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Akron City Councilman Shammas Malik will run for mayor in 2023

Akron City Councilman Shammas Malik represents the city's Ward 8.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Akron City Councilman Shammas Malik represents the city's Ward 8. Malik has decided to run for mayor in 2023.

A 31-year-old first-term city councilman, seen as a rising star in Akron politics, has decided to launch a campaign to be the city's next mayor.

Ward 8 Councilman Shammas Malik announced his campaign in a video Thursday.

Sitting at the dining room table in his home in Akron’s Merriman Valley neighborhood earlier this week, Malik told Ideastream Public Media his biggest focus, if elected, will be public safety.

He wants to reduce and prevent gun violence in the city, as well as improve relations between residents and police in the aftermath of the death of Jayland Walker, an unarmed Black man who was fatally shot by Akron Police in June.

“Particularly the last two summers, we’ve seen an incredible amount of gun violence. And then this summer, with the killing of Jayland Walker, we’ve seen a spotlight on how police interact with community, particularly the Black community,” he said.

Malik wants Akron police officers to engage in more community policing, such as getting out into neighborhoods and engaging with residents. However, the department is currently stretched thin due to staffing challenges and a high volume of calls, Malik said. If elected mayor, he wants to attract more officers to the department by offering fair pay and also focusing on retention efforts.

Additionally, he’d like to hire more mental health providers and social workers to help respond to calls where an individual is experiencing a mental health issue but there is no immediate safety threat, he said.

“Maybe an officer responds at the very beginning of that call but then can leave instead of being tied up for the next hour or two on that call. It will also help improve outcomes as well,” Malik said.

Malik wants to foster trust between police and residents by creating a civilian police review board and bolstering the city’s police auditor office. As a city councilman, he helped craft a charter amendment that would create an oversight board that’s now going before Akron voters in November.

Current mayor Dan Horrigan opposes the charter amendment, instead supporting an ordinance he proposed to city council that could be tweaked by future legislation. Malik prefers the permanence of the charter amendment.

Malik would also like to invest in reducing youth violence by implementing a plan created by city leaders several years ago that includes more mentorship and extracurricular programs, he added.

Economic development, fair and safe housing and education are some of his other priorities, he said, but regardless of the issue, his main focus is to take a more collaborative approach to problem-solving than the current administration.

“We’re facing so many challenges … and I think the way that we can move past that, to move through it, to find real solutions, is by making city government more open, more accessible, more collaborative, and bringing more people into the process,” Malik said.

Malik said he doesn’t have all the answers. One of his goals is to get more residents engaged in determining the vision for Akron’s future, he said.

“Let’s have difficult conversations. We might not always agree, but let’s bring everyone to the table and see where we can find consensus,” Malik said. I think that’s what people want to see from their city government.”

Malik says ‘fresh perspective’ is needed

Malik grew up in Akron and graduated from Firestone Community Learning Center. After high school, he attended The Ohio State University, then got his law degree from Harvard.

Malik returned to Akron in 2016 and worked as a lawyer in the mayor’s office under Horrigan. He then ran for city council, winning his Ward 8 seat in 2019.

“I’ve seen every different department from a couple different perspectives and viewpoints, and I think there’s an opportunity to really lay out a vision that really everyone can get behind,” Malik said.

While Malik is one of the first candidates to announce a mayoral campaign, at age 31, he will likely be one of the youngest candidates as the race shapes up.

Malik said his experiences working for the city since 2016 have prepared him well – and it might be time for a younger person in the mayor’s office.

“People are ready for new leadership and a fresh perspective. We see that in Cleveland, we see that in Cincinnati, and really across the country,” Malik said.

In Cleveland, 35-year-old Justin Bibb beat out a long list of candidates to become mayor, and Cincinnatians elected 40-year-old Mayor Aftab Pureval. Both took office in 2022.

Mayoral race wide open thus far

So far, the list of candidates for mayor is slim. Sage Lewis, an advocate for the city’s homeless population who has been sued by the city for operating “tent cities” on his property, has said he will run, as well as resident Joshua Schaffer.

Mayor Horrigan has not yet announced whether he will run for a third term.

Horrigan has faced some challenges in his second term due to the COVID-19 pandemic and calls for police reform after the Walker shooting.

The deadline to file for the municipal primary is Feb. 1. Malik said he decided to launch his campaign now in order to get his name out there and start door-knocking.

“I think especially at the local government level, people want to see that you’re present, and that, if they elect you … you’re accessible,” Malik said. “When you’re out there knocking on their door, they can tell.”

Maria Duvuvuei, formerly of Community Legal Aid, will serve as Malik’s campaign manager.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.