Voter guide 2023: Kent’s Ward 4 race involves a longtime incumbent against a new challenger

Dix Stadium and much of Kent State campus are in the city's fourth ward. Photo by Gary McLaughlin

Incumbent John Kuhar entered Kent City Council as an at-large representative in 2006 and has served as Ward 4 council member since 2008. His goal then remains what it is now, he said: to solve problems rather than complain about them.

Kuhar’s vision would be to continue council’s work to create a productive city people want to call home. Since Ward 4 is saturated with college dormitories and apartment complexes, he said he would like to see high-end jobs created elsewhere in the city. Medical and research facilities top his list, along with design engineering firms.

People in high-end jobs want high-end housing, which Kuhar said is difficult in a city that has significant space limitations. He sees Kent providing the jobs, and surrounding townships and counties providing the housing.

While the transformation of Kent’s downtown gets a great deal of council’s — and the community’s — attention, Kuhar said solving problems in neighborhoods is equally as important. Kuhar cites solving flooding problems on some streets and adding sidewalks on others as only some of his significant accomplishments.

Kuhar said the hard work council has done “to keep things moving” is not yet finished, and he is eager to continue being a part of it. Reflecting on his long tenure, Kuhar said longevity matters. So much goes on behind the scenes, he said, and it takes a long time to “find out how the wheels spin.”

Kuhar, who lives on Glad Boulevard, said the ward redistricting issue that largely focuses on Ward 4 is “a bunch of hogwash,” and wished his colleagues would have used the maps Community Development Director Bridget Susel created. Populations shift back and forth, so if and when the cycle repeats itself, council could and should simply pull out old ward maps and use them again, he said. Kuhar objected to putting the redistricting matter before voters as a proposed charter amendment, but was outvoted.

Kuhar is city council’s only Republican member, but he said his party affiliation is unimportant. Council, he said, addresses issues important to the city as a whole, and party affiliation has no part of those discussions.

Kuhar’s opponent, Chris Hook of Mae Street, is a senior development officer for Equimundo, a social justice think tank devoted to engaging men for gender equality and partnership with women, girls and people of all gender identities.

After an 11-year stint in Washington, D.C., where he worked on reproductive health policy for the federal government and earned a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University, Hook returned to Kent in 2020 to care for his parents.

Once here, Hook co-founded Allies for Racial Justice, which supports organizations like the NAACP as members work to raise the community’s awareness of racism and race-based discrimination.

In March 2020, Hook’s family led a fundraiser for Kent Social Services, raising more than $10,000. The sum, he said, was significant since more than half of students in the city receive free and reduced school lunches.

Hook said his top priority would be to maintain the high quality of city services residents have come to expect. Developing practical ways to implement a climate action plan the city recently adopted, improving the city’s many residential rental units and bringing affordable housing stock to Kent also number among Hook’s goals.

Acknowledging that he has no direct political experience, Hook said he would like to bring his “idealistic, big-picture vision” to Kent City Council. Rejecting federal and state politicians who he said have “found it profitable” to pit people against each other, the truth is that people actually agree on 99% of things, he said.

Acknowledging that Kent’s landlords and business owners know a side of Kent that he doesn’t, Hook said it is time for generational change on council. Ward 4 includes 90% of KSU’s dorms and a great deal of off-campus housing, but there has not been a sufficient push to include students and young people in the city’s vision or operations, he said.

Hook’s goals would also include adding amenities that would encourage young people to stay long term, doing a better job of integrating their perspectives in all aspects of the decision-making process and ensuring older residents can age in place in a dignified manner, he said.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.