The 2019 battle for Akron City Council ended with two sides headed to two bars in Ward 2.
With Republicans hosting contested primaries in only two of the city's 11 council races (10 for the wards and one for the three at-large seats), the focus fell on Democrats. Those backed by Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan celebrated a near-sweep at the polls with a toast at an Irish pub in North Hill. Horrigan, who easily won the Democratic mayoral primary, will see a favorable majority come January.
The mayor's opponents, who gathered at a bistro near Chapel Hill Mall a couple miles away, were mostly defeated.
Democrats control every seat on the council, which is why they fielded more than one candidate in eight of the 11 council races. The mayor endorsed in six of them. And, so, the primary became a binary contest of sorts.
Even former Mayor Don Plusquellic, who considered another run after voicing some disapproval of Horrigan's first term, recorded a last-minute robocall supporting Horrigan's team, which was running against Plusquellic's old rivals on the city council.
Horrigan-supported candidates won in four of the five ward races, losing in only Ward 4 where Russ Neal held onto his seat, according to unofficial election results. In the six-way race for three at-large seats, two of Horrigan's picks (incumbent Jeff Fusco and school board member Ginger Baylor) got the most and third most votes (respectively).
"Today, Akron voters made it clear that they will choose local leaders that prioritize people over politics," Horrigan said in an emailed statement. "I'm honored to represent the voters in the November general election, and share my vision for a stronger more prosperous Akron that lifts up all our neighborhoods, businesses, and families."
Second place in the nominating contest went to At-Large Councilwoman Linda Omobien.
Ward 8 Councilwoman Marilyn Keith, who rounded out the mayor's team, was less than a half percentage point behind Baylor with 97% of the vote in, which may be close enough to trigger an automatic recount. At-Large Councilwoman Veronica Sims, who received 17% of the vote, was in fifth place, and challenger LaMont Porter was last with less than 4%.
Until Tuesday, Bruce Kilby had routinely carried Ward 2 with early votes. Not this time. His mayor-backed opponent, FirstEnergy accountant Phil Lombardo, collected twice as many absentee ballots, many of them from Bhutanese-American immigrants organized by the mayor's team to vote for the first time.
"I just want to say from the get-go, I always said this, I wasn’t swinging for a single," Lombardo said in a celebratory conversation laced with baseball analogies. "I was hitting for a home run. I’m a competitor. And I don't do many things for second place."
Lombardo thanked an awesome campaign that carried him to a resounding victory. He said he's ready to turn confrontation into cooperation and empty promises into production by joining the mayor's "champion team."
"I’m just happy because I think the residents of Ward 2 didn’t just speak up, they stood up. They jumped up in the air and asked for change," he said, stepping outside the noisy Hibernian Pub in North Hill to talk to a reporter by phone.
Sharon Connor, another mayor-backed candidate, also flipped the early voting script in Ward 10, where incumbent Zack Milkovich typically mops the floor with absentee ballots but complained this year of being stifled by wintry conditions with the election moved from September to May by a mayor-backed ballot initiative last year.
Connor, who serves on Akron's Civil Rights Commission, will be the first Akron Council member to serve in a wheelchair if she's successful in the fall. She got nearly three times more early votes than Milkovich did.
Incumbents Mike Freeman in Ward 9, President Margo Sommerville in Ward 3 and Rich Swirsky in Ward 1 ran unopposed. With independent and Republican candidates running this fall, only Sommerville faces absolutely no challenge this year.
With all of the precincts counted in other Democratic primary races: incumbent Tara Samples was winning in Ward 5, former Akron firefighter and union leader Brad McKitrick looked to unseat Bob Hoch in Ward 6 and Donnie Kammer resoundingly fended off a challenge by first-time candidate Tammy Cummings in Ward 7.
"I want to thank residents of Ward 7," Kammer said. "Your voice was heard loud and clear."
In the open race for Ward 8, Shammas Malik trounced longtime Akron School Board member the Rev. Curtis Walker, who got less than 20% of the vote, with three of 17 precincts outstanding.
Republicans offered no candidate this year in the GOP primary races for wards 4, 5, 7 and 9. But they did field more candidates than seats in the Ward 8 and council-at-large races, requiring primary voters to choose Tuesday.
In Ward 8, Brian Fortney was beating Greg Dunham in a race on pace to register less than 40 votes. Fortney will now face Malik in November.
In the GOP primary to select three nominees for at-large seats, Osita Obierika was knocked out of a four-way race, leaving Cynthia Blake, Henry Todd and Monica McNatt with the daunting task of taking out any of the three Democratic nominees in November.
Reach Doug Livingston at email@example.com or 330-996-3792.