Rachel Comte

Political party: 
Question 1: 

Over the past several years many residents have found it difficult to find meaningful employment that is accessible to them. What steps will you take to ensure that residents in our more urban neighborhoods will be able to have the same opportunities as other communities, and to ensure that every part of the city benefits from economic development?

It doesn’t matter how many good jobs are out there - if you can’t get there every day, you’re out of luck.  Better mobility / transit options beyond cars (walk, bike, bus, rail) have the ability to connect all areas of a metro area, and thus connect Newport residents with a larger employer pool.  As population in the US continues to grow exponentially, car traffic will only get worse and we absolutely cannot keep simply widening roads.  Study after study nationally shows that widening the roads results in more traffic.  On top of which it is financially and environmentally unsustainable.  We should instead be spending that money on improving other modes of mobility.  In Newport especially - an urban dense city - non-car movement should be the priority.  As an added bonus, this type of development will not only provide options for all residents, but attract new residents as well!

Question 2: 

Redevelopment in Newport has resulted in the relocation of affordable housing units and the present/former occupants. Given the model of concentration and isolation of the former generation of public housing, this relocation presents both challenges and opportunities. How do you plan to provide greater opportunities to low income residents while affirmatively furthering fair housing? 

The urban renewal high rise projects of the 60s and 70s failed in part because they created created islands of poverty, segregated from the rest of the community, and resulted in areas of high crime and lost community.  The recent losses of that type of housing in Newport is an opportunity as it allows a newer, hopefully better-functioning system to be put into place.   Today’s affordable housing models center on integration, incorporating affordable units within market rate new developments.   This creates affordable housing while also resulting in a stronger, integrated community.  The challenge comes in making sure those in transition don’t get pushed out of Newport as property values rise over time.  Additionally, successful affordable housing requires more than just a low rent/mortgage units.  Successful communities require better transit, easily accessible medical care and other social need-based services as well.  A holistic plan for community is key.

Question 3: 

Newport is one of the most diverse cities in northern Kentucky when it comes to racial and ethnic make up, and has many vibrant neighborhoods. Yet some residents see a distinct lack of representation on city boards or in city employment. What steps can the city take to make sure that community boards and city employment are representative of the city as a whole? 

We have had the same leadership in place in elected officials for decades, and they have done a fine job. However, the city and it’s make up are changing. Leadership needs to reflect this.  I, among many, want to live in a modern city, and believe the commission must represent new perspectives.  This is one of the primary reasons I am running.   Regarding city boards, leadership should ensure that all *neighborhoods* are represented vs. race/ethnicity.  Another thought: Is there less representation because of lack of inclusion or lack of citizen interest?  I don’t honestly know the answer to that question.  I do know  we are adults and capable of getting involved individually.  I ran a tree inventory, started our tree planting program (with a team), and helped created Newport’s first community garden - all separate from the city.  The city’s role is to *assist* citizens’ efforts - not do things for us.

Question 4: 

Currently there are several 'brownfields' scattered throughout Newport. The most well known of these include the L&H Tool & Die site at 12th and Lowell, which was profiled in an USA Today article detailing brownfields and lead contamination, and the former Newport Steel location. What can the city do to help clean up these and other sites, and promote development that will enhance the communities surrounding them?

Redeveloping brownfield sites can be tricky within existing rules and legislation.  Those wanting to buy and reuse sites face significant risks: on top of expected cost to address contaminants, there are many unknowns that can quickly ruin an investment.  New owners can be liable if they uncover additional contamination, for recurring leaks, and deal with agencies that can’t agree on what levels are considered toxic.  And what if lots are not up for sale? Contamination is often uncovered during a property transfer because of required site tests.  Owners with potentially contaminated sites hold onto vacant lots to avoid costs.   It’s a complicated issue.  There are, however, federal EPA grants to help communities proactively identify, assess and plan for redevelopment.  Having these assessments done in advance can make these sites more attractive to buyers.  The city can work with the community to apply for these grants, and proactively address the areas in need.

Question 5: 

Citizens returning home from incarceration, and even those who have finished their probation and parole, often have trouble returning to their communities. Several cities and states have fostered initiatives aimed at helping these members of our community get back on their feet. Louisville and Cincinnati, for example, have removed questions about previous convictions from hiring applications. What steps do you feel Newport can and should take to help folks re-enter our community?

The city can be a willing participant in efforts spearheaded by others more knowledgeable and well-versed in the challenges this group faces.  I’ve interacted with one - a nonprofit business, Lawn Life, run by Tim Arnold.  Tim knows the real challenges from experience: by 18 he had 27 convictions on his juvenile record.  After prison, armed with renewed faith, Tim founded his company to teach other young at-risk individuals to find their way.  New employees start in lawn care and work up to construction, learning trades.  At the same time, he walks them through “a step-by-step work/life training program, teaching work ethics: Be on time. Do good work. The paycheck is your reward.”  Within a year, he places them in their next job, often local construction.  Written on his business cards: "will hire anyone hanging out on the corner and help change the outcome of their life."   Truly inspiring. Quotes: beaconofhopeba.org

Question 6: 

Currently people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ+) lack protection from discrimination in housing, employment, or public accommodation under state or federal law. Eight cities in Kentucky have passed their own expanded human rights ordinance, often referred to as a Fairness Ordinance, to extend protections to LGBTQ+ individuals. These cities include towns as small as Vicco (population 334), as large as Louisville (population 760,026), and as nearby as Covington (population 40,640). Do you support a Fairness Ordinance for Newport to protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination?

It astounds me that there are no protections in place at the federal level from discrimination based on sexual orientation.  You shouldn’t have to choose your city based on protections you may or may not get by being there.  I absolutely support legislation to protect this group just as we are all already protected from discrimination based on race, nationality, religion, sex, etc.  I just wish it was at the federal level. 

Final thought: while these are serious and valid issues to address, they make Newport sound like a depressed, non-viable community.  I love it here, am proud to call Newport my home, and hope others can see all that Newport has to offer.  We are poised for significant progress in the coming years - can you picture the possibilities?  Check out the ideas I’ve been posting for Newport every couple weeks since March: http://www.rachelcomte.com/picture-the-possibilities.html