Primary Election Day: Tue 5/8
State representative Nickie Antonio, a Democrat from Lakewood, has been one of our most effective and hard-working state legislators. She’s been a reliable fighter for working people, voter rights, civil rights, public education, health care accessibility and addressing the opioid crisis. During her eight years in Columbus, she has advocated for an LGBT equality bill that would protect against discrimination in housing, jobs and accommodations such as hotels and restaurants. This year, for the first time, the bill has landed an endorsement from the conservative Ohio Chamber of Commerce, recognizing the value of a welcoming environment to business growth.
Antonio, who is also down-to-earth and accessible, is exactly the type of person we need to be electing to office. Unfortunately, she’s term-limited in the state House, demonstrating just one of the downsides of this sounds-good-if-you-don’t-think-about-it policy. Fortunately, she decided to run for the state Senate District 23 seat being vacated by the also term-limited Mike Skindell, a district encompassing Lakewood, a flock of western suburbs and some of Cleveland’s west side. To keep Antonio in the legislature would be a benefit to all Ohioans.
So why are we writing about a state legislative race, something we don’t normally do? This particular race has a lot of thought-provoking and disturbing elements that reflect on where we are at this time in our society and civic affairs.
Another local Democrat has stepped up the opposite Antonio in the primary — current state representative and former Cleveland city council president Martin Sweeney. He isn’t term limited; he has four more years he can serve in the state House. It was unclear why he was abandoning a safe seat to run against another Democrat until, just before the filing deadline, his daughter filed to run for his old seat. They deny there was any coordination, but that strains belief. His daughter is underprepared for the job, with no record of activism or advocacy for any policy or issues. Dad is handing her a $60,000-a-year job at age 25.
Unlike Antonio, Sweeney has been a benchwarmer, with lukewarm interest in the affairs of state government. When first running, he famously asked sitting legislator how little he could get away with going to Columbus. That alone would make his challenge to oust Antonio discouraging.
But there’s worse. In this #TimesUp moment, Sweeney’s background while on Cleveland city council includes engineering a payoff to a woman who accused him of sexual harassment. Yes, it was 12 years ago. So was the lead accusation against Al Franken — a much less serious one. Given that, Sweeney should not only not be seeking a new office, he should be resigning his old one.
But wait — there’s still worse. Shamefully, the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party executive committee voted to endorse Sweeney in the race, giving the tainted, less qualified candidate well more than 60% of the vote he needed. It’s a clear indication that while Jimmy Dimora may be gone, the good old boy network in the county party is still powerful. The party should have headed this one off at the pass, pressuring Sweeney to withdraw. It’s not a good look for them.
To a responsible voter, this isn’t a close call. Sweeney isn’t qualified to be in the legislature, and Antonio is one of our most effective advocates. If you live in Cleveland wards 11, 13, 15, 16 and 17 (and parts of wards 3, 12 and 14) Brooklyn, Brook Park, Parma, Parma Hts., Lakewood, Middleburg Hts., Cuyahoga Heights and Broadview Heights, don’t embarrass northeast Ohio by sending Sweeney back to Columbus and sidelining Antonio.
The primary is Tue 5/8. Early voting, both in person and by mail, starts Tue 4/10. There is no Republican running in this overwhelmingly Democratic district; the primary winner gets the seat.
You can volunteer to help Antonio by going to nickieantonio.com. She has regularly scheduled phone banks, canvasses, lit drops and house parties.