Fairfield mayor-elect plans to be ‘aggressive’ in attracting new restaurants

Former Fairfield City Council member Mitch Rhodus campaigns at Fairfield High School on Holden Boulevard in Fairfield on Election Day, Nov. 2, 2021, in his bid for the city's mayor. He is running against former council member and former vice mayor Debbie Pennington. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF
Caption
Former Fairfield City Council member Mitch Rhodus campaigns at Fairfield High School on Holden Boulevard in Fairfield on Election Day, Nov. 2, 2021, in his bid for the city's mayor. He is running against former council member and former vice mayor Debbie Pennington. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

Credit: Michael D. Pitman

Credit: Michael D. Pitman

Mitch Rhodus pledges to bring back an old idea, once championed by a popular former mayor, and promises to be “aggressive” when it comes to attracting new dining options.

The former city council member bested Fairfield’s former vice mayor, Debbie Pennington, 52.35% to 47.65%, according to unofficial election results from Election Day.

Rhodus said he wants to restart joint meetings with neighboring local governments, which was something the late former mayor Erick Cook did during his tenure. The idea was briefly continued by former Mayor Ron D’Epifanio.

“He was a huge unifier,” the mayor-elect said of Cook.

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Rhodus also said his top goal is to attract better restaurants to the city, and he said he plans to be “aggressive.”

“I’m going to aggressively go out and search for land, and if the city has to buy to hold it to make sure we own it, and then we find the restaurant we want on our land,” Rhodus said.

This was Rhodus’ second bid for Fairfield’s mayor, a position that has few City Council responsibilities, like running meetings, issuing proclamations and breaking tie votes. Eight years ago, he lost to eventual winner Steve Miller, who will end his eight-year tenure at the end of December. Rhodus said his win is attributed to his team’s work as they “stayed to our principles.” This strategy helped Rhodus win in what appeared to be a close election.

But a dive into the unofficial election numbers show Rhodus’ win came down to a 200-plus-vote difference among the top half of Fairfield’s 38 precincts.

Rhodus, who previously won terms as a city council member in 2003 and 2007, won 22 of Fairfield’s precincts while Pennington won 15. They tied in one precinct. But among the top 19 precincts based on voter turnout, Rhodus doubled his opponent in the number of precincts won and received 225 more votes, according to unofficial election results.

In the bottom half of precincts. Rhodus and Pennington were tied at nine each, and they were tied in one precinct. Rhodus had just four more votes than Pennington among these precincts.

Moving forward, Rhodus said he plans to incorporate a campaign strategy into his work as mayor: neighborhood tailgates.

“We talked to a lot of Fairfield people, and so I have a big, long list of their wants, their wishes, and their desires,” he said.

Rhodus said his tailgate in the driveways of neighbors was likely a big reason why he won Election Day. For 20 to 30 nights straight, he would tailgate, with permission, in a resident’s driveway and seek feedback from neighbors.

Pennington was seeking to be Fairfield’s first female mayor, and though she lost, she said she still won.

“I felt like that I made so many friends, and met new people. It just warmed my heart, the well-wishes and the backing that I got from the community ... I really feel like I won, in my heart,” she said. “We gave it 110 percent and I have no regrets. I ran a hard, clean race.”

Pennington said she won’t say never, but won’t commit at this time to seeking elected office in the future.

“I just want to do what the people want,” she said.

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