The Akron City Council would benefit from change in its membership, and now a helpful dose appears in store following the primary election this week. The Democratic primary matters most, given that all 13 council members, plus the mayor, are Democrats. The primary produced five new faces who are favored to capture seats in the November general election. The hope is their arrival will lift the performance of the council, which at times has proved an embarrassment during the recent past.
The change represents a victory for Mayor Dan Horrigan, who easily won his own primary race. The mayor took a risk in backing a slate in the at-large race and getting behind candidates in ward contests. He supported two of the three winning at-large candidates, Jeff Fusco, a workhorse and longtime incumbent, and Ginger Baylor, an Akron school board member. Baylor is the newcomer to the council scene. She knows government. As a council member, her contribution will include a clear capacity to work effectively with others.
Marilyn Keith had the mayor’s support as she attempted to go from representing Ward 8 to an at-large seat. She fell short by 45 votes. If she had won, she would have continued as a solid council member. Her decision opened the way for Shammas Malik to succeed her in the ward. He ran a smart, informed and energetic campaign. Phil Lombardo, a FirstEnergy accountant, delivered similarly in Ward 2, defeating the incumbent, Bruce Kilby.
The same goes for Sharon Connor, a community organizer in the fullest sense, in Ward 10 and Brad McKitrick, a retired Akron firefighter, in Ward 6, ousting incumbents Zack Milkovich and Bob Hoch, respectively.
When the council slipped into episodes of distrust and dysfunction, aggravated by personality clashes, the need for new members was plain. Fortunately, the five new faces stepped up to the campaign challenge, providing credible and even promising alternatives. Again, the likelihood is that the quality of the council will be enhanced by their presence, assuming the pattern holds and Democrats ride into office on their overwhelming numbers.
That isn’t to dismiss the Republican candidates. For instance, Brian Fortney won the primary in Ward 8 and would be a sound addition. Josh Sines, a ring announcer and new owner of Bob’s Hamburg, appears ready to run a spirited, if lightly funded, campaign against the mayor. Yet the political landscape of the city is dominated by Democrats, something Bryan Williams, the Summit County Republican Party chair, acknowledged in arguing the party wouldn’t commit the time and energy to conduct a mayoral campaign, albeit before Sines entered.
Mayor Horrigan didn’t just get potentially helpful changes on the council. He also appears to have smoothed some rough edges in his relationship with his predecessor, Don Plusquellic. Doug Livingston of the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com reported that the former mayor recorded a supportive robocall for Horrigan. That start at bridging differences is good for the city.
Akron faces too many challenges. It doesn’t need Horrigan and Plusquellic at odds, whatever the source and extent of any bad feelings. The city benefits from both focusing on what is best for residents, Horrigan now with the responsibility of pushing Akron toward a better place, from the crucial initiatives downtown to expanding opportunity in the black community, from improving city services to curbing gun violence. All of that, and other priorities, will be addressed more easily with a council less prone to drama and even the toxic.
The idea isn’t to see the City Council somehow become a rubber stamp for the mayor. Independence is needed, along with criticism, members looking first to be constructive.