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December 17, 2010

Orientation is not a factor in naming Antonio’s successor

Lakewood--The selection process for the successor to Nickie Antonio’s at-large city council seat is complete, except for the final vote which will be taken on December 20.

Antonio was elected to fill the Ohio House District 13 seat being vacated by Michael Skindell, who could not run for reelection because of term limits. Skindell has now been elected to the Ohio Senate for District 23. Skindell was also a Lakewood city council member before going to the House.

Antonio’s seat was not the only one up for grabs in Lakewood, however. Michael P. Summers, the Ward 3 councilor, was selected by city council to replace Mayor Edward Fitzgerald, who was elected as the first Cuyahoga County executive in November.

Antonio’s at-large seat will be filled by Ryan Nowlin, a resident of Ward 3. The Ward 3 seat goes to Shawn Juris. Both were approved unanimously by the five members of the committee of the whole who met on December 13.

Council president Kevin Butler said there was not a specific attempt to select a successor for Antonio based on sexual orientation. Some cities, when appointing replacements for council members, will try to match the demographics of the exiting member, to ensure a continuity of representation for minorities.

“I don’t know if there’s been any history in Lakewood of deliberately trying to fill any seat based on social or physical characteristics besides service to the community,” Butler said. “I don’t think that anyone looks for replacements in the sense that, Nickie, for example, would be hunting for an LGBT resident of Belle Avenue that is a woman destined to become a state representative.”

Of the 40 applicants for the two vacant seats, there was one openly gay person to throw his hat into the ring: Cleveland Stonewall Democrats member Kyle Weigand. There were also only four women who put in applications.

“That’s only ten percent,” Butler said. “We think of these things, but ultimately we have to go with who applies.”

However, even though neither of the new council members will be from the LGBT community, their interests will not be ignored in Lakewood government.

“I think we are a progressive council, regardless of whether or not we have any gay council members serving, and I hope that continues, and I’m confident that LGBT issues will continue to be served,” he said.

Butler cosponsored legislation to add gender identity and expression to three areas in the city’s ordinance, and also sexual orientation in another. Sexual orientation had already been added to the other two.

Antonio said that Butler was the one who put forward the proposed changes, on a night when she had to miss the council meeting to attend incoming legislator orientation in Columbus.

“I think we lament the loss of someone like Nickie who has been so open about her sexual orientation and I think it’s going to be a sad day when she goes, because she has championed those issues, among others,” Butler said. “To the extent we don’t have anyone from the LGBT community sitting on council, I think we will suffer some kind of loss.”

“At the same time, it’s not like we don’t receive counsel from folks from that community, so we’re not going to lose momentum in assuring the LGBT community is well-served in Lakewood,” he continued. “That is the prevailing sentiment among us.”

Both Antonio, who did not participate in the selection of her successor, and Butler noted that the most important thing when looking at the applicants were not any of their specific social or physical characteristics, but rather their community service, participation in government, and other issues like that.

“I don’t recall their marital status or whether they have children coming up. I don’t recall their heterosexuality coming up either,” Butler noted. “Community service status, service on city boards and commissions, those in my view were sort of paramount characteristics by which we judged each of the candidates. In some sense, I’m confident in the choices we made, but you have to see how folks perform in the job. That’s how you see if they’re doing a good job.”

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