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Economic development, making connections are major themes in Worthington mayoral forum

With Mayor Mike Kuhle set to retire with the expiration of his 2022 term, three candidates are seeking the city's top post.

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Rod Sankey (from left), Chad Cummings and Rick von Holdt answered questions at the Worthington Event Center Monday night, Oct. 17, 2022.
Emma McNamee
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WORTHINGTON — A candidate forum featuring three individuals seeking to be the next mayor of Worthington drew one of the largest crowds yet to the Worthington Event Center in a series of forums hosted by FORWARD Worthington's Governmental Affairs Committee. Those vying for the top office include Chad Cummings, Rod Sankey and Rick von Holdt, and all three were on hand to address questions posed by the audience, identify their priorities and talk about their stances on current issues in the city.

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Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle is set to retire with the expiration of his 2022 term. Cummings is a current council member, while Sankey previously held a council seat. von Holdt is Worthington's former fire chief.

Economic development and growth

With questions from the crowd, much of Monday night’s conversation revolved around economic development in Worthington. Cummings was quick to identify the continued growth of the city as his No. 1 priority.

“The biggest thing we need in Worthington is people,” he said, noting that while Worthington’s population has expanded and changed over time, the city would only benefit from bringing more people in. “We need to continue to grow because every industry we've heard out there needs people. In order to grow, in order to gain more retail, in order to better ourselves, we need people.”

Cummings and von Holdt both pointed to the development of amenities in town, like the JBS Field House, various parks and a splash pad as benefits that would help draw and retain people to Worthington.

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When asked about attractions centered on children, von Holdt applauded the development of the city’s bike paths and said he would be in favor of expanding rental services like the available kayaks and paddle boards at the Beach Nook to include bikes.

“This stuff is in its early stages, so I’m hoping that it just really blossoms,” he added.

Sankey was less keen on some of the city-involved developments, including the movie theater , of which the city was a major player in bringing to town.

“It’s not an amenity,” Sankey said, adding that Worthington taxpayers would be paying for the theater for years to come. “...and your children will be paying for your misbegotten thoughts and ideas of what the city of Worthington needs.”

As for more amenities geared toward children, Sankey said he believed children were more than happy to occupy themselves with technology.

“Maybe the parents should spend more time communicating with … your children than finding a place to get rid of them for a couple hours,” he added.

The topic of housing was also raised, with Cummings pointing to the series of lots made available for purchase by the city, and Sankey pushing for starter homes to bring people to Worthington.

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Leadership and Connections

Another major theme of Monday night’s forum was reaching out — both to Worthington’s “underrepresented” groups and with legislators at the state and federal levels.

von Holdt said he would work at making connections with local legislators if elected. As for Worthington, he acknowledged it would probably take some time to get involved with different ethnic communities and make inroads.

“First and foremost, I would probably get in touch with some of the key personnel in those communities anyways, and have some meetings with them … and just keep communicating on a regular basis,” he said.

For Cummings, his position as a “promoter of Worthington” and his long-time involvement with local radio and city council has helped lend itself to making connections with people in St. Paul and D.C., he told the crowd.

“I'm not afraid to talk to anybody,” Cummings said. “I will make those connections, as I have many times.”

It’s a philosophy he similarly applied to connecting with Worthington’s many diverse groups, stating that making those connections often started with a willingness to say hello, and listen.

Sankey said when it came to interacting with the state Capitol, he could understand that the mayor would have a role to play in making presentations on behalf of the city. Back in Worthington, though, he would have a different approach.

“I don’t think it’s important for the city of Worthington to worry about reaching out,” Sankey stated. “...it's important that we help someone new coming in to be respectful to them. But I feel that, you know, they come to our country, they gotta follow our rules.”

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While the topics of taxes and avoiding conflicts of interest were also brought up, as the night wound down, all three candidates ended the evening the same way — by thanking the crowd, and asking for those watching to cast their ballots on Nov. 8.

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Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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