Nearly 30 Akron Democrats are running for city council as the first-term mayor faces one challenger in the May 7 primary.
Across the city’s 10 wards, only Rich Swirsky of Ward 1 and President Margo Sommerville of Ward 3 are running unopposed. The rest, including seven running for three citywide council seats, will square off with at least one fellow Democrat. Independent candidates may file by May 6 to get on the November ballot.
Former Mayor Don Plusquellic said Wednesday morning, hours before the primary filing deadline, that he would consider running as an independent instead of a Democrat. There’s no record of petitions ever being pulled this year by Mike Williams, a top vote-getter among at-large candidates in recent city elections before leaving office after losing in 2015 to Horrigan in the Democratic primary for mayor.
Pastor Greg Harrison, a retired police officer, filed the 50 signatures needed as the only Democrat to challenge Horrigan this time. The Summit County Board of Elections will certify the candidates' signatures later this month.
What defines many of the city races, and may decide the balance of power at City Hall for the next four years, is whether candidates are running with or against the current administration. Horrigan is campaigning to replace at-large incumbents Linda Omobien and Veronica Sims with Akron School Board member Ginger Baylor and Ward 8 Councilwoman Marilyn Keith.
Jeff Fusco, the other at-large incumbent, has teamed up to share the cost of printing and mailing campaign literature with Baylor and Keith as the mayor’s three-member slate. Lamont Porter, a cement mason who wants to promote construction trades in schools, is the last of seven Democrats seeking three at-large seats.
With Plusquellic out of the picture for now, Horrigan can turn his political attention to Harrison, who leads a coalition of Baptist preachers and has pressed the city on issues of race and equity in economic, housing and recreational opportunities for all residents.
Horrigan is backing Phil Lombardo in Ward 2 over Michael Valle, the brother of Neighborhood Assistance Director John Valle, who represented North Hill on the city council before Horrigan. Lombardo, a FirstEnergy accountant whose sister is married to former Councilman Jim Hurley, reckons it’ll take $10,000 to take out incumbent Councilman Bruce Kilby, a leading critic of the administration.
Kilby and Horrigan have clashed often in the past three years. As recently as Monday, Kilby suggested the mayor eliminate the “inflated salaries” of his cabinet members to hire more housing inspectors and police.
With Keith opting to run at-large, Horrigan is backing Harvard-educated Shammas Malik for her Ward 8 seat. Malik is a young lawyer who resigned his job as an assistant director of law for the city to campaign for the seat representing Northwest Akron, where he grew up and graduated from Firestone High School.
He'll face the Rev. Curtis Walker, whose strong name recognition has garnered the most votes in the past three races for school board.
Walker said Keith, a retired schoolteacher, leaving the ward seat open presented “the appropriate time” to move from the school board to the city council — a move that others, including Omobien and Sims, have made. Walker said he’s witnessed the dysfunction of council members unable to get along.
In 2017, Keith brought in a University of Akron counselor to guide the body toward racial healing and understanding following a few disorderly meetings. Not everyone showed up. And Keith lost her leadership position when the council elected Sommerville as president the following January.
“I would champion first and foremost civility,” said Walker, who’s represented Akron’s school system on national advocacy boards. "Our focus ought to be what’s best for the city of Akron and our individual wards. But we need to do that as a team.”
In Ward 6, Bob Hoch — whose comments helped spur the racial unrest in 2017 — is facing Michael Madonio, who retired from the city in 2008 as design manager of the Bureau of Engineering, and Bradley McKitrick, a retired firefighter. “Council wouldn’t suffer if he was on it,” a congenial Hoch said after talking with McKitrick after a recent council meeting.
Keith John Elrod, who failed to get enough signatures to run in 2013, is again trying to unseat Ward 9 Councilman Mike Freeman, who runs the Salvation Army's planned giving office and represents Kenmore.
Ward 4 Councilman Russ Neal is facing Jan Davis, a retired health information manager from Summa Health Systems who’s taken an unusual path to public service. Challenged by friends during a girls' night out in Cleveland, Davis ran for mayor in 2011 then an at-large council seat in 2015. She fell short both times. “Whatever happens, this is my last political bid,” she said in a recent interview.
Elsewhere on the council, a proxy war is unfolding between two incumbents.
Tara Samples of Ward 5, who is being challenged by Johnnie Hannah, has tapped Tammy Cummings of Firestone Park to unseat Donnie Kammer in Ward 7.
The beef between Samples and Kammer is personal and political. Kammer accused Samples of grandstanding in the months before Dennis Kucinich, who lost a gubernatorial bid last year, picked her as a running mate. At the beginning of 2018, Samples successfully nominated Zack Milkovich to knock Kammer out of his No. 3 leadership position on the council.
Samples and Horrigan have exchanged mutual endorsements. But Samples' support of Milkovich flies in the face of Horrigan’s endorsement of Sharon Connor, a community leader from Goodyear Heights running against Milkovich in Ward 10. Labor leader Jack Hefner is also in that race to represent Goodyear Heights and East Akron.
Kammer, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, is up against a political newcomer who has lived most of her adult life on the wrong side of the law. Cummings is a single mom and recovery coach with Summit County Children Services. She helps expecting and new mothers struggling with addiction.
Cummings, who was brought up in a middle class family, left home at 16 to live in “the Rosemary projects”. She had two children in her teens from a failed marriage and two more in her 20s while hiding her alcohol and cocaine use from officers assigned to her criminal cases. Candid about her life, she’s lived in a homeless shelter and hit rock bottom one night yelling at her son while being treated for her addiction.
Cummings hopes to celebrate six years of sobriety on May 5, then a win at the polls two days later.
Reach Doug Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3792.