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Corruption Probe Spurs Rookie Candidates

Wanda Ullman has never run for elected office before in her life. Earlier this month, the 73-year-old retired educator and lifelong Republican went to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to file the 661 petition signatures she gathered in support of her candidacy for Parma School Board. Ullman had never considered a run for office before this year but she says the public corruption investigation that began last year and targeted parma school board member J. Kevin Kelley inspired her to run.

Wanda Ullman: Back in September, with my knees shaking, I stood up at a board meeting and said Mr. Kelley, I respectfully ask you to resign from your position. And he said nothing--didn't even look at me. Nothing.

Kelley ultimately did resign and 69 people sought to be appointed to fill the vacancy. The school board named a local attorney. So, now Wanda Ullman is running for one of three open seats on the board on the november ballot. She's definitely caught the political bug.

Ullman: I want to make a difference, I want to make a change. I want to listen to the people and pay attention to them, pay attention to the teachers, pay attention to the secretaries, to the custodians, the people who are really there with with the kids, who really know.So that's why I want to do it.

Cuyahoga County GOP Chariman Rob Frost says he likes the odds of a republican winning a seat on the parma school board.

Rob Frost: As Democrat-dominated as Parma may seem, it's a part of this county that is very much an area of swing vote within this county. It's a part of this county where John McCain ran neck and neck with Barack Obama in 2008, here Debbie Sutherland ran neck and neck with Peter Lawson Jones last year.

And it's a place where some republicans already hold office, including on the school board. Political scientists agree the prospects for republicans in cuyahoga county are better than they've been in recent years. Jason johnson teaches political science at hiram college. He says local parties see school boards as their version of farm teams.

Jason Johnson: Their plan is let's get those quality young men and women, those families, those married people the people who really represent what our party is about--let's get them on school board, where it's not going to be heavy on policy, but they can make very strong statements about touchstone cultural issues about what kids are being taught about the quality of schools, and that creates great quotes and momentum for people to sort of move up out of the minor leagues. So that's one of the reasons Parma is being targeted.

Another Republican novice running in Parma fits that bill to a T.

Sean Niklos: I'm just someone in the community who got fed up with what I was reading in the paper, whether it was about Jimmy Dimora or Timothy Hagan or Kevin Kelley.

Sean Niklos is a 32-year-old pharmaceutical sales rep who describes himself as very wet behind the ears when it comes to politics. He attended his first school board meeting just last month. What he lacks in experience he seems to make up for in enthusiasm, ambition, and a rhetorical command of conservative fiscal philosophy.

Niklos: I want to take a look at the books. I want to look at what's been cut, what's been cut so far, how fiscally conservative have they been? Is there waste is there not? ...I think the idea is we need to get in there and we need to take a hard look at what's going on and then, make some of the tough decisions that maybe some of the folks who have been there in the past haven't made.

Typically a school board campaign doesn't require a huge war chest, and that's a good thing for Niklos and Ullman.

Moulthrop: Wanda, How much money do you have?
Ullman: Do you really want to know? Let's see... 150 Dollars (laughs)....It's going to be a heckuva campaign

The election takes place November 3rd and it could be the first sign of how much democrats will be hurt from the scandal surrounding local party officials.