The final list of candidates for the newly created Cuyahoga County executive position became official last week, with 10 party-affiliated candidates; independents were not required to meet the June 24 filing deadline. Following the deadline, the Board of Elections will certify the petitions and candidates.
The elected county executive will serve a four-year term that begins Jan. 1, 2011. According to the Cuyahoga County Charter, the executive position is considered full time and will have an annual salary of $175,000.
The Democratic Party has ruled the roost in Cuyahoga County for years, but party prominence won’t necessarily mean instant victory for a candidate with a D after his or her name. The county government has been rocked by a nationally publicized corruption scandal for more than two years. Last November, voters agreed to a new county charter that does away with the three-commissioner system and replaces it with an executive and one councilperson from each of 11 different districts.
Whether voters will opt to elect “new-blood” Democrats – those that seem to have no connection with the current officials or anyone named in the ongoing corruption investigations – or completely abandon that party remains to be seen. The Democratic and Republican primaries for county executive and council will take place Sept. 7.
The Democratic Candidates
Six candidates represent the Democratic Party in the executive race: They are James F. Brown, Terri Hamilton Brown (no relation to James F. Brown), Edward FitzGerald, Dianna Lynn Hill, Walter Allen Rogers Jr. and Georgine Welo. It is a mixed bag of political pros and novices.
Dianna Lynn Hill and Walter Allen Rogers both filed on deadline day. Both appear to be political newcomers. Rogers is a Cleveland artist. His website, www.WalterAllenRogersJr.com, details his artistic background but makes no mention of his run for county executive.
James F. Brown is a bus driver from Brooklyn. Although he is a registered Republican, he is running for county executive as a Democrat.
“I figure if you want to get something done, you have to run as a Democrat,” he told the Plain Dealer in early June.
Terri Hamilton Brown, project director for the Opportunity Corridor within the Greater Cleveland Partnership, has not sought political office before. Nevertheless, she served as director of community development under former Cleveland Mayor Mike White.
It was her role as executive director of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) that gave Terri Hamilton Brown the experience she says will make her a perfect fit for the county executive position.
“I’m the only candidate who’s been responsible for cleaning up an organization,” she says, referring to CMHA’s transformation from corrupt and disorganized to a national model under her leadership. “People recognize that my experience and my background line up well with the executive position,” she adds.
Edward FitzGerald, a former FBI special agent and assistant county prosecutor, is currently mayor of Lakewood. Although FitzGerald did not support the reform plan that passed last fall, he is running for county executive to “clean up the corruption, create jobs and build a greater Cuyahoga County,” according to his website, www.EdFitzGerald.org. In April, FitzGerald unveiled a policy proposal to create a regional collaboration director.
Recently, the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party voted to endorse FitzGerald for executive. He has also received endorsements from Laborers’ Union Local 810 and 360 and the mayors of Parma Heights, Fairview Park, Brooklyn, Garfield Heights, North Olmsted and East Cleveland.
Georgine Welo has been mayor of South Euclid for seven years. In addition, she serves on several nonprofit boards within the county, including the Cuyahoga County Land Bank, the Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce, the strategic planning board of the Cuyahoga County Public Library and First Suburbs Consortium.
Welo believes that regionalism, which has been much talked-about in political circles during the last several months, can work in Cuyahoga County, but must slowly be integrated through various forms of collaboration among municipalities.
Welo has received endorsements from the mayors of Berea, Brook Park, Cuyahoga Heights, Euclid, Lyndhurst, Orange and University Heights.
As mayor of South Euclid, Welo has had to make tough decisions to save the city money. In mid-June, she announced that South Euclid would likely have to lay off part-time workers due to a reduction of about $800,000 in property tax collections. Welo has vowed to make necessary cuts in order to meet current economic difficulties.
The Republican Candidates
The list of Republican candidates for county executive is half the size of the Democrats’, but non-Democrats hope that recent scandals will encourage voters to look to other political options. Paul Casey, Matt Dolan and Victor Voinovich Sr.are listed with the Board of Elections as Republican candidates for county executive.
