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Tariq K. Shabazz takes his platform to the Cuyahoga County executive race

Fresh off a run for Congress last year, Tariq K. Shabazz is making a bid for Cuyahoga County executive. [Photo provided by the candidate]
Tariq K. Shabazz

Tariq K. Shabazz is a 28-year-old veteran of the U.S. Navy who is looking for a path to elected office.

He has run twice for Congress. Now, he’s competing in the Democratic primary for Cuyahoga County executive. Shabazz is running on a platform of criminal justice reform, cybersecurity and aid to those in economic need.

In 2020, he ran against U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge in the Democratic primary. He won about 3 percent of the vote. Last year, he jumped into the special election to fill Fudge’s House seat. He finished ninth in the 13-candidate race.

“I’m a husband, I’m a Navy veteran, I’m a political scientist,” he said at a City Club of Cleveland congressional forum last year. “As I say all the time, before all those things, I was just a young man who grew up in inner-city Cleveland, Ohio.”

This time, Shabazz is in the running to lead Cuyahoga County government. He said this is why he’s in the race:

“We're at a pivotal point in America,” he said. “Everywhere in America, we're talking about crime, crime, crime, crime. And everywhere we're talking about crime, the first answer to it is, ‘More police.’”

But Shabazz said more police should not be the first answer.

“The first answer should be, ‘Remove the condition that is contributing to these crimes.’”

Those conditions, according to Shabazz are economic and housing insecurity. He said there are two Cuyahoga counties.

“People don’t understand, we're living in two different Cuyahogas,” he said. “It’s two tales of Cuyahoga. It’s a Cuyahoga where everything is beautiful. It has the right resources for our children to grow in.”

In the other Cuyahoga, he said, are neighborhoods facing gun violence that don’t have grocery stores nearby. It’s this economic and social inequality that’s at the heart of his criticism of current elected officials.

“They'll say, you know, ‘Racism is a public health crisis.’ They'll say, ‘Equity, diversity and inclusion,’” Shabazz said. “They'll say those things, but truly if that is not your priority, then it will never be a reflection of what your administration will be like.”

As county leaders prepare to build a new county jail, Shabazz said they should put more money toward helping young people and their families with what they lack – rather than locking more people up.

“Make sure there’s more resources for all of them, make sure that they actually, their houses can be repaired, make sure all these things can happen,” he said. “It is not going to occur if we keep allowing the same type of individuals get in office.”

When the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party met in late January to endorse a county executive candidate, Shabazz wasn’t allowed to speak.

He needed a nomination from the floor on the party’s Zoom meeting that included hundreds of committee members. Shabazz didn’t get one.

“So that was something I really was a little upset about in some, some extent,” he said, “that we wish we were able to at least reach the body and actually disseminate what our plan and our message was.”

The party endorsed Chris Ronayne. The only other Democrat running, former State Sen. Shirley Smith, dropped out days later. The party’s endorsement, months of early campaigning, connections and sizable fundraising all give Ronayne a substantial advantage.

Shabazz said he didn’t expect to get the party’s endorsement.

“Quite frankly, we know that the party didn't expect us to be the nominee,” he said. “Because I mean, let's be realistic. The nomination happened, what, a week and a half prior to the actual filing deadline? So it created a perception in which, where obviously the party can potentially select someone first.”

Nevertheless Shabazz is still in the race. A week after the endorsement vote, he filed the signatures he needed with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to make the ballot.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.