After saying he might run, Don Plusquellic will not enter the primary race for Akron mayor as he turns his back on a Democratic Party he sees as too extreme for his liking. But the former mayor has not ruled out running later this year as an independent.
After making the announcement Wednesday morning on WAKR (1590-AM), Plusquellic exchanged a text message with a Beacon Journal reporter, emailed a statement and finally picked up the phone for a brief conversation about his last-minute decision while driving in his car.
He abandoned any criticism of Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan, who he would have faced in the primary, and instead turned his ire toward the Democratic Party as the reason he might file May 6 as a nonpartisan mayoral candidate. Plusquellic said the disenchantment with the party has been brewing for years. He didn't mention it or running as an independent candidate when contacted by reporters last week after he said he might enter the race.
In an email and brief phone interview, the former mayor again blamed critical Akron Beacon Journal commentary and coverage for his decision to abruptly resign months before the 2015 municipal elections. But for his choice to avoid the May 7 primary, Plusquellic focused on dysfunction in Washington, D.C., driven by members of both parties who are rewarded by primary voters for espousing extreme views, then unable to compromise or govern because of those views.
He praised centrist Republicans like John Boehner and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He blasted the Democratic Party for “letting Bernie Sanders cut into Hillary Clinton” by pushing the electorate to the left in the 2016 presidential election. He didn’t vote in the Democratic primary last year for Ohio governor because he said he could not support the increasingly progressive agendas of Richard Cordray or Dennis Kucinich.
And he criticized those he called “so-called” Democrats who caused him headaches on City Council and in local politics in the months before resigning. He likened the “emotional difficulty” of breaking from the Democratic Party to closing a 50-year-old account with a local bank over poor service, which he said he's done.
“I’ve been a Democrat all my life. My parents were Democrats. We came from a blue-collar background,” he said. “And I still believe this is the party that cares about people who need help. That’s what government is there for. I just have felt very frustrated for a number of years.”
Plusquellic told WAKR host Ray Horner that the Akron area lacked continuity in leadership, partly because County Executive Russ Pry passed away not long after Plusquellic vacated the mayor's office before his term expired without a viable replacement.
He initially dismissed a reporter’s question about whether he was prepared to launch a primary campaign against Horrigan as merely hypothetical, then he said: “I expect that if I run, and I’ve run enough campaigns, that I would have raised enough resources and money and put together a campaign to get the message out there.”
With the filing deadline closing at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Horrigan and Greg Harrison, a retired police officer and pastor, had filed to run as Democrats for mayor of Akron.
Plusquellic, 69, had served as mayor for 28 years. He cited life-changing experiences, including a car crash in Cuba the year he resigned and an intestine that burst from diverticulitis in 2015, as prompting him to consider another run. He told Horner that his family advised him not to run again.
There are enough Democratic voters in Akron to keep a Republican from winning, even with someone like Plusquellic splitting votes. Horrigan got nearly 30,000 votes to the roughly 10,000 cast for Republican Eddie Sipplen in 2015. And Horrigan has said his record would only bolster his support in the coming election.
"I am proud of the progress this community has made together over the last three years and welcome the opportunity to compare my record and vision against any challenger," Horrigan said when Plusquellic was still thinking about entering the primary race.
Reach Doug Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3792.