A political defection in Akron has marked the end of more than two decades of one-party control on City Council.

“I am no longer a Democrat,” Bob Hoch of Ellet told his 12 elected colleagues Monday while discussing how primary elections depress turnout and cement one-party control. “I do not agree, will not side with or be a part of the Democratic Party any longer. I cannot go on and pretend to be a Democrat.”

Hoch’s political independence should come as little surprise. He’s described himself as a conservative Democrat who joined the party as a young man from a family loyal to labor unions. His party, he said, didn’t help him run for office 40 years later and, in the primary this May, endorsed his opponent.

Now, with six months left on council after losing his primary race, Hoch is joining half his colleagues in supporting the end of partisan primaries through a charter amendment again offered by Councilman Bruce Kilby, who was also shunned by his party before losing his May primary race.

Kilby reintroduced his plan Monday. Council will take a week to consider the plan, which has not yet been vetted by the city's law department. Council had debated and rejected the same proposal in August.

Kilby's plan would make the November general election the only contest for selecting a mayor or council. Any candidate with 50 valid signatures could run, opening the possibility of packed races in which the winner needs only a fraction of the total vote to prevail.

Like judicial and school board races, there would be no D or R beside candidates' names. No longer would voters have to declare their party affiliation to cast ballots in the local races. Like Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo, Akron would have all nonpartisan municipal elections.

Supported in August by council members Zack Milkovich, Russ Neal, Linda Omobien and Veronica Sims, Kilby now has the support of Hoch and Councilman Donnie Kammer, who recalled Monday how constituents registered as Republicans (or independents) wouldn't pull a Democratic ballot just to support his candidacy.

Councilwoman Tara Mosley-Samples set aside her political beef with Kammer to agree that unaffiliated voters should never be discouraged from participating.

Even with additional support this time, the charter amendment still needs a steep nine votes before it would be placed on the November ballot for a public vote.

Kilby's plan got sharp rebukes from Council President Margo Sommerville, Vice President Jeff Fusco and Mayor Dan Horrigan. Councilmen Rich Swirsky and Mike Freeman raised concerns about taking away the party labels, which they said is a good, quick reference for voters.

Citing Republican movements at the state and federal level to cut environmental regulations and women’s reproductive rights, Swirsky made the case for keeping party labels as litmus tests. "In the era of [President Donald] Trump, I could never vote for a Trump supporter," he said, denouncing all Republicans.

Horrigan questioned whether Kilby and others who lost their seats in the Democratic primary were truly concerned about voters.

“It’s sour grapes is what it is,” Horrigan said. “It’s trying to change the rules now that you’ve lost the primary.”

Horrigan and the Summit County Democratic Party opposed many who now support Kilby’s plan.

Last year, Kilby and others on council denied Horrigan the nine votes he needed to advance a charter amendment to switch the primary from September to May. So the mayor, Sommerville and Fusco campaigned to collect signatures, ultimately getting the new primary date on the ballot and passed by voters. Kilby's team couldn't collect enough signatures to have his primary-killing plan put on the ballot.

During the campaign, Horrigan said the move would save money, boost turnout and make it possible for elections staff to print complete absentee ballots for overseas voters, including active military.

Voter turnout fell in the city’s first May primary since the 1950s. Fusco said that had more to do with a less competitive mayoral race than the new date.

The board of election hasn’t billed the city yet for the May election, which in theory could actually cost Akron more because there were no county issues to share the cost of operating polling locations and printing ballots.

Horrigan said this first May election is only a single data point.

Campaigning against the May primary date, Kilby said shortening the primary season would benefit incumbents who have name recognition. That wasn't entirely accurate either as he, Hoch and Milkovich were unseated.

 

Reach Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3792.