Akron, Ohio, To Hold Fall Election After Long-Serving Mayor Resigns
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Voters in Akron, Ohio will soon do something that hasn't been done over the last 30 years. They'll elect a mayor who is not Democrat Don Plusquellic. In fact, after years of boasting it had one of the longest serving mayors in the country, the city will select its fourth mayor in less than a year. From member station WKSU, M.L. Schultze reports on the strange events leading up to next week's election.
M.L. SCHULTZE, BYLINE: Don Plusquellic has been on the local and national stage for so long and in such a big way that many folks here had no doubt that he'd run for an eighth term as mayor. After all, he'd steered his city away from numerous economic potholes, been talked about as a gubernatorial candidate and never shied away from using his bully pulpit as head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Instead, on a late Friday afternoon in May, the unthinkable happened. He abruptly quit, blaming his hometown paper and others he said just did not understand his passion for his city. And for a while, he disappeared to the Caymans, to Cuba and to San Francisco, where he built houses for Habitat for Humanity.
He returned to Akron long enough to get an award from the Urban League, make a cameo appearance at a downtown concert, and, just last week, get a warning from police for publicly urinating on the University of Akron campus. Yes, you heard that right. It made the news, and it made it clear that the presence of the Don, as people call him, still looms large. Ask Howard Rookard, an Akron resident for 61 years.
HOWARD ROOKARD: As a man, I really wasn't real impressed with our mayor, Plusquellic. But as a mayor, he was the greatest mayor that this country has ever had.
SCHULTZE: And that's why Rookard and other Akronites re-elected Plusquellic seven times comfortably. They credit him with complicated deals, like the one keeping Goodyear's world headquarters here and rejuvenating downtown, taking on federal judges, state lawmakers, city unions and a few residents in the process. What he was not able to engineer was Akron politics post-Plusquellic.
His anointed successor isn't even running. Gary Moneypenny lasted just 10 days after he acknowledged he had a too-personal encounter with a city employee. The interim mayor, Jeff Fusco, wants nothing more than to return to his at-large council seat. And the men who want to be the next mayor of Akron make it pretty clear they don't want to be the next Plusquellic.
DAN HORRIGAN: That was the way that he was able to do things, but that doesn't mean that there are not numerous other successful ways to be able to be a leader in the city.
SCHULTZE: That's Dan Horrigan. He's the Democrat who has the support of the labor and business coalition that backed Plusquellic and most of Plusquellic's administration. Mike Williams is running against him in Tuesday's Democratic primary. He's the councilman who ran against Plusquellic four years ago.
MIKE WILLIAMS: The hallmark of my administration will be respect of different opinions, respect for federal judges, respect for average citizens.
SCHULTZE: That focus on change won't end next week. No Republican has been elected to any city office in nearly two decades. But given this year of surprises, GOP attorney Eddie Sipplen thinks he has a chance come November's general election.
EDDIE SIPPLEN: Political craziness is voting for the same party and expecting a different outcome.
SCHULTZE: Steve Brooks watches local politics from his front porch in the neighborhood where both Horrigan and Williams have their campaign headquarters. And, as a political science professor at the University of Akron, he says there's a drastically different focus in this election.
STEVE BROOKS: It's really refreshing in this election that the citizens of Akron have an election where issues are talked about and problems and possibly future directions instead of everybody's personality and whether they're a good person or a bad person.
SCHULTZE: That debate continues to be reserved for ex-Mayor Don Plusquellic. For NPR News, I'm M.L. Schultze in Akron, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.