Actor Martin Sheen told an Akron crowd Thursday that he’s suffered an “identity crisis” since his role on the popular television show The West Wing ended in 2006.
“I was known as the acting president of the United States,” he told an audience of about 200 at an Akron union hall. “Suddenly, the show ended. I became known as the former acting president of the United States. It was a difficult adjustment.”
Sheen drew laughter with his humor, a few tears with remarks that bordered on a sermon, and admiration when he broke into an Irish hymn for a crowd of onlookers after his appearance to stump for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.
“You are so lucky to have him,” Sheen, who is known not only as an actor, but also as a political activist, said of Brown.
Akron was part of a whirlwind, two-day tour the Democratic senator and Sheen made across Ohio that began in Sheen’s hometown of Dayton, went down to Cincinnati, stopped in Columbus and Akron, and ended with a fundraiser in Cleveland on Thursday night.
The Akron event was held at the Tri-County Regional Labor Council, where union members, local Democratic politicians and candidates, and party activists packed into the hall, some of them forced to stand.
Bill Crooks, president of the labor council, revved up the crowd, saying Ohio tried to overrun organized labor last year with legislation that would have limited collective bargaining but was repealed in the November election.
“We stood up, we fought back and we put organized labor on the map where it belongs,” he said. “We need to take that momentum and carry it through this election.”
Brown faces tough competition in the Nov. 6 election from Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who is expected to be equally well-funded, with backing from the Republican Party and the Super PACS that support him.
Brown mentioned this in his remarks, saying he needs his supporters to knock on doors, make phone calls and get people to the polls to overcome his opposition. That effort has already begun — an organizer said the campaign made 3,000 phone calls in Northeast Ohio on Wednesday night.
“Your involvement is so important,” said Brown, who was accompanied by his wife, Connie Schultz, and their dog, Franklin, who has received notoriety of his own from Schultz’s Facebook page.
Brown said Sheen was a caddie at a country club in Dayton, where he began his activism at the age of 14, attempting to organize a union and starting a strike.
“This is what he stands for — how he lives his life,” Brown said.
Sheen started with an Akron reference, saying the two most important things the United States exported to the world were jazz and Alcoholics Anonymous.
“Thank you, Akron,” he said. “Thank you, Dr. Bob.”
Sheen said his introduction to the labor movement during his caddie days changed his life.
“It taught me a great deal about how to support a community — it’s called unionism,” said Sheen, who at times wore glasses and referred to handwritten notes.
Sheen said there is a “high and mighty level of arrogance” by many of today’s politicians who are “crushing the national spirit.” He said Brown is an exception, as someone who is honest, honors people and has shown leadership and personal commitment.
Sheen urged the young people in the audience to “find something worth fighting for.”
“Let us all awake!” concluded Sheen, who stuck around afterward, posing for pictures, signing autographs and talking to fans.
Wayne Jones, who chairs the Summit County Democratic Party, was pleased with the turnout and said he thought it was a mix of people who came to see Sheen, Brown or both of them.
“I’m blown away,” Ann Kurz a retired teacher from Canfield said of Sheen. “He’s a good guy to have on your team.”
Kurz said she plans to help with Brown’s campaign to try to maintain the Democratic majority in the Senate.
“He’s our hope,” she said.
Linda Rothacker of Ashland brought along her first season of The West Wing in hopes of getting Sheen’s autograph. She said she misses the show, which she thinks provided insight into how the White House functions.
“I miss him being Mr. President,” she said.
“He’s not just the character,” she added. “He’s on our side.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com.