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Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott running for U.S. Senate seat

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ON THE TRAIL — Wheeling Mayor and U.S. Senate candidate Glenn Elliott holds his son Harrison during a campaign reception earlier this year. — Joselyn King

Glenn Elliott gave himself a year.

In 2009, he knew he needed to get out of Washington D.C., despite finding success in the legal profession. Success didn’t equal satisfaction, so he realized he needed to go. He wanted to return home to Wheeling. He just didn’t know how long he wanted to stay.

“I gave myself a year because I didn’t think I’d want to stay,” Elliott said of coming home. “I thought it’d be a great time to take some time off and just disconnect from the world for a little bit and start over.”

In trying to disconnect from the world, he reconnected with the community. The indecision disappeared. It wasn’t a question of if he would stay in Wheeling, but how he wanted to contribute.

He invested in the city with his pocketbook, buying a vacant historic Market Street building. Then he decided to invest in the city with his time and energy. He ran for mayor, served two terms in the seat, met his wife and had a son.

Yet, after eight years as Wheeling’s leader, the 52-year-old Elliott is not ready to rest. He wants to spread his wings, not just to work for his city, but to work for the entire state.

Elliott is one of three candidates for the Democratic nomination for United States Senate, joining Zachary Shrewsbury and Don Blankenship on the ballot. The winner of that race advances to the general election, and the Republican side of the ballot includes candidates such as Gov. Jim Justice and U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney.

Elliott understands the road ahead won’t be smooth. After building his leadership bonafides in the Northern Panhandle, he must introduce himself to the rest of West Virginia. He said he’ll try to conquer that task the same way he earned the mayor’s seat – by never shying away from hard work.

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Elliott’s path to adulthood was an impressive one – graduating from The Linsly School in Wheeling, from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and then from the Georgetown University Law Center. Between Penn and Georgetown, Elliott served five years as a legislative aide for the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. Yet, the foundations of that path aren’t what people normally connect with such prestigious learning institutions.

On a video on his campaign website, Elliott visits the mobile home in the Mar-Win neighborhood of Wheeling where he spent the first six years of his life. The home sat on his great-grandparents’ property, much to the chagrin of his great-grandparents’ neighbors, he said.

But it was what they could afford.

Elliott’s parents would divorce and, after his mom remarried, he moved to Wintersville, Ohio, until he was 13, when he moved back in with his dad to attend Linsly. Elliott said he never felt like he wasn’t fortunate, but understood what sacrifices the family was making to make ends meet.

Then his father, who passed away late last year, lost his job as director of respiratory therapy at Ohio Valley Medical Center. After that, his father decided to pursue a lifelong dream of a medical degree at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.

The issue, Elliott said, was that his dad’s income quickly fell to zero. To stay at Linsly required help from many outlets. His grandparents pitched in. Elliott said Linsly allowed him to attend his senior year at no cost. When he moved to Philadelphia to start at Penn, he had to finance 100% of his education, which he also had to do at Georgetown.

Gene Irisari has been one of Elliott’s best friends since they met on the first day of eighth grade at Linsly. He watched Elliott and his family face those hurdles and was always impressed by how resilient Elliott was in clearing them.

“He’s really self made, just resilient,” Irisari said. “Things would happen and he would always push through. He was always a super hard worker.”

Del. Shawn Fluharty, D-W.Va., has known Elliott for nearly 15 years, well before Elliott’s forays into politics. He said he bonded with Elliott over their shared experience of growing up in mobile homes as children. Fluharty said Elliott’s background made him more effective as an elected official.

“He’s not some silver-spoon guy who just had things handed to him in life,” Fluharty said. “He worked his way up, every step of the way. Whether you agree with his politics or not, we can all agree that he’s a real person, from real beginnings, real roots, and looks at everything with due diligence and puts people first.”

Elliott said those experiences influenced his political thinking.

“It’s not like a welfare idea, it’s just the idea of giving families what they need to make ends meet. The role of government shouldn’t be to basically sustain people, but instead should give people tools they need to find success on their own,” Elliott said.

“I think that’s one of the big differences between the liberal and conservative ideologies. Conservatives tend to believe in the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps thing. I remember when I worked for Sen. Byrd, he talked about that and said, when he was a kid, the first three rungs of the ladder weren’t there. So he was someone who literally did have to pull himself up, but you can’t expect every human being to have incredible resilience.”

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While personal experiences shaped his political thinking, his education sowed the seeds of his interest in politics. As a child, he loved the “I’m Just A Bill” song from “Schoolhouse Rock.” A freshman civics class at Linsly continued to build his interest. At Penn, Elliott majored in finance, but minored in political science, engrossed by an American political science class.

His greatest political lesson came from working for Byrd, who remains the longest-serving senator in American history at more than 51 years. Part of that lesson, he said, was learning that bipartisanship got things done.

Elliott remembers Byrd’s two best friends in the Senate were Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska and Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. He also watched the clashes between then President Bill Clinton and then House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The two sides didn’t like each other, Elliott said, but they could at points come together for a common-sense agreement on legislation.

Elliott wants to help return Congress to that level of compromise and cooperation if elected.

“You can’t govern a country when there’s no willingness to compromise,” he said. “If I get elected, I’ll be a Democrat. I’ll be willing to compromise but you can’t compromise with people who aren’t willing to compromise.

“We have to get people elected who recognize that, yes, you advocate as forcefully as you can for what you want,” he continued. “But at the end of the day, you have to choose between getting the perfect or getting the good. I think there’s too much trying to go for the perfect and never getting anything. That’s not the way the country was founded. What great act in American history was passed without any compromise?”

