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August 27 , 2010

Out candidate Tim Russo seeks county council seat

Social media consultant seeks open government

Cleveland--An openly bisexual blogger and political activist is a candidate for Cuyahoga County Council in District 7.

Tim Russo, 43, is one of nine Democrats hoping to win the September 7 primary election in District 7. The winner will square off against Republican Phyllis Crespo in November.

According to the Plain Dealer, District 7 has the lowest household incomes and the highest concentration of poverty. It contains Cleveland�s wards 3, 7, 8, 9 and 12.

The neighborhoods of Ohio City, Tremont, Glenville, Hough, Slavic Village, Little Italy and University Circle are part of District 7, as well as downtown and the entertainment areas of the Flats and the Warehouse District.

Russo lives in Tremont.

A former attorney, Russo is widely known for two things; his hard hitting, often self-absorbed progressive political blogs that have become quite influential in political circles, and that he has a conviction in his past.

In this race, Russo, who is sharp, quick-witted and unforgiving of anyone unwilling or unable to keep up with him, has made no apologies for either.

Russo says the most important issue in the race is transparency in county government. Yet when asked how much money his campaign has raised, a question the Gay People�s Chronicle asks of all candidates, Russo said, �I�m not going to talk about that,� adding that he doesn�t have to answer all questions. In this case, he said, it�s because the finance reports are available.

Russo writes on blogs including Buckeye State Blog, Plunderbund, and his own Blogger Interrupted, all of which are watched closely by political opinion makers across the ideological spectrum. He often breaks political news.

Asked his profession, Russo said, �Social media consultant.�

He is more known as a campaign consultant.

�Tim Ryan owes his seat in Congress to me,� Russo said.

Russo managed Ryan�s first campaign for the District 17 seat in 2002. Ryan�s detractors and supporters alike opined that Russo and Ryan, who is single, were �very close.�

In 2001, Russo was charged with one count of importuning, four counts of attempted dissemination of materials harmful to a juvenile, and one count of possessing criminal tools.

Russo had apparently made an online sexual solicitation to a boy he believed to be 13, but who was really a law enforcement agent.

In August 2002, Russo pleaded guilty to the importuning charge and was sentenced to a year of probation, 100 hours of community work, counseling, and other sanctions, and he agreed to make a $500 contribution to Cops and Kids. His computer was seized. The judge ended his probation after four months.

Importuning, solicitation of a minor, in this case between 12 and 16, is a felony, but not one that required registration as a sex offender at that time.

Russo has written about his conviction, and refers inquiries to his writing rather than talk about it.

�I plead guilty to exactly what I did,� Russo said. �I don�t like talking about my biggest mistake.�

Russo is quite eager to talk about his accomplishments as a political consultant. He was the Ohio get out the vote director for the Clinton re-election campaign in 1996 and he worked for Britain�s Tony Blair. He also worked in five former Soviet republics, training them in democracy and elections. He was also an election observer in the West Bank and Gaza.

Russo said he has one openly gay campaign contributor, and �one person in the campaign I�m pretty sure is bi. We don�t talk about it.�

One of Russo�s primary opponents, Dale Smith, is openly gay. Of the 86 partisan candidates vying for 11 seats on Cuyahoga County�s first council, they are the only two openly LGBT candidates. (A July 30 story on Smith incorrectly said he was the only one.)

Neither, however, was endorsed by the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats.

The organization requires a 60 percent vote by the membership in order to win endorsement.

Cleveland Stonewall Democrats spokesperson John Farina said Smith got the majority of votes. LGBT ally James Levin was second.

Asked if he believed he was treated fairly in the endorsement process, Russo said, �Ask Nickie Antonio.�

Antonio, a current Lakewood city councilor, will likely become the first openly lesbian member of the Ohio general assembly in January. She is also a Stonewall Democrat.

�I came out of the closet by force on the day of my arrest,� Russo said. �That�s why the [Cleveland Stonewall Democrats] endorsement meant so much to me.�

�But I made the mistake of taking them seriously when it wasn�t going to happen,� Russo said--and for which he blames Antonio.

�I�m plainly the most qualified person to hold the seat,� Russo said.

Russo claims exposing anti-LGBT Democrat Jennifer Garrison also as a racist as his biggest LGBT community service.

During her first campaign for the Ohio House, Garrison gay-baited Republican Nancy Hollister for her vote against the 2004 Defense of Marriage Act. This was seen as a courageous vote for Hollister, the only Republican to do so.

Garrison, of Marietta,� worked her way up to become the House majority leader and had announced her candidacy for secretary of state.

Russo, in his blogs and also in weekly publications, pounded Garrison and exposed a racist remark she had made to then-attorney general candidate Subodh Chandra.

Garrison withdrew from the secretary of state race and decided not to seek re-election for her House seat, which Russo takes credit for.

�It�s time to no longer be judged only on our mistakes,� Russo said.

Russo's campaign website is www.timrusso.org.

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