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December 30, 2011

Maple Heights councilor joins list of out Ohio elected officials

Maple Heights--Add a 12th openly gay elected official to Ohio lists, with Richard Trojanski about to enter his second term of office.

Trojanski was first elected to Maple Heights City Council in November 2009. Last month, he was re-elected with 58% of the vote to opponent Adam Cohen’s 41%, and will be sworn in for his second term on January 4.

A native of the city he now serves, he studied at John Carroll University and St. Louis University before returning home. While at St. Louis, he was involved with various multicultural and political science organizations.

After returning home in 2004, he worked for US Bank and Starbucks while also taking classes at Case Western Reserve University and Cuyahoga Community College. A year after his father died in 2008, the council seat in his district came open. Before the election, his only opponent for the seat resigned from the race.

“I’m very honored and humbled to work to represent the people of District 6 in Maple Heights. The purpose of government is to uplift people and help them reach their full potential. We need more leaders that are going to work in the interest of the people,” he said.

District 6 comprises the blocks around Warrensville Center Road in the city’s northeast corner.

Trojanski had hoped to introduce an LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination ordinance in 2012, but of the slate of progressive candidates put forward by the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, he was the only one in a contested district to be elected. The Democratic candidate for mayor--District 7 councilor Neomia Mitchell--also lost, leaving Mayor Jeffrey Lansky in office.

Lansky, who has faced accusations of racism in this very integrated community, would likely oppose LGBT rights measures, and Trojanski does not believe he has the support in council to overcome this.

However, even if he cannot fulfill that priority, there are others that are within his grasp.

“In Maple Heights, we have districts. I represent the 6th District, so I am focused on my people,” he said, noting his work on youth enrichment and reentry programs and a citizens leadership academy “to teach residents how to be effective leaders in the community since I can no longer bank on some of the legislative or capital programs I was working on.”

“I’m a very grassroots-oriented person, so I’ve fostered a lot of relationships with businesses and constituents,” he noted. “My focus during the last two years has been bringing a sense of cohesion to the community.”

That effort has been difficult; he is a gay white man representing a district that is at least 80 percent African American, and the city has suffered from business closings, foreclosures and “white flight.”

While Lansky has accused Trojanski of trying to stir up unrest against his administration, Trojanski prefers to stay above the name-calling.

“People prefer that their candidates take the high road instead of flinging mud at one another,” he said.

Last June, Lansky was accused of racism in his response to an email that said he took too high a salary in a city facing financial hardships. Lansky accused his opponent Mitchell of collecting a full Cuyahoga County pension while also taking Maple Heights council salary, according to a story by WJW Channel 8.

In his response, Lansky asked if the emailer knew a “crack dealer named Silk” or “Keisha Kornbread.” He then accused Trojanski of having a hand in the email.

Trojanski denied any involvement, but accused Lansky of racial insensitivity.

Beyond the squabbles, however, Trojanski is concerned with one thing: the people of Maple Heights.

“I think that people are the number one asset of any community, your human capital,” he said. I worked with the Cleveland Clinic to get outreach into the community. I’m here to be a middleperson, connecting community members with various nonprofits to fulfill their needs and get them moving forward.”

Among Ohio’s openly gay or lesbian elected officials, Trojanski will be joined by Chris Seelbach, who was elected to Cincinnati City Council in November, State Rep. Nickie Antonio of Lakewood, Wood County Commissioner Tim Brown, Summit County Councilor Sandra Kurt, Athens City Council member Jim Sands, Portsmouth councilor Kevin Johnson, school board members Joe Lacey in Dayton, Carol Fey in Bexley and Amanda Armstrong in Medina, Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Mary Wiseman and Akron Municipal Judge Jerry Larson.

Eleven more out Ohio officials have left office, as of year’s end.

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