In the recent Akron mayoral debates, Marco Sommerville‘s performance has underscored my position, outlined in my March 5 column, that he should not be Akron’s next mayor. Luckily, these debates have also shown voters they have a strong slate of candidates to consider.
At the first debate, Sommerville was hubristically ill prepared, as if the debates are a pretense he must endure before becoming Akron’s 63rd mayor. He also churlishly mocked another candidate by raising his hand and making it “talk” like a sock puppet when the other candidate spoke.
At a subsequent debate, in which the questions were provided in advance, Sommerville read prepared answers. For rebuttals to other candidates’ comments, his six opponents (all seated at the same table) watched in astonishment as Sommerville received text messages on his cellphone, which he quickly read before responding.
Adding important voices to the debates are candidates Keith Mills, a high school teacher, and Joshua Schaffer, a cellphone store manager. But neither have the experience to run a city with $772 million annual operating budget and roughly 2,000 full-time employees.
Interestingly, Schaffer routinely doles out pointed criticism of the candidates who’ve worked in local government, with the glaring exception of Tara Mosley and Jeff Wilhite.
Wilhite, a Summit County Council representative, has a command of the issues, an engaged demeanor and, frankly, the dignity that Sommerville lacks. He might have been a serious contender in previous elections, but after decades of white, middle-aged men being mayor, Akron voters are demanding change and his chances of winning seem a long shot.
Malik had the admirable chutzpah to announce his candidacy not only first, but before the current mayor, Dan Horrigan, announced he would not seek re-election. A 2009 graduate of Firestone High School, Malik has an impressive resume, work ethic and detailed plans for Akron’s future.
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 2016, Malik worked with every department and at every level of Akron’s government for two full years as an assistant director in the city’s law department. He’s now in his fourth year as a city council representative. Concerns about his lack of experience are specious.
Two months after Malik announced his candidacy, Ward 5 council representative Tara Mosley threw her hat in the ring. Ward 5 is a long, skinny ward that runs through the heart of the city and encompasses some of Akron’s most diverse and lowest income neighborhoods.
For 10 years, Mosley has exhibited calm and effective leadership while addressing difficult problems not faced in every ward. The past year has proven that Akron can no longer avoid addressing systemic issues of race and policing and Mosley’s time representing Ward 5 gives her a clear-eyed perspective on what needs to happen.
And then there is Mark Greer, who was until recently the Great Streets administrator and Small Business Program manager for the city of Akron. He filed his paperwork to run for mayor just before the deadline.
Greer was very hands-on in his roles at the city, and many small business owners are on record as enthusiastically appreciating his leadership. While his late entrance in the race meant an uphill battle for him to break through the crowded field, his performance in the debates shows he can win that battle.
Like Malik and Mosley, Greer has a deep knowledge of the city’s issues and promise, and well thought-out plans on how to address the former and maximize the latter.
Greer also brings an element of gravitas to the race, which was prominently displayed after Sommerville made a tone-deaf statement at the social justice debate at Garfield Community Learning Center just a mile from where Jayland Walker was shot and killed by police last summer.
That night, Sommerville described — as he has in every debate — technology that allows police to shoot a tracking dart onto cars that flee. Police can track that vehicle without a chase and then, as Sommerville put it, “move in for the kill.” His comment surprised the audience, and yet Sommerville didn’t acknowledge the horror of his own words until asked about it after the debate.
When Greer next spoke in that debate, he stated, “First of all on behalf of anyone who has experienced violence or trauma at the hands of law enforcement, when I heard one of my colleagues say ‘move in for the kill,’ I apologize,” he said. “That is not the language that is going to move this community forward.”
Greer’s response to Sommerville’s painfully gross language — he was the only candidate to do so that night —showed another side of leadership our community desperately needs: someone who facilitates healing.
Akron, we have a group of strong mayoral candidates who are forward thinking. I emphatically encourage everyone to watch the debates on April 5 and April 12 hosted by The Akron Press Club, Ideastream Public Media, Akron Beacon Journal and the Ohio Debate Commission. These will be the most rigorous of the election cycle.
How the candidates perform is not a one-to-one ratio of anyone’s ability to run our city, but it’s as good a test as there is before May 2.
This column was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on Sunday, April 2, 2023.