In just over a month Richmond will see a new mayor take office. Sixty-nine-year-old Robert Blythe, with 16 years of experience on the city commission, moves into the top job in local government.
The Baptist preacher will take on a new leadership role and become Richmond’s first African-American mayor.
Robert Blythe is quite comfortable in church. He has spent more than twice as much time in the pulpit at Richmond’s First Baptist Church downtown as he has in his city commission seat. During a recent stop at the church, women from several area Baptist districts gathered for a fall meeting. Blythe spoke briefly about an upcoming program on ministering to the incarcerated. “When he was popular James Brown had a song ‘I need help. I won’t show you the dance. I need help, I can’t do it alone. But that’s where many are, can’t do it alone,” said Blythe.
Church was always something, Blythe says, he enjoyed. Even as a young teen he could see himself preaching the word, but his father wasn’t so sure. “Even in my young days, it used to disturb my father in fact, he thought I spent too much time at the church, but I knew there was a stirring, what the Old Testament would call a “burden” that there was something on the inside yearning to get out”
That stirring as Blythe described it would not lead him to being a preacher until He turned 30 years of age. While working for IBM in Akron, Blythe was convinced, through straight talk from a friend to become Reverend Robert Blythe.
When it comes to politics, Blythe began that career in 1973. He ran for Richmond city commission that year. But At age 23, Blythe said he was technically too young to run, according to election law at that time. But he ran again in 1977 and fell just 11 votes short and decided local politics wasn’t for him. But, 25 years later, Blythe re-considered, ran for commissioner, won and has served 16 years. Then he had another decision to make, a run for mayor. “I said Robert, you don’t want to run again for commissioner, but what about running for mayor and I said you may get five years down the road, if you don’t run for mayor, while sitting alone one day sipping ice tea and asking, I wonder what would have happened, had I run?” mused Blythe.
Blythe says he didn’t run to become the first African American mayor of Richmond, he just ran to be mayor. But, he admits his new role does offer opportunities beyond the passage of ordinances to give young African Americans some encouragement. “If they should decide that they wanted to do something like this, to enter the field of politics. I don’t even like to talk about politics, but that’s our system. If they even thought about it, it is doable because they’ve seen Robert Blythe do it, so I know it can be done,” Blythe noted.
Two key priorities for the mayor elect are to do as much as possible to keep the Madison County community clean and safe. He says taking care of seniors and children fit in well with those objectives. “Immediately I want to explore the possibility of an intergenerational center for our community where all generations have programming that’s good for them.”
It’s been an often quoted phrase in year’s past to not mix religion and politics. After 16 years on the city commission, Blythe believes the two can go together. He remembers someone in the community once asking, quote, “Why would a man of God want to jump into a barrel of snakes? “I have just as much right to determine the ordinances and orders of this city as anybody else and incidentally is, ‘I’m a Baptist Christian pastor, but I’m still a voter and a taxpayer,” stressed Blythe.
After our interview, voter, taxpayer, and preacher Robert Blythe joined a group of women in the sanctuary and took a seat at the piano to accompany them with a song.
Robert Blythe will be sworn in as Richmond mayor on Dec 28th and officially take office January first. He’ll replace Jim Barnes who served as mayor for the last eight years.