The Indomitable Don Plusquellic - a Biography
One year ago this week, Akron’s longest serving mayor, Don Plusquellic shocked the city by announcing he was quitting. After 28 ½ years in office he was the only mayor many Akronites had ever known. A new biography about the mayor is out, one written by a former enemy. Ideastream’s Mark Urycki sat down with the author and filed this report.
Author Steve Love was an editor and columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal so that’s enough to make Don Plusquellic’s enemies list. But a decade after he left the paper he convinced the mayor to sit down for almost 2 dozen interviews adding up to nearly 100 hours.
Out of that came the book “The Indomitable Don Plusquelic” but it will no doubt be called the “abominable Don Plusquellic by those who felt the mayor was too heavy handed in pushing his vision for the city.
Love spoke with others too and came away with this conclusion:
“I argue he was unquestionably Akron’s best mayor.“
Plusquellic didn’t want to be mayor, but as council president he inherited the job when Mayor Tom Sawyer left for Congress in 1987. Akron’s rubber industry was shrinking, corporate headquarters and manufacturing jobs were moving south. Love says Plusquellic helped turn the rubber capital into the polymer capital.
“If somebody hadn’t done the kind of things that Don did, Akron could have ended up like Youngstown, just a much, much smaller place. “
So how important was Don Plusquellic to Akron?
“I think hugely important. Don was the guy who decided ‘I’m going to rebuild the structure downtown, I’m going to focus on education, I’m going to try to create more jobs by becoming an economic development mayor as well as an education mayor.’ And those piece saved Akron.”
A Driven Man
He had a tough go of it as a youngster and his father died early?
“He did and it was a crucial part of his life. He was unable to talk about it for years and years. He will still choke up when he talks about it. His father died when Don was just out of college. His early death and other early deaths of men in the Plusquellic family made Don fear that he would die early too. And that was a fear that hung over Don for years and years.
How did that affect his career do you think?
“Well I think it made him less tolerant of people who were less driven as he was. Don wanted to get things done and he wanted to get them done as soon as possible. People who lollygagged did not find favor with Don.”
In 2006 Plusquellic considered running for governor in that year’s open election. But the Democrat stopped short of filing when his friend, Columbus mayor Michael Coleman, threw his hat into the ring.
“And he said ‘if you get in I won’t get in.’ He still has regrets. Coleman ending up pulling out and Strickland became governor. I think Don easily could have become governor.”
Akron voters kept reelecting Plusqellic but then last year he suddenly announced he was resigning in 2 weeks.
Although Plusquellic blamed critics and the Akron Beacon Journal, Steve Love said there had been clues he would not run again and quitting early was the Don’s secession plan.
“He wanted to make sure that the person he thought would do a good job, who happened to be the president of city council, Garry Moneypenny, moved into the job. By leaving 6 months early he would give Moneypenny a leg up on running for the job.”
It worked. For one week. Then Moneypenny admitted he had celebrated by hugging a female city employee in an inappropriate way. He stepped down.
Although Plusquellic’s final year was tumultuous Love says his legacy will be as Akron’s best Mayor.
“The thing that impressed me is if you went outside Akron, if you talked to other mayors around the country, as I did, and you talk to Tom Cochran, who runs the U.S. Conference of Mayors, as the executive director, people sing Don’s praises. Tom Cochran says he’s in the top 5 mayors in the country over the last quarter century.”
Plusquellic isn’t slowing down now that he’s out of office. Love says he was scheduled to fly to Israel this week, and has already taken trips to Cuba, still working to attract businesses to Akron.