Cleveland--The first openly gay candidate to run for Cleveland city council will return to the ballot this year.
Joe Santiago, 38, never stopped campaigning for the Ward 14 council seat of incumbent Nelson Cintron, Jr. after his 2001 groundbreaking run.
In that election, Santiago finished third of four candidates in the Democratic primary. The top two candidates, Cintron and Ignatius James DeMio, advanced to the general election, while Santiago and John Meu dropped out.
Because there are few Republicans in the ward, the primary is the only contest, with the winner nearly guaranteed to be seated.
This year, Santiago will face Cintron and newcomer Art Baeklar in an October 4 primary.
Santiago says he�s a stronger candidate now because he has since finished his degree in business management, and because his first campaign never ended.
He has continued to assume roles of leadership in the neighborhood and the community including his spearheading the East West United Traffic Coalition to represent the neighborhood�s concerns with proposals to re-route Interstates 71 and 90 through more of the ward�s neighborhoods.
Many blame the construction of the highway in the 1950s for diminishing the area�s liveability, as well as demolishing some of its most historic structures.
According to Santiago, the current proposal would have taken some of the grand churches on West 14th Street.
At the same time, Santiago said quality of life in the ward, under its current leader, has declined.
�Crime is up in the ward,� said Santiago, also describing increased problems with absentee landlords and lack of code enforcement, creating shortages of acceptable, affordable housing for the residents, whose average income is around $8 an hour.
�People are fed up,� said Santiago, �and they want their neighborhood restored to what it used to be.�
Ward 14 is on the city�s near west side, and contains some of the historic and increasingly gay Tremont and Ohio City neighborhoods, but not the parts that have undergone gentrification. It is loosely bounded by Lorain Ave., West 52nd St. and Interstate 71.
The area is also ethnically diverse, with a quarter of the population being Latino, a quarter African-American, a quarter Eastern European immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and a quarter white Anglo Saxons.
It also has the lowest percentage of registered voters and the smallest voter turnout in the city, which Santiago hopes his campaign can help change.
Santiago, a Navy veteran and former aide to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon, is now first vice president of the Tremont West Development Corporation and organizes the annual Puerto Rican Parade as part of the annual Latino festival. He also serves on the board of Cleveland�s lesbian and gay community center.
Santiago is also a member of the Second District Police Community Relations Committee, and believes that public safety is the primary issue of the campaign.
Being openly gay helped Santiago in the 2001 campaign, as he was supported by members of the GLBT community and was endorsed by the Victory Fund in Washington, D.C.. Otherwise, it was not an issue.
That Santiago is gay is widely known, and he always answers �yes� when asked.
Cintron introduced a domestic partner benefits ordinance in 2002, which other council members believed at the time was to siphon GLBT support from Santiago, should he run again.
Cintron did not promote the legislation, and it died.
This time, Santiago is supported by members of council, including Ward 13�s Joe Cimperman who introduced Santiago at his campaign kickoff rally May 17, and by several municipal judges.
Santiago joins three other announced gay and lesbian Ohio candidates. Thomas Meinecke is running for an at-large seat on Toledo city council, Nickie Antonio is seeking an at-large seat on the Lakewood city council, and Columbus council member Mary Jo Hudson is seeking re-election.
The state currently has four openly gay or lesbian elected officials: Hudson, Toledo council president Louis Escobar, Haskins mayor Ken Fallows and Bloomdale council member Skeeter Hunt.
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