By Stephanie Warsmith
Beacon Journal staff writer
For the past 30 years, someone named Sykes has represented Akron in the Ohio Statehouse.
State Rep. Vernon Sykes and his wife, Barbara, have alternated turns over the years. Now, their youngest daughter, Emilia, wants her shot.
Emilia Sykes, 27, announced plans Monday to run next year for the 34th Ohio House District her father now holds. Vernon Sykes is prohibited from running for re-election because of term limits. He or Barbara has held the seat since 1983.
“This creates the perfect opportunity for me to run,” Emilia said in a phone interview Monday. “I want to make sure the district has strong leadership — someone who is committed to making this district great.”
Emilia almost literally was born into politics, with her mother sitting on Akron City Council while pregnant. One or the other of her parents has held public office her entire life, with both serving on Akron City Council and in the Ohio House. Barbara, who currently heads up the Ohio United Way, ran for state treasurer and state auditor.
“I knew I would follow their footsteps into public service,” said Emilia, who has a law degree and a master’s in public health. “I didn’t know I would follow them into public office. I am confident this is the role I’m supposed to be in.”
Emilia, who is single and lives in Akron, has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Kent State University and her law and master’s degrees from the University of Florida. She works as an administrative staff adviser at the Summit County Fiscal Office, where she is helping to establish a county land bank for vacant property. Prior to that, she worked for Community Legal Aid Services in Akron.
Emilia’s older sister, Stancy Sykes Sherman, teaches special education and math at Buchtel High School and has an interest in politics, but not in running for office, Emilia said.
Vernon Sykes, who also teaches at Kent State University, said he is exploring other job opportunities, but plans to fulfill his term. He said the prospect of no longer serving in state government is hard for him.
“I still consider myself a young man,” said Vernon, who soon will turn 62. “I have a lot of energy, enthusiasm and ideas. I am currently offering provisions for the Constitutional Modernization Commission.”
That group studies Ohio’s Constitution and makes recommendations for possible changes.
“I can think of no better person to continue that than my daughter, Emilia,” he continued.
Sykes said both he and Barbara will be helping Emilia with her campaign, just as she did for them all of these years.
“We think it’s really a distinct privilege to be selected by the people to represent them,” he said. “I can’t think of a more noble obligation.”
The Sykeses are one of several political family dynasties in Akron. The list includes James, Michael and Annalisa Williams; Bob and John Otterman; and Marco and Margo Sommerville.
Steve Brooks, associate director of the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, said the familiar Sykes name becomes like a trusted brand for voters, who can say, “I like what her mom and dad did.” He said the family also has a campaign machine in place, with volunteers and funding sources, and can put together an effective campaign.
“It’s not unlike a corporation, where family members take over when mom or dad retires and moves to Florida,” Brooks said.
Margo Sommerville, who was appointed to the Akron City Council seat of her father, Marco, when he was tapped as city planning director, overwhelmingly won her re-election primary last week. She said Emilia Sykes helped with her campaign, and she plans to return the favor.
Sommerville said Sykes, who was her sorority sister, has the education and qualifications for the job. She said her advice would include to try to stay focused and positive, which she admits can be challenging.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Sommerville said.