The first official campaign is under way to replace the U.S. congresswoman representing Cleveland and half of Akron.
Nina Turner, a former Ohio senator, 2014 Democratic Party nominee for Ohio Secretary of State and two-time Bernie Sanders surrogate, formally announced Tuesday that she would run in Ohio’s 11th district if the U.S. Senate confirms President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s appointment of Rep. Marcia Fudge to run the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
A possible vacancy by Fudge would in one of the most reliably blue districts in the country has generated interest from a slew of potential Democratic candidates.
Most vocal about the possibility of running have been Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Shontel Brown and Cleveland City Councilman Jeff Johnson.
But as the Democratic Party primary fills up with candidates who live in Cuyahoga County, which holds the bulk of voters in the 11th district, the pathway for a single candidate from Summit County, where the 11th district swoops into Akon, becomes more viable.
So far, only State Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) has voiced interest from the Summit County side of the congressional district.
“I am looking at possibly running for the seat,” Sykes, the minority leader in the Ohio House, told the Beacon Journal Tuesday. “I have not made a decision. But I am looking at it.”
The gerrymandered district — one of two majority-minority Ohio districts protected under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (the other being the 3rd congressional district in Columbus) — slides along State Route 77 capturing Cleveland and the western half of Akron, and about 30 cities, towns and villages in between. The district made history by electing civil rights attorney Louis Stokes in 1968, sending the first Black Ohioan — a man raised in public housing on Cleveland’s East Side — to the United States House of Representatives.
Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones held the seat from 1999 until her death in 2008, when Fudge won her first congressional race.
If the Senate confirms Fudge after the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, then Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine would schedule a special primary election.
After the 2010 U.S. Census reapportioned voters, political map makers sliced up Akron, with the eastern half now covered by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of the Mahoning Valley and Fudge from Cleveland. Adding Akron voters to the largely urban district ensured Black voters would have a voice in Congress, but it diluted geographical representation for Summit County. None of the county’s four members of Congress live in it.
Turner, a first-generation college graduate who continued her studies at Cleveland State University before returning to teach at Cuyahoga Community College, served as a legislative aide to former Cleveland Mayor Michael White and on the city’s council. She turned 53 this month.
Turner sealed the adoration of Sanders’ supporters when she spoke out about not being able to nominate the independent U.S. senator from Vermont in the 2016 presidential primary. In a call with reporters from Akron and Cleveland, Turner promised to continue to champion progressive goals if elected to Congress, from pushing for an increase to the minimum wage, canceling student loan debt, guaranteeing better health care for all and taking on criminal justice reform in the courts, jails and police departments.
“I’m running for Congress to bring a progressive voice to the people of the 11th congressional district,” said Turner, who explained that she would tackle police reform as a Black woman and mother whose son and husband are active or retired officers.
“The suffering is real in this community and it’s real in this country,” she said. “And I plan to continue to stand up for what is just, what is right and what is good.”
Sykes, who turns 35 in January, has been a rising star in Ohio’s Democratic Party. She said she “looks forward to the process” as more and more candidates formally announce their bids.
“The 11th congressional district is historical,” she said. “Congressman Stokes certainly was a man who left a legacy. We are fortunate to continue to see the fruits of his labor.
“Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a woman who I got to see up close and personal, the way she navigated all the challenges of the job made her very respected, powerful and well-liked not only here in northeast Ohio but across the country, is something to be admired.
“And Congresswoman Fudge, who has been able to use her position to advocate for the northeast Ohio community and leverage a position in the cabinet — and I’m not even sure the last time we had an Ohioan in the cabinet — is a testament to the work that she’s done.”
Reach Doug Livingston at email@example.com or 330-996-3792.