A city best known for political infighting is about to get a new look, complete with a mustache.
Twenty-six year Lawrence resident Dean Jessup pulled off what many thought was a political upset in November when he beat Republican incumbent Paul Ricketts for the job of Mayor for the City of Lawrence.
“I knew I could win or I wouldn’t have run,” said Jessup in a recent post-election interview. “When (John) Solenberg gave Ricketts such a challenge in May, I knew that the voters were looking for a change.”
Solenberg, a 53 year-old emergency helicopter pilot, narrowly lost to Ricketts in the republican primaries garnering 47% of the vote. Afterwards, Solenberg came out in support of Jessup who ran in his Democratic primary unopposed.
Going door-to-door, Jessup and his volunteers heard a common theme with Lawrence voters.
“People feel like nothing has happened in the last 8 years, we all feel like we’ve missed some opportunities,” said Jessup. “Now is the time. Financially, if we don’t do something, we are going to waste away to nothing. Hopefully that will create enough urgency to start moving some things forward.”
Jessup has big plans for Lawrence. First and foremost, Jessup plans to quarterback a rebranding project, complete with a new logo, tagline, flag, and most importantly a new attitude towards the City of Lawrence.
In November, the Lawrence Redevelopment Commission, led by Geist resident John Lewis, approved a rebranding project for the City of Lawrence in an effort to attract more businesses to relocate to the Pendleton Pike corridor. After some internal discussion, the scope of the project expanded to include the entire City of Lawrence.
“We need to get the community leaders all involved in this process to make sure we’re all singing from the same song book. Right now, we’re known as the community that does nothing but politically fight. We have to change that culture.”
Local news stories by ABC Channel 6 television leading up to the election this fall underscored the need for a new brand. Lawrence signage featuring a “Mayor Paul Ricketts” engraving and a dispute over a police dog left a less than favorable impression of the City.
As for what the “new and improved” Lawrence will look like, Jessup has some big ideas. After researching other metropolitan areas around the country, Jessup found a striking parallel between Lawrence and Aurora, Colorado.
“Aurora has a decommissioned military base (Lowry Air Force Base) just 6 miles outside of Denver, Colorado. They used the arts, festivals, music, and theater to draw tourism from neighboring communities. As a result, their unemployment rate is about 2% under the national average and they have a vibrant economy.”
Jessup is excited by the assets already at his disposal to see this vision come to fruition. For starters, the historic Main Post 250-seat theater next to the Sterrett Center, public art sculptures at major intersections, and a strong grass roots arts organization called the Partnership for Lawrence can provide a good base to build upon. Discussions have already started with music festivals, including the Whispering Beard Folk Festival near Cincinnati, to relocate to Lawrence.
“I’m just excited that we are moving toward getting to do something proactive in Lawrence,” said Jessup with a smile. “We finally get to make a difference and get on the same page instead of each others’ backs.”