaign.

Richard Berryman also has campaign experience, having lost bids for County Council in 2000 and District 1 City Council in 2003. Berryman, 56, is well-funded this time around, having spent $823.50 on his campaign. He served 20 years in the Indiana National Guard.

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