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Marion Anita Gardner Chosen By Judge To Represent Cleveland's Ward 4

Judge Anthony Russo picked Marion Anita Gardner to serve as an interim council member from Cleveland's Ward 4 during Ken Johnson's suspension. [Annie Wu / ideastream]
Cleveland City Hall

Community activist and longtime resident Marion Anita Gardner will represent Ward 4 on Cleveland City Council while suspended Councilman Ken Johnson fights federal felony charges.

Cuyahoga County Probate Judge Anthony Russo picked Gardner out of a field of 18 applicants in a decision announced Thursday.

State law left the choice up to the probate court after Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost convinced a panel of retired judges to suspend Johnson from office in April.

Gardner told ideastream that other neighborhood advocates in Ward 4 encouraged her to apply for the job. She agreed – but only if it meant a short-term assignment, she said.

“They felt that, sure enough that the community would be safer in my hands,” she said. “And they came to me and they asked several times. So I said OK, only if it’s six months. Because you see, I don’t want to run.”

She is not running for the seat, pledging in her cover letter that she would be a “caretaker” until the voters have their say in the fall. So far, 10 candidates — including Johnson — have filed petitions to appear on the ballot in the Sept. 14 primary, according to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.

Gardner, who turns 69 this month, said she bought her first house in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood in the early 1970s. She runs the Concerned Citizens Community Council, an advocacy organization serving Mount Pleasant.

In her application, Gardner said if chosen, she would be an advocate for job training, COVID-19 vaccinations and better internet access in Ward 4.   

“My goal is to begin to provide attention to housing, education, and information technology for the betterment of Ward 4 so that whoever is elected in November will be in the best position possible,” she wrote.

Gardner’s list of references includes Peggy Gallagher, a member of the local activist group Reclaim Ward 4; former Cleveland Housing Court Judge Ron O’Leary; and former Cuyahoga County Council President C. Ellen Connally, herself a Ward 4 resident.

She also listed two additional references: Cuyahoga Land Bank President Gus Frangos and Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley.

Connally, who is also a retired Cleveland judge, wrote a letter of recommendation for Gardner.

“After conversations with many of my neighbors, I write this letter in support of Marion Anita Gardner for the interim Councilperson for Ward 4,” Connally wrote. “She has been active in the community and has the background and experience to represent the people of this ward. She is an honest and reliable individual who has only the good of the community at heart.”

Johnson and his lawyers are fighting the suspension, arguing he is innocent of  charges that he stole federal funds and falsified city expense reports. A jury trial is scheduled for July 19 in federal court in Cleveland.

An appeal of Johnson’s suspension is pending before the Ohio Supreme Court.

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