Is Newburgh Heights' mayor Trevor Elkins a radical?
It's worth asking of the 44-year-old politician, a man who has been mayor of the small blue-collar community just south of Cleveland since 2011, and a man who plans on being a name to know in politics for many years to come. As a member of the regional Mayors and City Managers Association, Elkins was the lone dissenting voice when that body voted to endorse the Sin Tax in 2014. Recently, as a board member for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, Elkins was the lone nay vote when the board adopted fare hikes and service cuts this summer.
He's an outspoken advocate for his constituents, but he rejects the radical label with a chuckle.
"So many of my friends are moderate Democrats, even Republican- lites," he says, seated at a table in the ghostly quiet of the Newburgh Heights village council chambers. "And they all kind of laugh at me, but I don't think taking a stand makes you a radical. To be honest, there were 35 mayors in that room when we voted on the Sin Tax, and I voted no, but I bet there were 10 to 15 others who felt the exact same way as I did."
So why didn't they?
"They just didn't have the balls," Elkins says. "It's the path of least resistance, or at least the perception of the path of least resistance. Anyway, how can you label me a radical when I'm the speed camera nazi?"
True enough. Elkins ardently defends the speed cameras, even though he knows people roll their eyes at them, and continue to roll their eyes when Elkins tells them they weren't installed to raise money.
"We have 120-some-thousand cars traveling through this community every day," he says, "and no matter how aggressive we were, we just couldn't control speeds. This is a safety issue. Now, do I recognize that they generate revenue? Absolutely. Do I apologize for that? No."
(Especially, Elkins says, because on I-77, where the speed limit is 60 mph, citations aren't issued until a vehicle hits 74 mph.)
Elkins isn't from Cleveland originally, but he spent summers in Slavic Village with his dad, after his parents split up when he was a kid.
"The first bar I ever drank in was right here on East 42nd," the mayor admits with a visible twinkle in his eye. "Bar Tunek's. I was 16 years old, and I was looking for a place to play pool."
Elkins got his start in politics early, winning a seat on the school board in his small town in upstate New York, immediately after he graduated high school. A couple years later, he worked on the campaign of a friend running for state assembly.
"After that, I was hooked," Elkins says.
Elkins moved to Cleveland in '95 and to Newburgh Heights in '98, but didn't get involved in the local political scene until '03, when he ascended the ranks of the Kucinich-for-President campaign and eventually became the New Hampshire state director.
He planned to run for state senate but, in 2005, the mayor of Newburgh Heights asked him to run for council. He was the top vote-getter in that election. After a stint as the village's finance director, he was elected mayor in 2011. And he's nowhere near done.
"It's cliched, but I'm in politics because I want to make the world a better place," Elkins says. "And if I can make the world an even better place in a higher office, then I will explore that. Do I think my political career ends in Newburgh Heights? Probably not."