Former U.S. representative and Cleveland mayor Dennis Kucinich has picked Akron Councilwoman Tara Samples as a running mate in his bid to become Ohio’s next governor.

Kucinich met Samples with their family and friends Friday at the councilwoman’s church in downtown Akron to announce the ticket, branded as a “Power To We The People” campaign of progressive, anti-establishment values.

Afterward, Kucinich put his arm around Samples’ shoulder and said: “This is a moment for the Democratic Party to wake up. The grass roots is waking up. Our motto … doesn’t say ‘Power to we the party,’ it says ‘Power to we the people.’ ”

Speaking at Burning Bush church, Samples said she will continue to serve on the City Council while she campaigns with Kucinich.

Kucinich, 71, and Samples, 47, first met in 2012 at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. The firebrand former congressman, who had become an outspoken commentator for Fox News Channel, said he instantly connected with the Akron woman, a mother and grandmother who started a family while still in high school.

The two met again about two weeks ago at Ms. Julie’s Kitchen on South Main Street in Akron. At the time, the other four Democratic candidates for governor were beginning to announce their running mates. Kucinich said 20 minutes into the 2½-hour sit-down talk with Samples, he looked over to his wife, Elizabeth, who nodded in approval.

“She is dynamic,” Kucinich praised Samples.

From that moment, Kucinich had his candidate for lieutenant governor.

Rough road to serve

During Friday’s announcement, Samples explained that growing up in Akron, she had always wanted to be a legislator.

Pregnant with her first two children by 17, married with four kids while attending college at 23, Samples graduated from Central-Hower High School in 1989 and dropped out of the University of Akron to get a paralegal degree from the Academy of Court Reporting.

She said she worked a dead-end U.S. post office position before her mentor, Akron attorney Ed Parms, gave her a job. Money was tight.

“Dennis and I know what it’s like to wonder where our next meal is going to come from,” Samples told the crowd of about 100, including faith and neighborhood leaders in Akron’s black community, who gathered Friday.

Samples later became an Akron municipal court bailiff. She has chaired committees that oversee housing and public utilities on City Council and she sits on a safety and crime prevention steering committee for the National League of Cities, a lobbying and advocacy group.

Her life has been anything but picture perfect. Financial struggles with car payments, a daughter’s college tuition, her own student loan debt and missed employment opportunities have helped her connect with people who live paycheck to paycheck. “I understand personally how it feels to be a teen mother and that feeling of hopelessness and despair,” she said.

But “a dream is never denied, only delayed,” she added.

Underdog outsider

Samples, who campaigned twice for President Barack Obama, defeated a local party favorite in the Democratic primary for her council seat, triggering attacks from establishment Democrats.

Critics questioned whether the law allowed her to be a council member and a city employee, so she resigned her bailiff job.

They went after her residency, too, alleging without merit that she’d moved into her parents’ home months before the election only to be eligible in the race.

Samples has not shied from her family’s struggles, either. She’s sympathized in the middle of public council meetings with parents who’ve lost loved ones to opioid addiction, having a son of her own in court-ordered treatment. Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, a Republican candidate for governor, shares a similar story.

On City Council, Samples has unnerved more cautious Democrats by pushing some of the most progressive legislation the body has considered, including a bill that called on Ohio Gov. John Kasich to declare Ohio a place of sanctuary for immigrants without current legal status. The bill divided council and failed.

Samples’ Ward 5, which covers South Akron and much of downtown, is among the poorest and most racially diverse in the city. There, she’s been an advocate for fair housing and community policing while fighting liquor license requests and shutting down bars that attract crime.

Former Akron Councilman Ernie Tarle, current colleague Zack Milkovich (who Samples supported in a recent leadership vote) and former Councilman Mike Williams (whose 2011 mayoral campaign was run by Samples) were among the local politicians pledging their support Friday to the Kucinich-Samples ticket.

Progressive platform

The Kucinich-Samples campaign promises to be “one of the most progressive” platforms among the five candidates left in the Democratic primary.

Good jobs, free college (“Say that again,” Samples added for emphasis), health care for all Ohioans, better schools, workers’ rights, criminal justice reform, “peaceful communities” and a state government that supports them.

“We the people of the state of Ohio want our power back,” Samples said to a cheering audience seated inside Burning Bush church, where she has been a longtime member.

Kucinich said he and Samples, who would like to champion health and social issues, are lockstep on every campaign promise. Unity, inclusiveness, social and economic justice define their ticket, he said.

The pairing makes a second ticket with a black woman as a running mate — the only two minorities in the entire race. Samples’ father is white. Her mother is black.

Having Samples on the ticket speaks louder than lip service about inclusion, Kucinich said.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill named Chantelle Lewis, an African-American educator from Lorain, as his running mate.

The Kucinich-Samples ticket is the third carrying a Summit County woman. Consumer rights advocate Richard Cordray asked Betty Sutton of Copley, a former congresswoman, to run last week. On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Taylor of Green remains a candidate for governor.

Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him @ABJDoug on Twitter or www.facebook.com/doug.livingston.92 on Facebook.