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July 30 , 2010

Dale Smith seeks District 7 seat; he is the only out county council candidate

Cleveland--Of the 86 partisan candidates vying for 11 seats on Cuyahoga County’s first council, only one is openly gay.

Dale Alan Smith, 42, says it’s important to have a gay person at the table discussing social services and advocating for benefits.

Smith 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.

Last year, voters in Ohio’s largest county approved a charter to replace the current form of government. The county will elect an executive, who will appoint county officers that are currently elected. An 11-member council will be elected to help set budget priorities and do limited oversight of county operations.

Recognizing that Cuyahoga County spends more on services, including social services, than any other Ohio county, Smith said, “There is already a mandate for public money to go to services. Our job is directing it.”

“County council has influence steering that money,” Smith said.

Specific to the LGBT community, Smith said that often LGBT people don’t have children and face issues involving end-of-life care.

“We serve as family to one another and we see what we need, but the social services often don’t see it,” Smith continued. “We have special needs and special interests.”

Smith believes that LGBT families also need more support.

“I will push for domestic partner benefits for county employees,” Smith said, “the same way I did at the Cleveland Museum of Art.”

While on the museum’s employee council, Smith said he was instrumental in getting coverage for partners of employees.

Smith’s current employment is with Forest City Enterprises, where he is the guest services manager, working on special events at Tower City, advertising and information.

Smith believes that the region will benefit from economic development from tourism, and it is a major part of his platform.

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 districts of the Flats and the Warehouse District

Smith lives near the Cleveland Zoo and is the founding treasurer of Friends of Big Creek, a conservation and historical organization.

He grew up in Tremont, one house away from the one made famous by the 1983 film A Christmas Story.

Smith advocated for the building of the Medical Mart and Convention Center in Cleveland, and believes that the medical exhibitors should use the county’s hospital, MetroHealth, as a living showroom for the equipment they are selling.

“That way, people can see the equipment in use and Metro will be sure to have the latest products,” Smith said.

Smith has a masters of arts management from the University of Akron. He has taken courses at the doctorate level.

He touts the classes in conflict resolution as one of his qualifications for the office.

Smith acknowledges that the county will run a deficit and need to restructure its priorities and believes his professional experience makes him qualified.

“We have to have great customer service, top to bottom, to continue to be effective,” Smith said. “We need to tighten, but still provide stellar service.”

Smith decided to run after helping to organize Ward 14 Councilor Brian Cummins’ first campaign in 2005.

“I decided if I ever do it again, it will be for myself,” Smith said.

Smith said that a friend died young in January, and he realized that life was too short not to do what you want, so he got in the race.

He noted that said his campaign manager is gay, and that most of his contributors and campaign workers are gay or allies.

He has raised $1,000 and figures winning will cost $5,000 to $6,000.

Smith did not get the endorsement of the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats July 22, though he’s a member.

That endorsement means publicity, volunteer support, and financial support. The group did not make endorsements in Districts 7 or 10.

Cleveland Stonewall Democrats spokesperson John Farina said Smith did not reach the required sixty percent majority of the membership.

“He was the leading candidate and got a majority of the votes, but it was just shy of sixty percent,” Farina said.

Farina said that Smith was the choice of the endorsement committee as well.

Farina said the 10th District also had no one reach the 60% threshold.

“All things equal, [Smith] stood out,” Farina said, “and he can win. It’s just that there were members who spoke in favor of others.”

The group does not always endorse gay candidates. In 2009 it endorsed Cummins over Joe Santiago, who was Cleveland’s first openly gay elected official. Cummins won.

“Just because someone is gay doesn’t mean they are automatically endorsed,” Farina said. “Our endorsements are credible because everyone is treated equally.”

According to Farina, if Smith wins the primary, the group will reconsider and likely give him the nod.

The other candidate with support from Stonewall members was James Levin.

An LGBT ally, Levin is the founder of the Cleveland Public Theater, which hosts LGBT productions, and the founder of Ingenuity Festival.

Smith says Levin has a conflict of interest and agrees with a third District 7 candidate, Tim Russo, who has blogged that Levin gets money from the Cuyahoga County arts tax to pay himself and staff to produce Ingenuity Festival.

The County Council will decide which projects that money funds.

Russo also says Levin has given campaign contributions to Republicans.

“He [Levin] wants to be part of the body he gets money from,” said Smith.

The other six candidates in the race are Clark Broida, Yvonne Conwell, James D’Amico, Victor Miller, Michael Nelson, Jr., and Timothy Trogdon.

Smith’s campaign is on the web at www.dalesmith4cleveland.com.

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