A mayor of many hats

Cynthiana Mayor James Smith, dressed as Cynthiana's first mayor Samuel January, hands out Halloween candy.

How do out-of-towners identify Cynthiana’s mayor, James Smith? By his hat.

A self-identified introvert, James never goes out of his way to proclaim his title. So Tomi Clifford, Cynthiana’s Chamber of Commerce Director, bought him a navy blue baseball cap with the bold sans-serif word “Mayor” stitched across the front.

On Oct. 31, he wore the hat to most of his six engagements.

“I thrive on being busy,” he says. “I'm so busy I haven't even set my office clock forward from last Daylight Savings. It’s going to be right again, come Sunday.”

Born in Cynthiana, James pursued education and travel before returning home. After completing a degree in political science at University of Kentucky, he served four years in the army. At University of South Carolina, where he earned a masters of arts in teaching, he met his wife, Paula. He also holds a degree from Cincinnati Bible Seminary.

James and Paula moved back to Cynthiana in 2003, when he started working in training and development and as a pastor at Leesburg Christian Church. In 2008, with two high school friends, Roger Slade and Philip Nickerson, he purchased the Rohs Opera House on East Pike Street. That initiated an upward spiral of downtown revitalization and leadership.

“Only in small town America can ordinary guys with full-time jobs open up a movie theatre,” James says.

Times were hard then, nationally and locally. "Cynthiana was in the middle of small town America dying and drying up,” James says. “We started bringing people downtown.”

Roger ran for City Commissioner and won. Five years ago, he approached James on a political level. “Roger told me we needed a mayor with a vision for what downtown can be,” James says.

James agreed.  “I’ll try anything once,” he says. He won with about 60% of the vote. Four years later, he won again with about 80% of the vote.

Now, downtown Cynthiana is thriving. And James is loving his job.

“I really enjoy getting up every morning, coming into the office, and seeing what kind of good thing I can do today to make the town a better place," he says.

After a day of having breakfast with his pastor friends, attending a meeting in Lexington, officiating a wedding, and sharing a salad and pizza dinner with Paula at Leono’s Restaurant, James puts on a different mayor’s hat. Dressed as Cynthiana’s first mayor Samuel January, he hands out candy to children on Halloween.

Afterwards, sporting his top hat, he heads over to his final engagement of the evening: leading the Cynthiana Ghost Tour inside the Rohs Opera House.

James gets into his car to leave for a meeting in Lexington on October 31.
James hosts a weekly radio show at WCYN.
James walks through downtown Cynthiana while answering phone calls.
(From left) Steve Perry, Dr. Ted Beam, and James share a laugh at their weekly breakfast in the basement of First United Methodist Church. They hope to lift one another's spirits.
James dresses in his suit at home to officiate a wedding.
James (right) officiates at the wedding of Kelsey Dahl and James Kleve at Ashford Acres Inn.
James (right) fills out the marriage license as Kelsey Dahl and James Kleve share a moment after their wedding at Ashford Acres Inn.
James and his wife, Paula, pray before eating dinner in their home.