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Akron's Mayor-to-be Talks About Continuity, Change, Economics and Downtown

Dan Horrigan



   This Friday, Dan Horrigan officially becomes Akron’s first new elected mayor in nearly three decades. He’s already appointed most of his cabinet as well as a Blue Ribbon Commission to give him an overview of how the city operates. But as WKSU’s M.L. Schultze reports, Horrigan says one of the most important advantages he has is a balance of fresh perspective and continuity.

The walls of the conference room where long-time Mayor Don Plusquellic held court are covered these days with children’s holiday drawings. And Jeff Fusco -- the bridge between Plusquellic and Horrigan -- is nowhere in sight. He never even had his name painted on the door of City Hall to mark his six months in office.

But Horrigan says Fusco has done something far more important for him.

“The transition that Mayor Fusco and his staff have lent to us has been tremendous. Just complete open door. And that’s the thing I think is undervalued sometimes is continuity of government and how things need to keep moving come Jan. 1.”

Local as well as international
Some of that continuity includes an approach to economic development that was Plusquellic’s signature: traveling the world to find companies that want to call Akron home. But Horrigan says there will be differences as well.

“People are trying to poach us all the time, so you have to play on the same playing field. Along with that I also want to continue to develop a strong local presence. I think a lot of local growth percentage-wise can happen from local companies.”

Part of it is public safety and how to better engage residents, ... developing stronger relationships in those neighborhoods where they feel the city is not there.

  He says some of those locals have approached him already to talk about their needs.

Community policing
One cabinet position Horrigan filled quickly that had been vacant was public safety director. He picked Assistant Police Chief Charles Brown – who has headed community policing and other efforts in the department. Horrigan says Chief James Nice and the rest of his command structure has done a good job getting officers more integrated into the community, but the emphasis on communication with residents needs to come “from the mayor’s office on down.”

“What we want to do is put a more complete communication message out there. And part of it is public safety and how we do that to better engage residents – even with people that feel the most disaffected. ... That’s developing stronger relationships in those neighborhoods where they feel the city is not there.”

Brown is an example, Horrigan says, of what he called for in his cabinet during the campaign: “Smart, diverse, competent and unafraid to challenge me or even a conventional way that we do things, and Charlie fills those things to a T.”

Economic troubles

Horrigan on Election Night
Horrigan on election night pledged to fulfill his campaign promise for a diverse cabinet that would challenge the status quo.

  Horrigan acknowledges his city, like Canton to the south and Cleveland to the north has economic problems. The solution, he says, is economic development, and “there’s got to be a specific plan for that.”

He says plans to overhaul the patchwork Innerbelt that cuts through downtown have made downtown development a priority and “threw a whole new loop into how that all will look.”

So, he wants to  “get a group together to look at that and come up with a strategic framework of how that all fits. There’s been a strong demand for downtown housing, but you can’t just have housing down here, you need to have services.”

He’d like to get input from hospitals, businesses and other stakeholders and to present a plan to City Council and the community – by the end of June -- showing: “This is what we think strategically downtown should look like. It can look like the short North (in Columbus). That’s that concentration and that vibrancy and that density that we want in that area.”

But, Horrigan cautions, “The best plans are also adjustable. ... It should be a living document where we can make some changes to best augment where that growth is going to come,” including perhaps a water park or more greenspace.

Horrigan is pledging to continue Akron’s commitment to refugee resettlement as a “welcoming city,” though he said that, too, requires planning.

“We want to have a structure to be able to have those services to be able to support them too. ...  I think we can do that in a smart way.”

Akron’s Mayor-elect Dan Horrigan, who takes office Friday in a swearing in at Akron’s Graystone Hall at 10 a.m. He’s one of a handful of new mayors taking over Northeast Ohio cities this week, including Canton’s Tom Bernabei. 

M.L. Schultze is a freelance journalist. She spent 25 years at The Repository in Canton where she was managing editor for nearly a decade, then served as WKSU's news director and digital editor until her retirement.