Eager to be an integral part of Vincennes’ continued growth and progress, District 4 city councilman Dan Ravellette is seeking another 4-year term, but a young mother, business owner and political newcomer is looking to unseat him come Nov. 5.
Michelle James is the Republican Party nominee, said she never imagined herself in the political arena. But after some time, she decided her inexperience could potentially work to the city’s advantage.
“I don’t have a political background,” she said matter-of-factly. “But after giving it a lot of thought and prayer, I decided maybe that’s exactly what this city needs, an outsider’s perspective, one with fresh ideas and opinions.
“I thought, ‘Maybe they need someone who hasn’t always followed everything the city has done,’” she said. “Doing it the way we’ve always done it, that’s the safe approach. Just because we’ve always done something one way doesn’t mean it has to continue being done that way.”
Democrat incumbent Ravellette, a local radio announcer and former administrative assistant at City Hall, where he still serves as executive director of the Urban Enterprise Association, says staying the course is exactly the way to go.
“I want to continue doing all the things we’ve done,” he said. “I want to be a part of it. I feel like we’re on a very positive track right now.
“There’s so much going on, and the city council has played a big part in all of it. I’m proud of all we’ve done, and if I can, I’d like to stay on another four years and hope to see even more progress.”
James, a graduate of Vincennes University, has been operating her own small business, a daycare facility called Weeble Wobble Town, for the last 12 years. She’s also a certified fitness instructor who teaches group classes at the YMCA of Vincennes.
She has three children, ranging in ages from 8 to 20, and she’s raising her two nephews as well.
She prides herself on running a tight household, skills she said she would happily bring to the city council.
“First and foremost, I’m a wife, mom and small business owner,” she said. “I do the budget for our family and all of the planning that goes with that, paying the bills, making sure things run smoothly.
“And I think bringing a mom’s perspective could be really beneficial.”
Not surprisingly, on her wish list for the city, she said, would be more community engagement through things like family-friendly events and kids activities. She wants to see more investment made in the city’s parks, in sidewalk repair and in the addition of bike lanes.
She’d also like to reach out and develop programming, perhaps get involved with the mayor’s youth council, to get more high school students engaged in local government.
“I don't remember anyone when I was in high school reaching out to that age group,” she said. “Yet I feel like that age group is a crucial asset to the community.
“The youth is the future of Vincennes. So we should be asking them, ‘What do we need to do to keep you here? What excites you?’”
Ravellette, first elected in 2015, said the last four years have been some of the most enjoyable of his life. The city, he said, is “booming” what with the addition of several new businesses, the Pantheon Education Center, a shared workspace and small business incubator, and amenities like Levee Street and the city’s Riverwalk.
In District 4 alone, he pointed out, the city council has been instrumental in adding a base-ball themed splash pad at Four Lakes Park, and with financial help from the Redevelopment Commission, Main Street from 22nd Street out to Jamestown Apartments is being completely reconstructed and improved.
He pointed to other improvements as well, like the addition of pickleball courts at Gregg Park and a major retail development project unfolding at the site of the old Kmart property, a project led by local developer Heath Klein.
All of it, he said, has been bolstered by financial commitments from the city.
But there’s more to do, he said, a lot more.
He was recently appointed to a special task force to help market and promote two newly-designated Opportunity Zones, a state initiative meant to spur development in depressed areas by offering tax incentives to business owners; Vincennes now has two, their boundaries largely including downtown and the area around Vincennes University.
“I want to see more industry either here in the city or in Knox County,” he said. “I want to attract higher paying jobs, and I think those Opportunity Zones can help us do that.”
And more industry, he pointed out, means more dollars spent in the community — at its restaurants, its businesses, its attractions.
He also wants to continue with ongoing efforts to eliminate blighted homes, all with a focus on getting those cleaned-up lots into the hands of developers willing to build new homes.
“I want to continue creating a cleaner city, one with affordable housing,” he said.
“The past four years, the council has had a good working relationship, and I want to continue that,” he said. “But more than anything, I enjoy being a public servant.
“That’s what it boils down to.”