Akron's presumptive next mayor Shammas Malik discusses optimism amid 'enormous' challenges
It’s been a little more than a month since Akron City Councilmember Shammas Malik won the city's Democratic mayoral primary, effectively securing the position since there is no Republican or Independent challenger in the November election.
Malik is already forging ahead with his transition plans and outlining future priorities. He has a lot of time to do it as he would not take office until Jan. 1, 2024, if he's officially elected.
“I’m really excited, but at the same time, yeah, there are days where I sit back and I say, ‘Wow, the challenges are enormous,’” Malik said in a community forum at Quaker Station in Downtown Akron Monday.
Malik reflected on his campaign for mayor and addressed some of his priorities for the next seven months.
The discussion was held in conjunction with the release of a new Akron Decides survey that asked 500 Akron residents how they voted, as well as their top priorities in the May primary election.
Among the findings was that 63% of voters who did not select Malik still said they thought he was somewhat or very likely to put the city of Akron on the right track.
“I was really humbled and thankful to see that even people who didn’t vote for me are optimistic,” Malik said during the forum. “I talked a lot about how we need change in our community, but I always wanted that to be a positive message.”
The survey also found the majority of respondents who did not vote for Malik felt he would significantly change how the city operates, give people more voice in city government and bring the people of Akron together.
Researchers also asked residents about topical issues in the city, including a grand jury’s decision in April not to indict the eight officers who fatally shot Jayland Walker, an unarmed Black man, last summer.
During Monday’s discussion, moderator Mike Shearer, editor of The Akron Beacon Journal, asked Malik if he agreed with the grand jury’s decision.
Malik said he respects the decision from a legal perspective, and understands how members of the jury came to it.
He’s not satisfied with it, however.
“I’ve said this since the first moment that I saw the bodycam video, that what we saw in that video is wrong. That it was a systemic failure,” Malik said. “It requires change in policy, in practice and culture.”
Officers fired 94 total shots, wounding or grazing Walker 46 times, according to the Summit County Medical Examiner.
Malik focused much of his campaign on public safety and crime and has called for several changes to the police department. He wants to implement community policing by designating about a dozen officers to walk the beat and get out into the community, rather than responding to calls.
He’d also like mental health providers to accompany police officers to certain calls where individuals may be in a crisis.
“Safety is the most basic thing. We cannot make progress on any of these other issues until everyone in this community feels safe and is safe,” Malik said.
According to the survey, 82.5% of respondents support training officers to avoid confrontations and de-escalate tense situations. Sixty percent support community policing and 53.7% support having social workers accompany officers in certain situations.
The survey also found that Malik’s voter base was primarily female.
Shearer pointed out that if the survey data was scaled up to the actual number of people who voted in the election, Malik had so many female supporters that he still would have won the election even if no men voted for him.
The audience at Quaker Station erupted in laughter and some female attendants cheered.
“I cannot tell you how many times I would go to someone on the campaign team and say, ‘You know, I went to this man and he said, ‘you know, I’m not sure, but you’ve got my wife’s vote,’” Malik joked.
Malik added that perhaps women voters were driven by his desire to change systemic inequities in the city.
John Green, director emeritus of the University of Akron’s Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, added that Malik was one of the most progressive of the seven candidates, and women are typically more likely than men to vote for progressive candidates.
“I think his style of campaign may have been particularly attractive to women. I kept hearing him talk about inclusion, inclusion, inclusion, inclusion,” Green added.
As he continues to plan his transition, Malik is meeting with current Mayor Dan Horrigan every other week, he said.
Malik attended the U.S. Conference of Mayors event in Columbus last weekend alongside Horrigan, during which he spoke with Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, he said.
Bibb, Malik recounted, said he only had a month and a half to figure out his transition after he was elected in November 2021 to succeed longtime Mayor Frank Jackson. Malik, on the other hand, has seven months.
“We’re trying to use that time as best as we possibly can,” Malik said. “We are trying to make sure on day one, we are as ready as possible to actually implement these things we’ve been talking about.”
The survey was conducted by the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research. It was commissioned by Akron Press Club, Bliss Institute at the University of Akron, Akron NAACP, Ohio Debate Commission and Akron Beacon Journal.