Ohio Sen. 21st, 25th and 33rd: Democratic-Held Open Seats
This is the second in a series of profiles of Ohio Senate races. In my first post I noted that the seventeen seats up for election are about evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, far out of proportion to the 22-11 ratio in the Senate as a whole. After separating open seats from those defended by incumbents, the breakdown becomes 3 Republican-held open seats, 3 Democratic-held open seats, 6 Republican incumbents, and 5 Democratic incumbents. I then proceeded to profile the three races in the first category, concluding that the Democrats' best chance for a pick up is in the 13th District, where nurse and SEIU leader Sue Morano (D-Lorain) will most likely survive a primary to take on State Board of Education member Martha Wise (R-Avon). In this post I'll look at the Democratic-held open seats, all of which seem relatively safe for the Democratic Party.
21st District This district, which includes most of Cleveland's East Side, Cleveland Heights, East Cleveland, University Heights, Bratenahl, Brooklyn Heights, Cuyahoga Heights and Newburgh Heights, is a Democratic stronghold. Term-limited incumbent and Senate Minority Leader C.J. Prentiss (D-Cleveland) defeated current Republican candidate Richard Norris (R-Cleveland) with 80.22% of the vote in 2002, and Bush got just 16% of the vote there in 2004. The crowded Democratic primary includes two State Representatives, term-limited Shirley Smith (D-Cleveland) of the 10th District (pictured) and Rep. Annie Key (D-Cleveland) of the 11th District, as well as two candidates without prior legislative experience, community activist Lewis Britt (D-Cleveland) and attorney and retired U.S. Postal Service employee George Gaines (D-Cleveland). Another term-limited legislator, Rep. Claudette Woodard (D-Cleveland Heights) of the 9th District, has withdrawn from the primary.
The front runner in this group is Smith, who has been endorsed by the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, the Ohio Federation of Teachers, and the AFL-CIO. Some additional information about Smith is found in this article in City News Ohio. She is the ranking minority member on the House Health Committee. Smith cites her sponsorship of House Bill 317, which allows felons who exhibit at least seven years of good behavior to have the option of expunging their criminal records, and support for other socially-conscious legislation as indicating her "genuine concern for the socially and economically disadvantaged in her district." Smith is also one of the few legislators to deal seriously with the death penalty, having pushed for the creation of a Capital Case Commission to study the many problems relating to it, and has also worked on the issues of term limits, HIV/AIDS awareness, prison reform, and fighting obesity as a public health hazard. Before serving as a legislator she was a radio talk show host for a major radio station in Cleveland, and worked in promotions, production, and public relations for a network TV affiliate.
The Republican candidates are Burrell Jackson (R-Cleveland), a 36-year-old real estate consultant, and Norris. Jackson won the endorsement of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which praised his "keen grasp of important public issues" and "the need for state government to explore ways to help Ohio's ailing economy":
"Jackson speaks with authority on the need for Ohio to stop the out migration of its educated young people and the importance of an educated work force. He also offers a gentle criticism of his Republican colleagues in the legislature, saying they spend 'too much time on socially divisive issues' that have nothing to do with making Ohio a better place to live."
As for Norris, the Plain Dealer indicates only that he "has run for office several times in the past and fails to offer a single compelling reason why voters should even consider supporting him." Although Jackson appears to be a much more credible candidate, this looks like a safe seat for the Democrats.
25th District This district is in the eastern Cleveland suburbs, including Shaker Heights, Beachwood, Lyndhurst, South Euclid, and Euclid, and it leans Democratic. Term-limited incumbent Eric Fingerhut (D-Shaker Heights) won with 84.61% of the vote in 2002. The only Democrat in the race is House Minority Whip Rep. Lance Mason (D-Shaker Heights) of the 8th District (pictured), and the only Republican is former Euclid mayor David Lynch (R-Cleveland).
In addition to serving as a State Representative, Mason is of counsel to the law firm Baker & Hostetler. His biographical page on the firm's website indicates that he litigates in the areas of business crimes and corporate investigations. His prior experience includes acting as an Assistant Prosecutor for Cuyahoga County and as District Director for Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Cleveland), and private practice as a defense attorney. These credentials and his House leadership position make him a very strong candidate to succeed Fingerhut.
Lynch, however, is a serious opponent. As detailed in this story in the Sun Newspapers, dating from his mayoral campaign last year, Lynch is a lawyer who is a native of Cleveland Heights but moved to Euclid in 1982. He shocked political pundits by winning election as mayor in 1987 by a 52-48 percent margin, after 50 years of Democratic control of that office. His 2005 campaign for Mayor of Cleveland, however, was a lackluster affair. He moved into Cleveland only a year before the election. He struggled to gain much momentum or support for his campaign positions. He supports Roe v. Wade, which presumably alienates a portion of his Republican base, perhaps not so much in this district as it would elsewhere. [UPDATE: Although Lynch told his Meet the Bloggers interviewers during his mayoral campaign in 2005 that he supports Roe v. Wade, the Cleveland Plain Dealer described him as a "pro-life Catholic" in January, 2006. I don't know exactly where he stands at this point.] His fifth place showing with 7.7% of the vote was dismal. Lynch was widely expected to challenge incumbent Jimmy Dimora (D-Cleveland) for County Commissioner this year, so his filing to run for this Senate seat came as something of a surprise. Although a spirited and determined campaign is to be expected from him, this seat seems relatively safe for the Democrats.
UPDATE: I spoke to Rep. Mason today (March 29) and learned that he has a campaign website. Among the many endorsements listed there, the critical ones are Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Cleveland) and County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones (D-Cleveland).
33rd District This district is in Mahoning County and leans Democratic. Incumbent Robert F. Hagan (D-Youngstown) is term-limited and is running for the Ohio House in the 60th District. He won re-election in 2002 with 68.04% of the vote. The candidates to replace him are State Rep. John Boccieri of the 61st District (D-New Middletown) (pictured) and Tracey Monroe-Wimbush (R-Youngstown).
As reflected on the biographical page on his campaign website, Boccieri was born in Youngstown, was a star student and athlete in high school and at St. Bonaventure University in New York, and played a year in semi-pro baseball before turning to politics as a legislative aide to State Rep. Richard Cordray (now running for Treasurer) and State Rep. Greg DiDonato. He worked on a Congressional campaign for each. At that point Boccieri enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. While on active duty he completed a Masters Degree in Public Administration and Business. He then became a C-130 pilot with the Ohio Air National Guard and is still a captain in the Air Force Reserves, with service in the Persian Gulf. He was urged to run for Congress against scandal-tainted 18th District incumbent Bob Ney (R-Heath), but chose to pursue this Ohio Senate seat instead.
Try as I might, I have not been able to find any information about Monroe-Wimbush. Perhaps a reader can fill this gap. In any event, Boccieri seems like a formidable candidate in this district.