What seemed like a routine council meeting one Monday in August 2018 turned out to be a catalyst, leading to a series of events, which would propel Quinton Babcock to the mayorship of Oak Harbor, a village in Ottawa County, Ohio.
At that fateful meeting, then-Mayor Joe Helle would resign, following questioning by council members on when he would move back to the city. Helle, who was elected town mayor in November 2015, had been living with his fiancée in Port Clinton while his home in Oak Harbor, which is around a half-hour drive away, was being renovated.
Helle claimed that the complaints of his residency were politically motivated and that his councilmembers wanted him out. He explained to several local media outlets that even the town solicitor, James Barney, said Helle could legally remain mayor while living elsewhere.
Babcock, for his part, pushed back telling local media the members simply wanted to clarify the timeline, given that Helle had not been living in his Oak Harbor home for over six months, as heard in the official recording.
“After the mayor resigned, it got personal,” said Babcock. “Everyone was shocked.”
Still, Helle drafted his resignation letter on the spot and walked out, leaving the members to vote 5-1 in his absence to accept the resignation. Two days later, the council’s president pro tem Don Douglas was sworn in as Oak Harbor Mayor.
However, since Douglas was in the middle of a campaign for Ottawa County Commissioner, Oak Harbor had to elect someone else to replace him. Babcock, who had been a council member since December 2016, decided to run — and won. In December 2018, just a few days after graduating college, Babcock, at 22, became one of the youngest mayors in the country.
Oak Harbor’s Nuclear Dependence
Oak Harbor, 30 miles east of Downtown Toledo, is a town of around 2,740 people. It is home to Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, one of two nuclear power plants in Ohio operated by Energy Harbor, now entangled in a state bribery scandal.
Masterminded by Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder along with four associates, the scandal involves allegations that FirstEnergy Solutions (now Energy Harbor) paid around $61 million to nonprofit organization Generation Now in exchange for passing a bailout worth $1.3 billion. Householder, who is now facing a federal racketeering charge, was removed from his post in a bipartisan 90-0 vote in July.
Local leaders, led by Babcock, however, insist that the 894-megawatt nuclear power plant must remain open. Closing it, they say, would have had a financial ripple effect in the years ahead.
“It’s Oak Harbor’s biggest employer,” said Babcock. Combined, Energy Harbor’s two plants are responsible for contributing around $500 million to the state’s gross domestic product and millions of dollars in state and local tax revenue annually. According to Babcock, the nuclear power plant also generates jobs in manufacturing and construction, well-paying jobs Oak Harbor residents need and benefit from.
“People never thought nuclear power plants will operate after 30 years,” the mayor said. “But it can go for another 30.”
This is why Babcock, who served the remainder of Helle’s term in 2019 and ran again last November, is adamant about diversifying Oak Harbor’s economy – a goal he aims to carry out until the end of his term in 2023.
A Balancing Act
Born on April 5, 1996, Quinton Babcock, who comes from a family of factory workers and small business owners, has always been interested in public service, though not necessarily through politics.
It started when he was managing the marketing for a local computer repair company where he was handling social media and mass mailings.
“I remember feeling like these were valuable skills and I tried to get involved with some community organizations to apply them, but I wasn’t really finding an outlet,” he said. “I think part of this was my fault since I didn’t know quite where to look, but I also think that a lot of community organizations tend to have a problem successfully engaging young people.”
In May, Babcock just finished his master’s degree in Economics, joining the rest of the country’s Class of 2020 in not getting proper graduation. Up until then, the 24-year-old was busy running the town, understanding economic theories, dealing with a pandemic and a lagging economy, and working as a teaching assistant.
“My first year we went through a lot,” he said, alluding how the mayorship debacle in 2018 prepared him for today. “At this point, we have a status quo, but we will be fine in the long haul.”
Aside from addressing and advocating against the possible closure of the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, the young mayor is looking to develop the village’s riverfront, a 400-foot stretch of the Portage River. The proposal last year, valued at $2 million, included an elevated walkway, amphitheater, shelter house, and floating docks.
Babcock, acknowledging that this is a huge sum for a small town, hopes the project will be approved in the state’s 2020 capital budget as a local permanent improvement.
“We had this huge lobbying [effort] for it to be included in the 2020 state budget. We had 1,100 letters of support from the region,” he said. Letters included a few from elected officials and community leaders. “But this capital budget will no longer exist because of the coronavirus.”
Last month, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said he expects to spend the state’s $2.7 billion rainy day fund to offset revenue losses brought by the pandemic, countering his initial claim from May, when he said he wouldn’t touch the fund.
“We’re certainly going to use a lot of the rainy-day fund,” DeWine said during his July 7 press briefing. “By the time we get completely through this, I’m sure we’ll use all the rainy-day fund. And I’m thankful we have it.”
The governor inherited the rainy day fund from former Gov. John Kasich, who has filled it to an all-time high during his term.
While Babcock said he was disappointed that the momentum is now gone, he understands the current circumstances, and instead, chooses to channel his energy towards building strong relationships with his constituents.
When he is not busy with his mayoral duties, he finds himself reading books, playing the guitar, or just being a big brother to his only sister.
“She still says she can’t believe I’m a mayor,” Babcock said.
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