HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Two men familiar with each other as former colleagues with the City of Huntington are in the race to be Huntington’s mayor for the next four years.
Incumbent Democrat Steve Williams, elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2016, is running for a third term in the Nov. 3 General Election against former Huntington city councilmember and Republican Scott Caserta.
The pair worked with each other on the city council for four years beginning in 2008 and the working relationship continued when Caserta remained on council in 2012 and Williams was elected to the mayor post of the state’s second largest city.
Williams’ campaign has been based around ‘finishing what we started’ in projects under him, in fighting the opioid epidemic and in coming back from COVID-19 pandemic.
“You have to have a steady, prepared hand at the wheel to be able to guide us through this,” Williams told MetroNews. “It has nothing to do with who my opponent is or anything else. We don’t need to be changing drivers of the vehicle in the midst of a raging storm.”
Williams, 64, said under his administration, Huntington has gone from the center of the opioid crisis to the center of the recovery. He referenced visits to the area by First Lady Melania Trump, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams and U.S. Drug Czar Jim Carroll
He said while the battle on opioids continues to rage, the work continues in Huntington and most parts of West Virginia.
“We’re never ones in West Virginia to claim to be victims but we had this laid upon us. We didn’t start this fight but we sure are going to finish this,” Williams said.
“I am proud of how our community has responded to this.”
Caserta, 56, criticized Williams’ handling of the opioid epidemic in Huntington, saying it has made the city streets less safe. He said that has resulted in economic downturn with the city unable to attract families or businesses.
He said if elected, he would sit down with organizations to establish more programs that provide a transition from the street to rehab to a successful life.
“We need to be concentrated on getting the transient addicts off the streets that are constantly roaming our streets during the day, in the evening and overnight. They are breaking into house, cars and taking over vacant properties and just moving in,” he said.
Caserta said part of the fight on opioids starts with letting the Huntington Police Department (HPD) ‘do its job’ of arresting people.
He was critical of the budget cuts made by Williams in 2017 of HPD, Huntington Fire Department and the City Works Department ‘during the most critical time in our city’s history.’ The budget cuts included 10 HPD probationary officers and seven probationary firefighters.
As mayor, Caserta said it would be his priority to fully staff and equip the departments as part of his movement to ‘take the city back.’ Caserta said he plans to use more of the city user fee on the departments.
“I am tired of all this taking care of everybody but us. It’s time for the residents to be taken care of and the city of Huntington taken care of,” Caserta said.
“Our police department needs to be re-staffed and it will be re-staffed. Our fire department needs to be re-staffed and it will be.”
Williams said the current staffing levels of the departments are below budgeted levels but the city is working to restore the force. He noted to MetroNews that the city recently worked with a local marketing firm to recruit individuals to HPD. It resulted in the largest class in HPD in 25 years, according to the mayor.
Williams credited the work of the current department for making the city safe.
“In nearly every area of policing we have studied, violent crime and property crime are all down,” he said.
Other areas that Williams said his administration will continue to work on with a third term is paving roads frequently, repairing sewer systems, development of the ACF property, the West Side of Huntington and Hal Greer Boulevard area. He also is pushing for high-speed broadband expansion.
Williams said his number one priority would continue to be the COVID-19 pandemic impact on the city. He said the way the city has responded to the opioid epidemic has built a structure with agencies to fight the virus but remains worried about businesses and employment situations.
Caserta said if he is elected he would begin to lead Huntington back uphill, from Guyandotte to West Moreland, after ‘trending downhill’ the last few years.
“I am not going to say anything bad about him (Williams) because I don’t talk bad about people. The only thing I will say is, is he a good politician. He’s one of the best politicians I have ever seen. But we don’t need a politician, we need someone to run the city,” Caserta said.
Caserta is a 1982 graduate of Barboursville High School and attended Marshall University. He has worked for 25 years as a Carpenter Shop-Current Leadman at Special Metals (INCO). He has been married to his wife, Cindi, for 23 years.
Williams is a graduate of Huntington High School in 1974 and has a bachelor’s from Marshall in Political Science in 1978 and a Masters of Public Administration from West Virginia University in 1980. Williams is married to Mary Poindexter Williams and he has two stepdaughters.