(Plain Press, February 2021) At a January 14th virtual Candidate Forum, three candidates –Brendan Heil, Ryan Ross, and Martin Sweeney — vied to be the representative for Cuyahoga Council District 3 for the remainder of the term of retiring County Council member Dan Brady. The term expires in 2022. The candidates were not seeking a vote of the public, but as determined by the County charter, they were seeking the votes of the Democratic party precinct committee people in each of the precincts in District Three.
Cuyahoga County District Three has the following boundaries: The city of Brooklyn and the city of Cleveland-Ward 3 (Precincts B, J, M, N, P, R, S) Ward 11 (All); Ward 12 (Precincts A, B.02); Ward 13 (Precincts A, B, C, D.01, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, P, Q); Ward 14 (All); Ward 15 (Precincts All except Q.02); Ward 16 (Precincts A; I and J) and the village of Linndale.
Sixty-four precinct committee members voted from the precincts in District Three. Ultimately Martin Sweeney won 35 out of 64 votes. (At least 33 votes were needed to win the appointment i.e. 50% + 1). Brendon Heil came in second with 27 votes.
While there was no opportunity for the public to be involved in the selection of the new council representative because the precinct committee people voted prior to this article being published, there may be some interest in what candidates had to say.
Candidate Brendon Heil, a Detroit Shoreway Community resident who is involved in the leadership of Cuyahoga County Young Democrats, said he understands the work of County Council and promised to address public health issues. He said fighting to end the pandemic would be his number one objective if selected to fill the position. He said he would work to make sure the infrastructure was in place so residents could get the vaccine as soon as possible. Heil said he would work to make sure Cuyahoga County continued to use CARES Act funding to fight the pandemic, work for equitable development, investment in neighborhoods, and work to get micro grants for businesses.
Heil said he would fight for equality, working to get County investment in areas left behind and assuring that members of minority groups have equal access to County resources. He pledged to work for diversity and anti-discrimination policies. Heil called for more investment in housing that is affordable. Heil also called for crafting a policy that would use best practices for running the County jail and for the use of diversion programs.
When public money is committed to deals like the refurbishing of the Quicken Loans Arena, Heil said those getting the public dollars need to be held accountable to the community. The deals need to be structured with a commitment to transparency so County Council can make sure taxpayers are getting a good return on their investment.
Heil said he is a volunteer mentor at College Now. He also said as a County Council member he would work to register voters and talk to voters year-round.
Candidate Ryan Ross said he is a lifelong Cleveland resident and involved in True West Homes, a group that helps people experiencing housing insecurity especially youth aging out of foster care by providing housing they can afford. He is also a member of the Cleveland Community Collaborative and a mentor of Cleveland State University students.
Ross said he would use the position of County Council Representative to be an advocate for social justice for those that are marginalized. Ross said he would work to bring government and private sector stakeholders together to collaborate on solving problems. He mentioned affordable housing, criminal justice reform, and expanding diversion programs as important issues. He said he would work to make sure all districts in the County were viable.
Ross said if he had been on County Council when the Quicken Loans deal was brought up, he would have voted against giving $140 million in public dollars to the project. He said instead of giving money to billionaires, Cuyahoga County should have used the money for a rainy-day fund. He said such a fund would be useful now in helping residents and businesses to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Ross said if he was outvoted on the issue by other Council members, he would advocate that the project hire individuals from the community as much as possible and offer them decent pay.
Ross stressed that he was not beholden to anyone and “will always be for the smaller person that doesn’t have a voice.”
Martin Sweeney said he represented 25,000 people as a member of Cleveland City Council, 125,000 people as a State Representative and now hopes to represent 150,000 people as a member of the County Council. Sweeney said he has a passion for public service and has the time to invest and be focused on being a County Council person.
Sweeney expressed concern that so many people have died of COVID-19 in Cuyahoga County. He called for getting the data and letting people know how bad it is. He said the majority of the Cuyahoga County budget is for social services – so we need to make it work – identify the needs and take care of families.
Sweeney called for criminal justice reform that is “fair and equitable.” He noted the need for a new Justice Center and the job as a County Council member to provide oversite to that process. As a Council member Sweeney said he would ask his fellow council members about their priorities for their districts. He would also get to know each of the Cuyahoga County Departments and gain an understanding of how they work.
Sweeney said that Cuyahoga County needs to work to improve mental health and diversion programs and make sure the county’s disabled population gets the resources they are entitled to receive.
As to the Community Benefits agreement that Greater Cleveland Congregations tried to get on the ballot to require developers to provide funds for mental health and diversion programs in exchange for public dollars going to the Quicken Loan Arena, Sweeney said that when a group collects 22,000 signatures, the issue “needs to be on the ballot.” Sweeney added that diversion programs are “incredibly important because our jails are filled up.”
The Candidate Forum was sponsored by Cuyahoga County Young Democrats, Cleveland Stonewall Democrats, and the Ward 14 Democratic Club with technical support from Our Revolution Ohio.
Cuyahoga County Council has 11 members. The new president of County Council is District 8 Representative Pernel Jones Jr.. The new Vice President is District 10 Representative Cheryl L. Stephens.