Paul Casey, an asset and project manager for an investment company, appears to be new to the political scene.
Republican candidate Matt Dolan was one of the first people to throw his hat into the ring. He left his post as a state representative earlier this year in order to run for the executive position. He has said that the new executive must use his or her “power in an effective way in order for the region to succeed.” Dolan supports regionalism, saying that issues such as purchasing can often be more economical when approached on the county level rather than through individual cities.
Dolan recently unveiled his plan for Cuyahoga Forward, a nonprofit group that would provide information and assistance to companies wishing to establish business in the county.
Dolan is the son of Larry Dolan, owner of the Cleveland Indians. Whether the Indians’ struggles in recent years and some fan criticism of the elder Dolan’s handling of the team will affect Matt Dolan’s political chances remains to be seen.
Endorsements for Dolan have come from the mayors of Brecksville, Gates Mills, Highland Heights, Mayfield Heights, Olmsted Falls, Rocky River and Strongsville.
Victor Voinovich’s experience as a real estate broker may not give him political clout, but being the younger brother of former Cleveland mayor and current U.S. Senator George Voinovich certainly lends familiarity. At the same time, his website and recent media interviews indicate he has no intentions of riding on his brother’s coattails. And George Voinovich has said he doesn’t plan to get involved in the county executive race.
Victor Voinovich, managing director of Sperry/Van Ness/First Place Commercial Realty, is a lifelong resident of Northeast Ohio. On his campaign website, www.ElectVictor.com, he notes, “I have either done a deal or traveled to or attended an event or even gotten a traffic ticket in just about every area of this county.” His platform includes streamlining core services, adopting a less-is-more attitude toward government, and budgeting and spending “money like it was our own money because it is our own money.”
The Green Party Candidate
The final party-affiliated candidate for county executive is David Ellison, representing the Green Party. Ellison is an architect who has lived in Cleveland for 23 years. His company, D.H. Ellison, practices traditional architecture. His company website lists links to organizations such as The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker-based group focused on social justice, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Independent Candidates
While not set to become prominent fixtures in the county executive race until after the Sept. 7 primary, the independent candidates have nevertheless made a good deal of noise thus far.
Independent candidate Ken Lanci launched his campaign early in 2010 and has been building his visibility ever since. The owner of several local companies, Lanci has said that his business acumen can help Cuyahoga County get back on track.
Although county residents may not have been familiar with Lanci a few months ago, they have come to recognize him either through the wraparound ads he placed on city buses, his weekly radio talk show or his weekly TV political reality show. Lanci has promised that, if elected county executive, he will turn down the $175,000 annual salary and serve for $1 a year.
In mid-June the FBI requested Lanci’s campaign finance report. Lanci responded on his website, www.KenLanci.com, that he welcomed the investigation and had nothing to hide.
“I was not contacted by the FBI, nor do I understand what they may be looking for in these documents,” he wrote. “My campaign finance records are public record and have been filed with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections for six months.”
Lanci also wrote that he hopes “the FBI will examine all candidates running for office.”
Tim McCormack is a Democrat-turned-independent who has a long history with the Democratic Party.
McCormack ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Euclid in 1971, but later was elected to both the Ohio House and Ohio Senate.
McCormack served as Cuyahoga County auditor for three terms and a county commissioner for two terms. He points to his successful work with welfare reform, early childhood education and child protective services as examples of his strong county-level experience.
As a former member of the county government, he is seen by some as too close to the individuals currently under criminal investigation. One theory for McCormack’s decision to run as an independent is that it is an attempt to distance himself from the current administration. On his campaign website, www.TimMcCormack.com, he refers to the new form of county government as “an exciting opportunity to usher in a new progressive era for Cuyahoga County.”
Bob Saffold, who ran three years ago for mayor of Shaker Heights on the Republican ticket, has petitioned to run for county executive as an independent. Saffold is the stepfather of U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, who is a Democrat. Saffold says he realizes that many people are dissatisfied with both the Democratic and Republican parties, which explains his decision to run as an independent.