Elections can cause tensions to rise and tempers to flare, but Bexley native Travis Irvine chose to take a lighthearted look at local politics in his documentary, "American Mayor."
The documentary, which was screened Sept. 18 at the Drexel Theatre and was released on Amazon on Sept. 19, chronicles Irvine's campaign for Bexley mayor in 2007 when he was 24 years old.
Irvine, a filmmaker, journalist and comedian, said he's hopeful the documentary will inspire more young people to run for office.
"You can post on the internet all you want, but why don't you run for something?" Irvine said. "I'm hoping to start a movement."
The documentary is timely, not only marking the campaign's 10-year anniversary, but also given Bexley city council's recent adoption of the Southwest Bexley Strategic Framework. Irvine said the original 2003 Southwest Bexley Master Plan is what prompted him to run for mayor, because he and some of his neighbors felt the city didn't take their feedback into account during the drafting process.
Irvine, a 2002 Bexley High School graduate and a 2006 alumnus of Ohio University who holds a bachelor's degree in communications, wasn't the youngest candidate in the 2007 race. That distinction was held by then 18-year-old Bexley High School senior Scott Weinblatt. The six other candidates who vied to replace retiring longtime mayor David Madison included former city council members Robyn Jones and Matt Lampke, Bill Minckler, Gene Weiss, Bill Harvey (who was then the city's service director and is now city auditor) and the ultimate winner, John Brennan.
Irvine discussed "American Mayor" and the issues it addresses at the Drexel screening. He participated in a question-and-answer session moderated by Tim Fulton that also featured current Mayor Ben Kessler, who was appointed mayor in 2012 after Brennan died of cancer; Bexley city councilman Richard Sharp; and the Ohio Green Party's Bob Fitrakis.
Kessler said the documentary emphasizes how far the city has come in the past decade. He cited the 2017 version of the Southwest Bexley Strategic Framework, which included public input throughout the process.
The documentary also highlights Bexley's electoral process, Kessler added.
"One of the things that's great about Bexley is we have a nonpartisan (mayoral) race," he said. "One of the things that's really unique and neat about our government is we are so hyper-local. We're 14,000 people, we're 2.5 square miles. What you focus on, based on what you're hearing from residents ... is what's best for the community."
In one "American Mayor" scene, Irvine interviews Capital University students who said there were not enough leisure-time options on East Main Street. The scene emphasizes that East Main Street has undergone major developments since then, Sharp said, including a new Giant Eagle grocery store, a renovated Drexel Theatre, the Main Event summer entertainment series, new restaurants and other attractions.
"There's a lot more activity and a lot more things for people to do on Main Street," Sharp said.
Fitrakis, who has run for governor and numerous other offices as a Green Party candidate, said "American Mayor" portrays the highs and lows of campaigning and the challenges of reaching voters.
"It looked like all my campaigns," he said.
Since Irvine's mayoral run, he has stayed active in politics. After losing the election, he moved to Washington, D.C., to take a job on Capitol Hill. He moved to New York City in 2008 and accepted a job on former president Barack Obama's campaign. He ran for Congress in 2010 as a Libertarian candidate. Most recently, he worked on Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson's 2016 campaign.
Irvine said he splits his time between New York and Bexley, working as a stand-up comedian and freelance journalist for outlets such as Vice News. "American Mayor" has been screened at the Cannes Film Festival and the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Rather than a straightforward profile of a candidate, the documentary presents a comedic perspective on Bexley politics, Irvine said.
"Through sense of humor," he said, "you're able to get people to relate to Bexley."