Three months ago, he caught flak for blowing off the Akron Press Club.
Although he had yet to declare his candidacy for U.S. Senate, Josh Mandel said he was too busy to attend the December event.
On Thursday, he accepted a new invitation and used the forum to announce what some suggest he’s been doing for months: running for U.S. Senate.
It was a declaration that was anti-climactic. But it did draw his ever-present opposition, prompting Mandel’s staff to obstruct — albeit temporarily — the camera lenses of those political foes.
Mandel, a former state representative who less than a decade ago was a member of the Lyndhurst City Council, is the favorite to take on Sen. Sherrod Brown in the November general election.
Officially, Mandel had not declared his candidacy, although he filed papers last year proclaiming his bid to run in this month’s Republican primary.
“At least he announced it before the election. That’s always a good thing,” said David Cohen, a Press Club board member and a fellow in the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.
Mandel’s speech Thursday covered the usual political gamut: from his family’s European roots to his swift rise in politics after and during his service as a U.S. Marine. He won his first race in 2003 for a seat on the Lyndhurst City Council. In 2006, he won a seat in the Ohio House.
In 2010, he went statewide for the first time and ousted incumbent Treasurer Kevin Boyce, snapping up a greater percentage of votes than any other statewide candidate.
Mandel, who once pledged to fulfill his term as state treasurer, said he’s answering the call of citizens who are fed up with Washington and partisan politics.
“When I ultimately had my gut-check moment and looked myself in the mirror, I decided to myself that this could not be the first time in my life when I said no to answering the call,” he said.
“In order to change Washington, we need to change the people we’re sending to Washington.”
Mandel, 34, then went on the offensive against Brown, from the senator’s fiscal budget work to his “rubber-stamp” support of the Obama agenda, to his stance on domestic energy exploration.
“He’s taking jobs from Ohio with his votes and sending them to China,” Mandel said.
During his speech and a Q&A session with about 100 audience members, Mandel trumpeted his brief tenure as treasurer, proclaiming he has raised the state’s credit rating while lowering his office’s expenses.
He then turned his attention to Washington, criticizing the federal bailout of Wall Street and Obama’s health-care program. He voiced support for the right of Catholic organizations to follow their own doctrine when it comes to contraception, and he reiterated his support of Senate Bill 5, the controversial public worker reform initiative Ohio voters rejected in November.
He called for less regulation, sweeping tax reforms, new job creation and responsible exploration of alternative energy sources in Ohio. He said Brown is obstructing all of these issues.
“Arching over all of this, though, is the fact that [Brown] has been one of the most hyper-partisan, divisive politicians in America,” Mandel said.
Ohio Democrats marked Mandel’s candidacy moment by calling it “as newsworthy as the revelation that brushing your teeth regularly promotes good dental hygiene.”
Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said Mandel is neglecting his work as treasurer to carry on his own political agenda.
“You would be hard-pressed to find a public official in the history of our state who has more willfully neglected his job, and Josh Mandel will do nothing to bring jobs to Ohio because the only job he’s concerned about is his own,” Redfern said in a statement.
Mandel is facing seven other GOP candidates in Tuesday’s primary, including Hudson resident Michael L. Pryce.
During a nearly hourlong appearance, Mandel’s staff tried to obstruct the view of two people shooting video of the candidate’s public address, Cohen said. One camera belonged to American Bridge 21st Century, a self-proclaimed Democratic-leaning political action committee.
The organization’s president, Rodell Mollineau, said his group tracks Mandel’s events and are regularly obstructed at public events.
It was Cohen who noticed the Mandel staffers putting paper in front of the lenses. He said he asked them to stop, and they obliged.
“It is Akron Press Club policy and tradition that anybody who wants to record audio or video is free to do so,” Cohen said afterward. “We’re the Press Club, after all. We’re all about free speech and free press. We would protect [Mandel’s] rights just as strenuously.”
Mandel, who stayed nearly 30 minutes longer than planned, was whisked from the podium and rushed outside immediately after the luncheon. He was traveling to another appointment.
“These ‘trackers’ often try to distract and disrupt events like Josh’s speech to the Akron Press Club,” said Travis Considine, communications director for Mandel. “We prevented that from happening and allowed the forum to proceed without interruption. Whether it’s Sherrod Brown’s staff, the Ohio Democratic Party, or anyone else trying to be disruptive, we will not allow them to push people around.”
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or email@example.com.