AUBURN — Mike Ley said he spoke with 1,600 people as he walked door-to-door in his successful campaign for mayor of Auburn.
Five of them — all women — stood out to Ley and changed his approach to his next four years in City Hall.
Ley said he talked to each woman for 20-25 minutes outside her home. Four of them spoke about their personal experiences with domestic violence. The fifth described sexual abuse in her childhood home.
“I absolutely believe God had them talk to me because He needed me to hear a few things directly, passionately, face-to-face and get and understanding of what’s going on here,” Ley said Tuesday night after his election victory.
“What that caused was for me to redirect my focus during this campaign and go from what might have been more bricks-and-mortar infrastructure to the humanistic side of our town,” he told Republicans who gathered in Middaugh Hall to watch election returns.
The returns showed Ley, a Republican, gaining 55.8% percent of the votes to defeat Democrat Sarah Payne in Auburn’s first mayoral race since 1999. Ley will replace Norm Yoder, who was unopposed in the last four elections and is retiring Dec. 31 after 20 years as mayor.
After brief remarks thanking his campaign team and family, Ley turned from celebratory to serious.
He said he heard those five women’s horror stories in all four quadrants of Auburn.
“No part of the city is immune,” Ley said.
By visiting more than 6,000 homes, he said, “I saw our town differently, and I see that we have many needs.”
He pledged to immediately begin an initiative known as the City Movement. Ley said it will bring together leaders of education, business, health care, churches and nonprofits.
“We’re going to collectively work on two or three systemic issues in the community together, such as domestic violence, mental illness, abuse, addictions, homelessness, poverty,” Ley said.
“I’m an absolute believer that we have to take care of our people, we have to build them up. If we build our people up, our city will flourish,” he said to applause from some 200 people in Middaugh Hall.
Ley also mentioned more traditional projects on his agenda. He listed them as working on an overpass for the CSX railroad on the city’s south side, addressing the busy S.R. 8 corridor, activating a tree commission, establishing a youth advisory commission and citizens academy and working on infrastructure concerns.
“That all gets started in our first week — and then I guess we’ll find something to do in our second week,” he said to laughter from the audience.
Ley said that during his campaign, he asked residents how they like Auburn.
“The answer to that was overwhelmingly, ‘I love Auburn — love, love, love Auburn,’” Ley told his approving listeners.
Ley said he then asked residents, “What do you want to change?” He said they answered, “I really don’t want to change anything.”
“I said, ‘That’s exactly right. Neither do I,’” Ley added. “Who we fundamentally are — what we have that makes this community great — we do not want to change. In fact, we want to keep it.”
He said citizens “want to maintain what Auburn is, and why it makes us so special, and we want to do that. We’re going to enhance it, we’re going to grow it and we”re going to add to it, but we’re not going to change it. Auburn’s going to be just as great in four years as it is today, as it has been for 119 years.”
Because of his door-to-door visits, “I absolutely feel I know what people of this community think, how they feel about the community and what they look forward to in the future,” Ley said at the start of Tuesday night’s remarks.
Closing his 10-minute speech, Ley pledged, “I’m going to do the best job I can for the city of Auburn … and we’re going to leave Auburn a better place when I’m done being mayor, whenever that is.” After his first years as mayor, he promised, “You’re going to like what you’re going to see.”