What a local politician’s bicycle taught him about campaigning (and winning)

West Chester Twp. Trustee Lee Wong is out campaigning for Butler County Commission earlier this month. Wong is facing incumbent commissioner Cindy Carpenter for the GOP nomination in the May 8 primary. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF
West Chester Twp. Trustee Lee Wong is out campaigning for Butler County Commission earlier this month. Wong is facing incumbent commissioner Cindy Carpenter for the GOP nomination in the May 8 primary. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

When Lee Wong first won election to the West Chester Twp. Board of Trustees in 2005, he rode around Butler County’s largest township on his bicycle.

He was less than 250 votes from being the top vote-getter in his first election.

That bicycle, Wong said, helped him win election.

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“They saw that bicycle as a symbol of hard work,” said the four-term township trustee.

Now he campaigns for Butler County Commission, running against incumbent Commissioner Cindy Carpenter for the GOP nomination in the May 8 primary. He has since upgraded from his bike to a small Segway which allows him to go door-to-door faster. And that one-on-one contact with voters is at the heart of his campaign.

“People see this as shoe-leather politics, going door-to-door, and people see that you are hard-working and honest,” said Wong.

But being a politician, and in campaigning, Wong said he has developed a thick skin.

“I’ve been to some houses, they’ve slammed the door on me,” he said. “It’s life; you have to have thick skin.”

This month, this news organization is profiling the two candidates vying for the Republican nomination in the Butler County Commission race. This is the second of those profiles.

Wong came to America in 1971 as a student in Chicago, and never had an interest in becoming a politician or going into public office. That all changed after he was attacked.

“That changed the course of my career,” he said.

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He enlisted in the Army and spent 20 years there from 1975 to 1995, most of that time as a special agent in the Criminal Investigations Division. He later took a job with Butler County in the court’s probation department.

“I want to make this a better community than how I found it,” Wong said. “This is why I am involved in civic matters.”

And now that he’s fully retired, he said he has the time to do it.

Wong was the first candidate Bob Higgins on Cherry Blossom Lane in Liberty Twp. saw as he went door-to-door a couple of weeks ago in the Four Bridges neighborhood.

He appreciated Wong taking the time to hear from the public.

“We don’t know about the people we’re voting for if we just see a picture until we can come out, shake their hand and know about them as a person,” said Higgins, who is undecided on who he’ll support on May 8.

While there are many issues the County Commission will have to deal with in the future — from population growth and infrastructure needs to jobs and the economy — Wong said the top issue he hears from voters is about property taxes.

“The property tax is too high. This area (in the Four Bridges neighborhood), they pay over $10,000 (a year).”

He said there needs to be some control on the levies because people are paying too much.

“In West Chester, we stretch the levies. Our police levy, we’ll stretch a five-year levy for five or 10 more years,” he said. “You’ve got to stretch it.”

Some, including Carpenter, have questioned Wong for running for an office just months after winning an election. But Wong said as a probation officer with Butler County, he could not seek a partisan office. He’s since retired, and also said, “I have enough experience to do it for the larger office.”

But this is the largest office Wong said he intends to seek, saying, “I want to stay local.”

“This is where I would serve best,” he said. “I’m a people person. I get out and people know me. Most of the people have seen me before.”

Wong did unsuccessfully attempt to seek the Butler County GOP’s recommendation to succeed former lawmaker Margy Conditt as the 52nd Ohio House District appointment this past September. The Ohio House appointed former West Chester Twp. Trustee George Lang to that seat.

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