Democrats Running for Cuyahoga County Executive Debate Population Loss, Jobs, Records

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Candidates fielded questions about the county's population decline, unemployment and the state's changes to voting rules. And in their brief answers, they tried to sneak in bits of their biographies and campaign points.

State Sen. Shirley Smith said as a legislator she'd helped small businesses, and that she'd fight for women who make less money than men working the same jobs. She said as county executive, she'd work to improve residents' health.

"The infant mortality rate in this county is higher than it is across this state," Smith said. "People are dying from preventable diseases, chronic diseases, comorbidities. There are 1 in 4 people that are obese. There is a disproportionate drug rate that's killing people."

State Rep. Armond Budish, the former Ohio House speaker, highlighted his experience working with Republicans in Columbus. And when asked if he needed to be more accessible to voters, as the candidate with likely the most endorsements and campaign dollars, he didn't give a direct answer, but said he would bring a divided county together.

"That's what we need. To succeed, we need to be together as a county," Budish said. "That's' what I've been doing over the last number of years. As speaker of the house, my focus has been on job creation, economic development."

One candidate who said he had little political background was artist Walter Allen Rogers Jr. He wore a multicolored cape on stage, and took pictures of the audience during the debate. He said he'd try to improve students' reading and writing, and that he'd represent city neighborhoods over downtown.

"I'm out here because downtown...they have their stadiums, they have all the things they want, all their little toys," Rogers said. "There's nothing for the community. There's gunfire every other night in my neighborhood. The streets are bad."

It was not unlike the message that came from former North Olmsted Mayor Thomas O'Grady, now a school principal. O'Grady said he opposes extending the sin tax to maintain the city's three sports stadiums. He said some big-ticket projects in the county have used up money that he'd rather have spent on inner-ring suburbs and Cleveland neighborhoods.

"The Opportunity Corridor on the East Side. Does that help the West Side? No," O'Grady said. "Does that help the suburbs? No. Does that help the East Side neighborhoods? No, it does not, it speeds traffic right through those neighborhoods."

O'Grady also criticized the new county headquarters currently under construction near Playhouse Square.

Democratic activist Tim Russo tied many of his answers back to his opposition to extending the county sin tax, saying the rich have an upper hand over the poor in the county.

"We need to end the rigged game that allows three billionaires to go to county council and get whatever they want whenever they want as fast as they want and then put it in front of the voters for a rubber stamp," Russo said.

The three owners of the teams did not appear in person before county council -- but Russo did to make his case.

Former county sheriff Bob Reid pointed to his experience in law enforcement. He said as sheriff he'd set up a GED program in the county jail to help inmates better find jobs when they left. And he said he was part of the earliest planning for the county takeover of jails in Cleveland and Euclid.

Reid stood apart from his opponents when all were asked if they'd fight Ohio's new rules cutting back on the number of voting days. The five other candidates said they would, but Reid said there were enough days for voters to get to the polls.

"I almost think it's borderline insulting to suggest to the community of color that they need more than 34 days to vote in an election," Reid said, though he added, "I don't agree on issues involving suppression of votes."

But he said he'd have to review any new voting rule before deciding whether to oppose it.

The Cuyahoga County Republican Party is fielding only one candidate, county councilman Jack Schron. He'll go up against the winner of this Democratic contest in November.

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