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September 25, 2009


Incumbent is ‘cautiously optimistic’ in ten-way race

Cleveland Heights--The city’s first openly gay councilor faces a crowded field in his bid for re-election.

Mark Tumeo, 50, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cleveland State University, says he’s “cautiously optimistic” in the ten-way contest for four seats. Two of the others, Mayor Ed Kelley and Bonnie Caplan currently serve with Tumeo on the council. A third incumbent, Nancy Dietrich, is not seeking re-election. The top four vote-getters will be seated.

All seven Cleveland Heights councilors serve at large. Tumeo was elected in 2005, credited with defeating the anti-gay Jimmie Hicks, who, among other things, sued the city in an attempt to jettison a domestic partner registry passed by voters.

Jason Stein, who would like to become the city’s first Orthodox Jewish elected official, is among the field this year. He also ran in 2005. The remaining candidates are Gary Benjamin, Mary Dunbar, Fran Mentch, Toby Rittner, Cheryl Stephens and Keba Sylla.

Tumeo is endorsed by the Cleveland Heights Democrats, the Cuyahoga County Democrats, the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats and the Lesbian and Gay Victory Fund, a Washington, D.C. group that backs gay and lesbian candidates. He is expecting some endorsements from labor organizations to come.

During his first term, Tumeo guided the city to make its website more interactive.

“Now you can pay your taxes, your water bill and sewer bill online and all forms are available as PDF files,” Tumeo said.

“The website is a tool in today’s age,” Tumeo said. “People who look at the city go there first.”

Tumeo carried the ordinance passed last month to add gender identity and expression to the city’s anti-discrimination code, which already includes sexual orientation. He also introduced the first resolution proclaiming Pride Month in his first year in office, and every year since.

Currently, he is working on a bio-tech incubator to go into a vacated drug store.

Tumeo said he’s trying to get funding through a congressional earmark to create the start-up facility to produce hand held bio-electrical devices that would, among other things, predict seizures.

According to Tumeo, Cleveland Heights faces challenges with economic development, home foreclosures, and maintaining services amid a declining population. To deal with this, Tumeo is a major proponent of regionalization, including his proposal of consolidation with neighboring University Heights.

“The next four years will be about looking at our government structure to see if we are organized most efficiently in order to deliver services,” if he is re-elected, Tumeo said.

“We have to look at reducing our costs and our carbon footprint,” he added. He wants to see investment in green homes, too.

Tumeo returned to Ohio from Alaska in 1997. He taught at the University of Alaska, where he and fellow faculty member Kate Wattum successfully sued for domestic partner benefits.

Before winning the suit, he was the target of vandalism and death threats. The university tried to fire him, but could not, due to tenure.

Tumeo faces nothing like that as a member of the Cleveland Heights council.

Tumeo has support in the city’s large Orthodox Jewish community, and his being gay rarely comes up unless he brings it up, as was the case when talking to a young school student about bullies. Tumeo told the student he was bullied in school because he is gay.

For Tumeo, being the first openly gay official in what is arguably Ohio’s most LGBT-friendly city is an honor.

“Whenever someone is the first, there’s a tendency to benchmark that person,” Tumeo said. “People look to see how you’re going to act.”

“I’m responsible and I take care of all of Cleveland Heights like a good council person does. Being gay doesn’t mean that I have been different.”

Tumeo’s partner, Jeff Stark, attends some campaign events, but does not work on the campaign. Stark’s family does, though.

Tumeo’s campaign is on line at




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