This past week, retiring U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. – whose Senate seat is up for grabs in this election – offered his endorsement of Elliott. Elliott has appreciated Manchin’s attempts at reaching across the aisle for compromise during his career, and wants to take that mantle.

“It means a lot to me to have him see in me someone who could step into the seat and continue trying to advocate for the state and bring people together,” Elliott said.

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When Elliott came home from Washington D.C., he didn’t know what his future held. But one of his best friends, David Strauss, had an idea that future was in Wheeling.

Strauss, Elliott and Irisari all have been close since those eighth-grade days at Linsly. Strauss roomed with Elliott in D.C. during Elliott’s days working for Byrd. After one visit shortly following Elliott’s return to Wheeling, Strauss turned to his wife and made what turned out to be an accurate prediction: Elliott wasn’t going anywhere.

“I don’t recall exactly what it was,” Strauss said. “But it was just how content he was. He was very content with his life there, and to be able to have the opportunity to take his life experiences and education and pivot toward putting those to good use in Wheeling.”

If Elliott had any thoughts of moving away, a 120-year-old building ended them.

Shortly after returning to Wheeling, he was participating in a “lovescaping” exercise with the Ohio Valley Young Preservationists. They were decorating older buildings around Wheeling with hearts to bring attention to historic structures that were threatened by neglect. One of the buildings he noticed was The Professional Building on Market Street, which had a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and became completely vacant in January 2013.

He learned it was for sale – and at a reasonable price – so he took the plunge and bought it. He has been working on it ever since and lives there with his wife Cassandra and son Harrison. Elliott isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty in revitalizing the building. He recently posted photos of doing some of the brickwork on the building himself.

“One of the frustrating things about being mayor is often you’re making decisions and it’s going to take years to see the fruits of your labor,” he said. “But tuckpointing a row of bricks is instant gratification.”

The building became his anchor to the community. And as his roots grew further into the city, he realized he wanted to do even more to help.

Elliott said previous city councils had done positive things to help reinvigorate the city, such as The Health Plan headquarters and the Boury Lofts, but he believed more could be done. That’s when he decided to run for mayor.

Elliott began the race as an unknown commodity in a four-candidate contest that included then-Vice Mayor Eugene Fahey. He won that race with more than 53% of the vote. If people didn’t know who he was, he made sure they found out. Elliott estimated he knocked on 4,000 doors in that first campaign.

Elliott points to many triumphs on Wheeling City Council during his tenure as mayor. The city passed non-discrimination ordinances for the LGBTQ community, as well as the CROWN Act, which prohibits discrimination based on hair style or texture. Twenty-four different playgrounds across the city either have been or will be renovated. Wheeling already has opened a new police headquarters and soon will open a new fire department headquarters.

He hasn’t shied away from unpopular decisions, either. Those new fire and police headquarters happened with funding that came through a city service fee implemented in January 2020. That decision was met with significant criticism, and Elliott figured it cost him some votes in his re-election. But he said that didn’t stop him from making that decision.

Wheeling Vice Mayor Chad Thalman, who has served with Elliott on council for two terms, remembered the blowback council got from that service fee, and remembered that Elliott wasn’t worried about his political future because of it.

“We literally passed a tax increase that went into effect right before an election,” Thalman said. “But we all honestly believed we were doing the best thing for the city. And we believed in infrastructure improvements. We believed in investing and public safety. And, Glenn, he never played politics with it. He never let the idea of losing reelection scare him away from doing what he thought was best for the city.”

Elliott admits that he’s taken his lumps on some positions he’s endorsed. He spearheaded a failed movement to open both Main and Market streets to two-way traffic. Elliott said he learned some valuable lessons about how to effectively talk to constituents.

“I tried to talk about that issue like a professor trying to educate folks on optimal street patterns,” he said. “I didn’t talk about it from the grassroots level of what the day-to-day experience is going to be like for people experiencing it, what it’s going to be like for the businesses. I didn’t talk about it in terms that resonated with folks. I learned the art of persuasion is finding where you have some shared values and then working out from that, not trying to just change someone’s mind outright.”

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Elliott now spends all his free time criss-crossing West Virginia, trying to convince Democratic voters that he’s the right choice for U.S. Senate. He’s using much of the same playbook that led him to the mayor’s seat. He’s getting in front of people, telling them his story and his vision for what West Virginia can be. Now, instead of knocking on doors in Warwood and Woodsdale, he’s shaking hands in Parkersburg and Beckley.

The people of Wheeling know him well. Now, he has to expand that to the rest of the Mountain State. He believes his experience and his background make him the best candidate, but he also understands that, in an election like this, playing it safe won’t work.

“I have to be aggressive,” he said, “but that’s the way I ran for mayor. That’s really the only way I know how to run.”

Fluharty thinks that strategy will be a winning formula.

“You’re not going to see him making flashy commercials,” Fluharty said. “You’re going to see him go into every room he can go into and just talk to people and have those frank discussions and not be intimidated by the room that he’s in.

“He’s going to tell his story and, most importantly, West Virginia’s story of the future, which is one he’s very optimistic about, and he wants to be the leader in that optimism.”

Those who have known him since childhood are confident that Elliott’s drive, which has fueled him through both tough times and big successes, will continue to push him on the Senate campaign trail.

“He’s a guy who’s never really failed at anything,” Strauss said.

Elliott is taking that attitude with him around West Virginia, hoping it eventually will lead him back to Washington D.C. – this time as one of the 100 who have earned the title of U.S. Senator.



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