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Reid Pins County Executive Hopes on Administrative Experience; Smith Pitches Health Agenda

State Sen. Shirley Smith speaks at a debate at the City Club of Cleveland. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
State Sen. Shirley Smith speaks at a debate at the City Club of Cleveland. (Nick Castele / ideastream)

This piece is part of a series examining the candidates for Cuyahoga County executive. Listen to a piece on Armond Budish here, and a piece on Thomas O'Grady, Tim Russo and Walter Allen Rogers Jr. here.

Shirley Smith says the political establishment in Cleveland has prematurely lined up behind Budish -- she's raised a fraction of the money Budish has.

"People are basing this race on the amount of money that he has in his coffers," Smith said. "They are not looking at the qualifications of the people who are in this race. I don't think that they're giving that a chance."

Smith has been in state politics for 16 years. One concern at the heart of her work: people reentering society after stints in prison.

"Those people need medical care, they need housing, they need clothing, they need places they can go and probably get into school, you have to educate them on how to do that," she said.

In 1998 Smith became a state representative, and when she reached her term limit, she won election to the state senate. Now she's at her term limit there.

She says as county executive she'd find better ways to measure disparities in health that leave lower-income people with shorter life expectancy and higher infant mortality.

"We invest a lot of money in health, but we don't know where we are in terms of making people better," she said. "So when you look at ZIP codes and you can tell how sick a person is, that's not good. When you have one in four people in Cuyahoga County that are obese, that's not good."

Asked about the county's falling population, she says there are many factors behind it -- and each requires a different approach.

"Some people are leaving because they have no choice," she said. "There may be abandonments, or there may be foreclosures. And others are leaving because they just want something better. They want lower taxes, they want better schools, they want more safety."

Smith is African-American, and some supporters say her best hope for winning is for the four white men on the ballot to split the white vote.

Former sheriff Bob Reid says his best hope is to convince voters with his record as a lawman. For 20 years, he was city manager or police chief in Bedford.

Then in 2009, the Democratic party chose him to replace Gerald McFaul as county sheriff after McFaul resigned amid the county government scandal. But Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald replaced Reid in 2013, never giving a specific reason. Reid says their personalities clashed.

Reid says he's qualified to run the county -- and promises to pursue a program of demolishing abandoned houses and offering grants and loans to cities, something he says he'd finance through greater efficiency.

"If you want to balance budgets and get reserves built up so you can do these special projects, you have to be a good administrator," Reid said. "And I don't believe there's a candidate in this field that has that experience."

Reid has set himself apart from other Democrats in the race. While many have excoriated state leaders over cuts in voting days, Reid says he's comfortable with the changes.

"I think it's borderline insulting to the community of color, to African Americans, to suggest that they are the ones that need additional days to vote," Reid said. "If you can't vote in between 24 and 34 days for your candidate, maybe you just don't want to vote."

Reid seems reluctant to say anything negative about the Republican candidate, County Councilman Jack Schron.

"Jack is a -- he's a quality guy. He's a real gentleman. It would be better if it was somebody else," Reid said, laughing, "so I could go after him and beat him up."

nick.castele@ideastream.org | 216-916-6288