Running a campaign for an underdog Republican in arguably the best chance the GOP has had to upset a Democratic mayor in the last 30 years, Steve Albrecht’s eyes opened to the challenges facing Republican candidates in Akron.
“I think the voices that I heard were pleas for help, leadership, financial support, technical support, how to run a campaign,” said Albrecht, who managed attorney Eddie Sipplen’s failed run for mayor.
The problem, Albrecht found, was more than just resources.
Sure, Sipplen got outspent $716,000 to $26,000, outside money included. But local donations that could have made for a more competitive showing — Democrat Dan Horrigan got 72 percent of the vote — were used instead to send candidates to Columbus, not Akron, said Albrecht, chairman of the family-owned Acme Fresh Market.
“The county GOP has been taking money and resources from local Republicans and spending it on statewide races and trying to leverage that into their lobbyist business. I understand that’s the way it works. However, I care about Summit County. I care about Akron. I care about the residents of our community. I believe in a strong two-party system,” Albrecht said.
The “Committee to Elect Summit County Republican Candidates” — which can bundle and disburse private political donations — launched Wednesday night during an invite-only party at Albrecht’s home in Akron.
The political action committee, which will recruit and support local Republican candidates, wants to help the GOP regain ground lost in an increasingly Democratic-leaning county, where Republicans failed to field candidates in races this year for county sheriff, engineer and council.
Bryan Williams, executive chairman of the Summit County Republican Party, said the party welcomes Albrecht’s outside effort to prop up Republicans in and around Akron.
“I worked with Steve Albrecht quite a bit with the Eddie Sipplen campaign,” Williams said. “I understand his focus is Akron. … Akron is quite a difficult place for Republicans to have electoral success. So I welcome that activity.”
Williams, like endangered Ohio Democrats in Congress, blames gerrymandered voting maps for Republicans only holding one out of 11 spots on the Summit County Council.
“We could recruit the greatest candidate in the world, but if the districts are drawn — as Obama said — for ‘politicians who pick voters instead of voters who pick politicians,’ the outcomes are foregone conclusions,” Williams said.
As for sheriff and engineer, countywide positions that require law enforcement or technical credentials, Williams said it can be difficult finding qualified candidates who may have to take a pay cut to leave the private sector.
Hard on Akron
In his invitation to potential donors, Albrecht focused on reviving Akron, where poverty, unemployment and voting patterns contrast sharply with suburban Summit County.
“Summit County will not be a great place to live, work and raise a family if the Akron core is rotten,” the invitation stated in bold lettering.
“It is perfectly fine that many of us live in the suburbs, but it should not be because there are so many reasons not to live in the city.”
Albrecht, whose house in northwest Akron sits a well-hit golf ball away from Fairlawn Country Club, calls attention to the city’s 27 percent poverty rate, abandoned and vacated homes, a “barely break-even” budget, ballooning debt, a “failed” downtown business district and the “F” grades its public school system gets from the state (there’s no mention of its charter schools).
The blame, Albrecht said, rests with decades of Democratic leadership. The solution, he promotes, is finding and supporting local Republican faces and ideas.
But Albrecht’s message, like that of his former mayoral candidate, will cost money.
“If you look at the amount of money that was poured into this last election, it becomes pretty clear that it’s about getting your message out,” Sipplen said Wednesday.
“No matter how many hours I put into writing the campaign, you need money to get the message out. We had a great message, but not the resources to get it on a large scale that would have given us a greater chance for success.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @DougLivingstonABJ.