Akron Ward 7’s Democratic primary has all the signs of a hotly contested race.

First are the mysteriously missing political yard signs, some of which can be explained by a recent storm with high winds.

Then there’s a free-speech lawsuit filed against Councilman Donnie Kammer, the incumbent, for allegedly blocking a constituent with a law degree from complaining on the councilman’s official Facebook page. The upset resident, Brian Holb, claims that Kammer’s censorship is a First Amendment violation.

Next is the list of every legal issue in challenger Tammy Cummings’ past, from parking and speeding tickets that were paid late to a domestic violence incident from 2012. Residents who are afraid of retaliation have told the Beacon Journal that Kammer is passing the rap sheet around as campaign literature.

This week, Cummings went on the attack, calling Kammer’s personal insults “pretty despicable.” In a robocall, she’s reminding residents that Kammer opposed legislation in 2017 that called for the broadcasting of city meetings in an effort to be more transparent.

“What does he have to hide?” Cummings asks voters in the automated phone message. “In the coming weeks of this campaign, I’m going to reveal just what Donnie has been doing on council while we weren’t watching.”

Last week, Cummings came one vote shy of earning the Summit County Democratic Party’s endorsement. Kammer had no trouble with the endorsement votes from precinct officials in the party.

The personal and political skirmishes are the telltale signs of a tough race. Less visible and more consequential, though, is how ugly competition can be healthy for democracy by driving interest among voters.

Absentee ballots

Comparing the first 10 days of early voting in 2015, requests for absentee ballots are up in only two of Akron’s 10 city wards: 7 and 2.

Ward 2 is up 34 percent as local and citywide candidates have mobilized more than 100 Bhutanese-Americans in North Hill in the past few weeks.

Across Akron, though, early ballot requests are down 24 percent. Ward 7 is the other exception. From Firestone Park to Coventry Crossing and the edges of East and South Akron, absentee ballot applications are up 47 percent.

True to the slugfest, both candidates are taking credit.

Cummings has campaigned all the way up to Cole Avenue and east of Interstate 77 in the lower income areas. She’s concentrated on public housing and clusters of apartments in the margins of society.

The Beacon Journal mapped the addresses of residents who’ve requested absentee ballots so far. In the block around Wilbeth-Arlington Homes, which is operated by Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, 41 residents have requested absentee ballots with a third of early voting in the books. In all 30 days of early voting in 2015, only nine residents in that area requested early ballots.

“That’s me,” Cummings said. “There are over 1,000 voters in that precinct who are mad. So, I went up there. They’re ready to go. They’re excited for change. And they’re ready for someone who is actually going to help them.”

In all, Cummings said she’s helped voters fill out 149 absentee ballot request forms, and counting. Residents can download the form at https://bit.ly/2GuYWAU, and turn it in over the counter at 500 Grant St., or call the Board of Elections at 330-643-5200. With 214 residents requesting ballots as of Wednesday, Cummings can lay claim to engaging more than two-thirds of the early voters in the ward.

When informed of his opponent’s claims, Kammer defended his candidacy in an email statement.

“My campaign is led by professionalism and integrity,” he wrote. “My role in early turnout consists of being the first person to vote in Summit County for this election at the Board of Elections April 9, along with putting out an early voting video, campaign literature and displaying early voting on my billboard.”

Kammer pointed again to Cummings’ past, which includes a menacing and domestic violence charge stemming from a drunken night in 2012. Now a recovery coach who helps other mothers regain custody of their children and control of their lives, Cummings said she plans to celebrate six years of sobriety next month just before the May 7 primary.

She paints Kammer as a do-nothing elected official who rejects transparency and can’t relate to the harder-hit corners of his community.

Trolling Facebook

Kammer wouldn’t comment on the First Amendment lawsuit and injunction filed by Holb.

The case is in U.S. District Judge John Adams’ court. Holb said that since filing the suit, Kammer has unblocked him from commenting on the councilman’s public Facebook page.

Holb said he grew up in Suffield Township. he bought a home in Firestone Park in 2003. He graduated with a law degree from Ohio State University in 2017 then moved back home. Since then, he’s routinely blasted Kammer on NextDoor, which is a closed messaging board for neighborhoods, and more recently on Facebook. He’s filed two public records requests with the city questioning whether Kammer crossed the line by advising the Firestone Park Citizens Council when the community group received grant funding approved by city council.

Kammer said the Akron Law Department cleared him of any conflict of interest for his volunteer, nonvoting role with the nonprofit organization, which promotes children’s events and activities in Ward 7. “It’s disheartening that a resident would try to take away funding for an organization that promotes family-friendly events in our community,” Kammer said, attacking Holb in his email statement.

Holb said his comments are still hidden. The same has happened, he alleges, on the campaign page for council-at-large candidates Ginger Baylor, Jeff Fusco and Marilyn Keith, who took and posted a photo with Kammer. An administrator for that campaign page did not respond to a request for comment.

“This is akin to kicking people out of a ward meeting because you don’t like what they say. Once you create these public pages, you create a public forum,” said Holb, who has filed all the legal actions on his own.

The one place Holb said general criticism hasn’t been censored is on Mayor Dan Horrigan’s Facebook page. “I think the mayor’s smart enough to know not to silence people with dissenting voices as long as they’re respectful,” he said.

Reach Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-997-3792.