CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Former U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of West Virginia Bill Ihlenfeld says he’s running for State Senate to give the people of the Ohio Valley a voice in Charleston.
“I don’t think that the folks in Charleston are listening to the men and women who walk the streets of Weriton, Wellsburg, Wheeling and other parts of the Northern Panhandle. When I got the call to consider running a couple of weeks ago, I knew it was something that I needed to strongly consider,” Ihlenfeld told MetroNews.
Ihlenfeld announced his campaign Monday. He plans to run for as the Democratic candidate for the 1st District State Senate seat currently occupied by Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns (R-Ohio).
Members of the 1st Senate District Select Committee met last week and appointed Ihlenfeld to the ballot.
This is Ihlenfeld’s first political run for office. He admitted, “I’m the underdog. There’s no doubt.” But he said that won’t stop him from tackling important issues in West Virginia.
His top priority will be to address the state’s drug epidemic. As a former prosecutor, he worked to put drug dealers behind bars and worked to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the state.
“The opioid crisis has a strangle hold on the state. I knew that from the day I walked into the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2010. We need to do more in this state to loosen the grip of addiction upon all of our communities,” he said.
Ihlenfeld said he knows the federal officials that can help West Virginia combat the drug issues. He said West Virginia needs to be applying for more federal grants. He said he wants to work with the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, the state Department of Health and Human Resources and other agencies to make sure he’s doing all they can to help the state.
“I’ve dealt with the issues from an enforcement side, but I also understand the need for additional treatment, the need to support those who are in recovery and I understand the need to really ramp up our efforts with prevention,” he said.
The best way to prepare for his first political run is to listen to his constituents, Ihlenfeld said.
“I’ll be listening to teachers, labor, medical professionals, law enforcement. I’ll be trying to learn about issues that I don’t have a lot of background in and then the areas that I do, there’s always more to learn,” he said.
Issues with teacher pay raises and PEIA benefits hit home for Ihlenfeld. He said he wants to make sure all school employees are being heard. It’s one of the reasons why he’s in the Senate race.
“I come from a family of teachers. All my friends are teachers. I can really feel their frustration and their anger. I don’t just feel it. I see it and I hear it. I decided I needed to get off the sidelines, get into the game and try to make a difference for the working people of the state,” he said.
Ihlenfeld served as U.S. Attorney from 2010 until 2016. He now works in private practice with the Bailey-Glasser Law Firm in Wheeling.
He is a graduate of Ohio University and the West Virginia University College of Law.