Alex Arshinkoff, longtime head of the Summit County Republican Party, has died.
He was 62.
Arshinkoff, who was 23 when he took over as chairman of the party in 1978, had been undergoing dialysis for several years. His health has deteriorated since he was in a car accident in September 2012.
Arshinkoff, however, continued to serve on the Summit County Board of Elections. He was chairman of the local GOP for nearly 40 years.
“It’s just devastating to the whole Summit County Republican Family,” Bryan Williams, who heads the local party’s executive committee, said. “It’s still very hard. He gave his whole life with [his wife] Karen to the party. But every aspect of his life was to keep the party strong. And he put his all into it. Like so many say, he’s one of a kind.”
Williams has recently taken the lead on day-to-day operations.
“No one understood politics better than Alex. As the Republican chairman in very Democratic Summit County, Alex recruited good candidates and won races that no one thought could be won,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine in a statement issued Monday evening.
DeWine said he and his wife, Fran, “lost our very dear friend” Monday.
“I talked to Alex on the phone this morning,” he said. “He was upbeat, looking to the future, and giving me good advice. Alex could always make me smile and laugh, which was what he did this morning.”
Attorney General DeWine Statement on the Death of Alex Arshinkoff https://t.co/y76jKG8JFu
— Ohio AG Mike DeWine (@OhioAG) August 28, 2017
Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor said this on Twitter: “My thoughts and prayers are with Karen and the entire family of Summit County Republican Chairman and GOP stalwart Alex Arshinkoff.
Alex Arshinkoff was a giant in Ohio politics. My condolences go out to his wife Karen, his family and his many friends in @ohiogop.
— Karl Rove (@KarlRove) August 29, 2017
UA board years
Arshinkoff was on the University of Akron board of trustees in 1996 when the presidency of Peggy Gordon Elliott unraveled over faculty allegations of hiring irregularities and complaints of her management style.
Some trustees on the divided board criticized Arshinkoff and then board chairman Rainy Stitzlein for trying to oust Elliott and micromanage the university. He left in 2001 as chairman of the board.
In 2000, Beacon Journal politics writer Steve Hoffman wrote, Arshinkoff was “highly praised by top GOP leaders as one of the most effective county party chairs in the nation; locally, he is credited with bringing Summit County Republicans back from their near-death experience almost single-handedly.”
Williams met Arshinkoff in 1986. A year later, Arshinkoff gave the ambitious Williams, fresh out of college, his first gig in politics as a part-time employee at the Summit County Board of Elections.
The men remained close allies and friends.
No other politico paralleled Arshinkoff’s dedication, which drove Williams to run for state senate in his early 20s.
Arshinkoff had a knack for sizing up people. But what appeared to be political instinct was years of honing a skill that began under the tutelage of Ray Bliss.
Arshinkoff and Williams shared the Orthodox faith — Arshinkoff was Macedonian Orthodox and Williams was Greek Orthodox — and a friendship that gave Williams a behind-the-scenes look at how much Arshinkoff cared for his candidates.
In the headlines, Arshinkoff was known for his shrewdness and thick skin developed from years of operating a conservative political party from a liberal area.
From Mary Taylor to Maureen O’Connor to Mike DeWine, perhaps his closest friend in politics, Arshinkoff committed when he recognized talent and potential.
And he had a gift for fundraising and an ability to connect with national politicians. In 1990, he convinced President George H.W. Bush to headline a fundraiser at Tangier in Akron. After a high-dollar reception at Akron industrialist David Brennan’s house, the day ended with $1 million more in the campaign coffers for George Voinovich, a two-term governor who never forgot the support Arshinkoff commanded from Summit County.
That support provided a direct line to the state capital for decades.
Arshinkoff prided himself on picking local, state and national winners, and picking them early in the race.
So sad for Karen's loss... Alex Arshinkoff lived large and won much. We will not see his like again— Dave Yost (@Yost4Ohio) August 29, 2017
When POTUS calls
In 2000, Arshinkoff stepped out of the shower to grab a ringing telephone. On the other end was a president of the United States, asking for his help. That’s how important he was on the national stage.
“Only in America could a kid from South Akron get a phone call from the president of the United States,” Williams said, recalling how Arshinkoff would retell one of his favorite and proudest stories.
Summit County was the first in the state to endorse the younger Bush. Alex said he took heat for not backing Gov. John Kasich, then a U.S. Representative running briefly for POTUS. At the time, according to Williams, he told Bob Taft, “Well governor, I understand if you’re mad at me, you have every right to be. But when the president calls a boy from South Akron and they’ve been as loyal to the party as the Bushes have been, I had to say yes.”
There are two things Alex Arshinkoff loved: his wife and politics. I always had a great time with Alex and learned a lot. He'll be missed.— John Kasich (@JohnKasich) August 29, 2017
He followed his instinct, again.
“Alex was very successful running a Republican Party in Summit County,” Williams said. “He used to say it was like manning Fort Apache. You’re outnumbered and outgunned. You’ve got to stay smart to stay alive.
But he never took the victories as lasting. He never took the defeats as permanent. Arshinkoff fended off two attempts to overthrow him as chairman. He also was kicked off the elections board by former Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner but later regained it under her GOP successor, Jon Husted.
“He could be combative when he had to,” Williams said, “but he was a lot softer behind the scenes, like a teddy bear. I don’t even think the candidates he represented had a clear understanding of how he looked out for them and cheered their successes.”
Arshinkoff is survived by his wife. The couple had no children.
Lauren & I extend our deepest sympathies to Karen Arshinkoff as we join many others to mourn the Chairman's passing. https://t.co/cALtKHDNed pic.twitter.com/w59pwsjhMe— Frank LaRose (@FrankLaRose) August 29, 2017
My thoughts and prayers are with Karen and the entire family of Summit County Republican Chairman and GOP stalwart Alex Arshinkoff.— Mary Taylor (@MaryTaylorOH) August 28, 2017
I was saddened to learn of the passing of Summit Co. Chair Alex Arshinkoff today. My thoughts & prayers are w/ his family during this time.— Cliff Rosenberger (@CARosenberger) August 29, 2017
My condolences to Karen & the family of Summit GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff. He was a giant & will be missed in so many ways.— Josh Mandel (@JoshMandelOhio) August 28, 2017
Stephanie Warsmith contributed to this report. Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or email@example.com.