A lot has happened under Somerset Mayor Alan Keck in about a year and a half’s time in office.
Many of the festivals and art projects the young mayor proposed on the campaign trail have been made reality (even if brought to a halt this year due to unforeseen circumstances).
But one intriguing piece of Keck’s pre-election platform has yet to materialize.
In August of 2018, before being elected mayor over Eddie Girdler in their second match-up, Keck took a trip to the nation of Israel. The whirlwind tour kept Keck busy, looking into ways his hometown could work together with Israelis to benefit one another. Keck went with New York businessman Todd Wiesel, of the Negotiation Institute.
It’s that exploration of cultures that Keck hoped to see realized should Somerset gain a “sister city” in Israel, forming an arrangement with a community in another part of the world to help benefit economically and learn from each other culturally.
“Not just in Israel, but I think it would be fantastic for us to have Sister Cities in three or four different parts of the world,” he said. “You often see student exchanges in high school or early college. ... There’s the potential for economic development.”
Still, Israel is a good fit, Keck told the Commonwealth Journal back in 2018, because of its strong connection to the Christian faith which is prevalent in Pulaski County.
“One of the consistent things that made sense was how Kentucky’s cultural and often religious atmosphere fits bringing a Sister City from Israel,” said Keck, who talked with officials in the city of Giv’at Shmuel about the possibility.
With the amount of murals that have popped up around town on Keck’s watch, it’s interesting to note what he took away from the trip in term’s of the Israeli aesthetics.
“Art there is booming,” said Keck in 2018. “We had the idea to do a muralist exchange, or art exchange ... I though how neat it would be to send two or three artists from Somerset (to Israel) and have their artists come here.”
Keck wasn’t the only one pushing the idea of a “sister city” arrangement. Then-mayor Eddie Girdler responded to news of his opponent’s trip by telling the Commonwealth Journal that that the city had been engaged in efforts to establish a connection with the city of Seto in Japan.
“We’ve been working probably for about a year on a ‘sister city’ program with the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development,” said Girdler in August of 2018.
So where do these potential international connections stand now?
The answer: Keck’s Somerset has concerned itself less with globetrotting and more on improving things close to home.
“We haven’t spent as much time on ‘sister city’ projects in the last six months,” said Keck. “Our focus has been the health and well-being of our local community and trying to sustain our economy.”
Certainly, that’s been a tougher challenge in 2020. Whereas Keck’s first year in office introduced things like street food festivals and a New Year’s celebration to Somerset while keeping an eye toward growing the city’s population and bringing in businesses like Horse Soldier Bourbon, this year has been more about survival — surviving an economic shutdown, keeping businesses afloat, and dealing with the health challenges posed by the coronavirus.
But Keck hasn’t forgotten about the whole “sister city” concept.
“Long-term, we still believe this idea can bring fruit to Somerset,” he said. “Many cities expressed interest in showcasing their unique gifts with Somerset and allowing us to do the same!
“The hope remains that we partner with other Kentucky communities to showcase what makes us special and tell our unique stories,” he added. “We’d also like to be the first city in Kentucky to partner strategically with an Israeli city. Our common values, desire for new technology, and local agriculture make this a perfect fit!”