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July 31, 2009


Santiago passed over by Democratic group

Stonewall endorses gay incumbent’s challenger

Cleveland--The Cleveland Stonewall Democrats have made endorsements in nine city council races, and Cleveland’s first and only openly gay elected official is not among them.

The LGBT Democratic group endorsed Brian Cummins in Ward 14. Cummins is one of six challengers to incumbent Joe Santiago.

A voter-approved charter amendment last November eliminated two wards, including the present Ward 15 that Cummins now represents. Part of that ward was combined into a new Ward 14, and Cummins chose to run against Santiago.

Santiago is both the only Latino on council and its only gay member.

The new Ward 14 is 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. It borders the trendy Tremont neighborhood, but has not shared in its gentrification. It has been hit hard by the foreclosure crisis.

Five others are seeking the post along with Santiago and Cummins: Nelson Cintron, who lost the seat to Santiago in 2005 and later backed an unsuccessful recall attempt against him; Cintron’s former council aide Rick Nagin; Moises Torres; Gary Horvath and James D’Amico. All are Democrats.

The top two vote-getters in the September 8 primary will square off on November 3.

Most expect the race to be between the two current council members, Santiago and Cummins.

Rob Rivera, the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats vice president for political strategy, said the group’s vote was “overwhelmingly in favor of Brian Cummins.”

The Stonewall screening committee interviewed the four candidates who returned their questionnaires: Cummins, Santiago, Nagin and D’Amico.

“We have voting records for both of them,” Rivera said of Santiago and Cummins, adding that both were co-sponsors of a domestic partner registry that Cleveland enacted this year.

“The screening committee did not make a recommendation,” Rivera said. “Both Cummins and Santiago have served a term. They have built relationships. The debate was robust.”

But Cummins attended the July 16 meeting where the vote occurred, and Santiago did not.

“It makes a difference if you show up in close races,” Rivera said.

“The gist of the discussion is that we are comfortable with Cummins as an advocate,” Rivera said. “He spoke to Plexus about the registry, and that was talked about.”

“Santiago being gay was not an overwhelming part of the discussion,” Rivera said. “It was about who is a better advocate for the ward and the city.”

“Cummins presented to the membership a crisp vision of leadership and plans for reinvigorating small businesses.”

This is not the first time the group has backed a non-gay candidate over a gay one. In 2001, the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats endorsed Matt Zone in Ward 17 over Buck Harris, who is gay. Zone won the open seat, and will likely win the new Ward 15 seat in November, also as a Stonewall-endorsed candidate.

“This is not an anti-Santiago vote,” said Cleveland Stonewall Democrats president Keli Zehnder. “It’s a pro-Cummins vote.”

“We have to endorse the strongest, best candidate whether they are gay or not,” Zehnder said. “Ken Blackwell didn’t vote for Barack Obama just because he’s black.”

Rivera said there was no discussion around any possible negative effects of an LGBT group not endorsing a gay incumbent.

“In general, openly gay candidates are important,” Rivera said, “and we endorsed Nickie Antonio in Lakewood.

Rivera said that there is currently no plan to run an LGBT candidate in Cleveland for anything any time soon, “but part of our mission is to cultivate candidates.”

Santiago did not return calls for comment by press time.

Candidates with September 8 primaries endorsed by the group are Ward 6 incumbent Mamie Mitchell, Ward 8 challenger Jeffrey Johnson, Ward 18 incumbent Martin Sweeney and Mayor Frank Jackson.

In the November general election for wards without primaries, they endorsed Ward 3 incumbent Joe Cimperman, Ward 11 incumbent Michael Polensek, Ward 15 incumbent Matt Zone, Ward 16 incumbent Jay Westbrook, and Ward 17 incumbent Dona Brady.

In Lakewood, which also has a September 8 primary, the group endorsed Nickie Antonio and Monique Smith for council at large. Antonio is Lakewood’s only openly gay official.

The group will make further endorsements in September for suburban and judicial races that have no primary election.




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