The Summit County Board of Elections has dismissed the latest attempt to derail an upstart candidate in what’s become the nastiest race for Akron City Council this year.
A few Firestone Park residents and their councilman, Donnie Kammer, alleged at a public hearing Tuesday that fellow Democrat Tammy Cummings duped voters into signing petitions by promoting community projects instead of her candidacy, which is what the petitions ultimately launched.
“I’m here to address the board on Ms. Cummings’ questionable way she went about maybe deceiving or lying to residents of my ward in obtaining signatures to place her name on the ballot for this coming [primary] election on May 7,” Kammer read from a statement that impugned his opponent, who sat only feet away, personally and politically for not voting and having a criminal record.
State voting records show Cummings, a registered Democrat, cast major election ballots in 2008, 2014, 2016 and 2018. In an extensive interview with the Beacon Journal in late January, she explained that she’d been arrested and gave up custody of her children while battling drug and alcohol addiction. Now a recovery coach for Summit County Children Services, Cummings said she hasn’t had a drink or touched cocaine for nearly six years.
“So, now I basically go back into the lion’s den,” said Cummings, who turns 42 this month. “I go in and I pull the other mothers out to help them find sobriety, rebuild their life and get their kids back, too.”
Deciding to run
She initially turned down a request to run when approached by Akron Councilwoman Tara Samples, whose city ward overlaps Kammer’s in East and South Akron. Then, "I started talking to the residents. I went into the different neighborhoods and asked them, ‘Do you know who your council member is? What are your biggest issues over here?’ And when the residents started laying out, ‘these are the issues we’re dealing with and nobody is helping us fix them,’ I was like, ‘Somebody needs to stand up and step up and help you guys.’ ”
She heard about missing street lights, illegal trash dumping, bullet holes and wild animals infesting apartments. “When I saw this in the pockets of communities outside [Firestone Park], I was really floored,” she said. "It’s eye-opening to see the struggles that people really have and don’t seem to be addressed or even acknowledged.”
Cummings has been transparent about her past, which includes menacing and domestic violence for yelling the F-word at one of her children while intoxicated and being treated at a hospital in 2012. She spent that Christmas in jail instead of with her kids. The following May, she started down the lifelong recovery path, choosing to put her name on the ballot this year in an election that falls two days after her sixth year of sobriety.
But her candidacy has not been smooth. A clerical mistake on her petitions, complaints of deceptively gathering signatures and her opponent's overt attacks have raised doubts. On the day of the February filing deadline, Kammer said in a statement: “This election should place focus on the candidate who has a proven track record of legislative experience and accomplishments that have benefited the residents of Ward 7, not a candidate who has an extensive criminal record and civil actions that depict an ongoing irresponsibility of paying fines and liens.”
Kammer, who is 43 and was last cited by the police when he was 18 for a loud muffler and being out after curfew with underage friends, has made an issue of Cummings' unpaid parking tickets (the last one from 2016, according to court records) to discredit her candidacy.
The issue at hand this week was whether Cummings was forthright about her candidacy when circulating petitions, and whether that legally matters.
She’d turned in an early stack of petitions but was told to recollect the signatures after an election officer noted a mistake; she put City Council instead of specifying Ward 7 as the position sought. Without evidence, a few residents accused her of simply copying over the signatures from the old petitions.
“Our staff, however, checked the signatures and" they appear valid, Bill Rich, chair of the Summit County Board of Elections, said.
Cummings said the newer signatures were “absolutely, 100 percent” authentic. “I went door to door for six hours straight."
The next claim, made in writing by one resident and repeated in-person or secondhand by two more on Tuesday, alleged that Cummings coaxed signatures by deceptively endorsing community projects, like a recreation center in a business on Aster Avenue or movies and more family fun in the park.
“When I’m talking to the residents, we talk about a multitude of different issues …,” Cummings told the board. “I talk to them about everything they’re dealing with in their neighborhood. So, would I have spoken with [James Claxton] about basketball hoops in my quest to get signatures? Absolutely.”
Claxton, a Cummings accuser who lives on Ido Avenue, admitted “it was my fault” for not reading the petition carefully. Republican and Democrat election officials agreed, finding no reason to end a candidacy over voters who complained after willingly signing.
Reach Doug Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3792.