Local Candidates Debate, Vie for Obie Votes
Everyone knows Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but what about James T. Walther, Lori Kokoski, Joshua Meszes or Ken Carney? All these names will appear on the ballot Tuesday, Mar. 4 in Ohio’s important primary, but the latter names may be unfamiliar to many. They are the local government candidates, the names that appear on the bottom of the ballot, that some voters will consider secondary.
Being informed about local politics is difficult, as the candidates do not tend to appear on TV or on the front page of newspapers. On Monday, the Oberlin College Democrats brought nine candidates to campus to match faces and ideas with these names in hope to inform student voters.
“I saw a flyer and I came,” said College first-year Thomas Antonsen. “I want to get information on local candidates. I don’t know what the issues are and I’m voting in the Ohio primary.”
There are four offices up for election this year in Lorain County: two commissioners, a domestic relations judge and a county engineer. These seats hold huge power in the day-to-day lives of many Lorain residents.
Two major issues face Lorain County in the upcoming election. Every candidate agreed that it is important to create high-paying jobs for educated workers in Lorain to combat job loss and poverty. The second issue is crime and how best to stop it.
The Commissioner’s Office controls the budgets of Lorain County’s services for employment, family, children’s, veterans, the elderly and mental health services. It also has the power to levy taxes. Ted Kalo, a local business owner, and Kokoski are running for reelection in two of the three county commissioner’s seats.
During their last terms, they started the Lorain County Growth Partnership, a “one-stop shop for small businesses that need a jump start,” according to Kalo. This partnership streamlined the process of starting businesses in Lorain by consolidating government, education, banking and community services. The program has created 2,400 jobs in Lorain in just the past year.
To fight crime, Kalo and Kokosi funded the Lorain County Strike Force, consisting of seven local officers. The team has made 430 arrests targeted in high-crime areas. Unfortunately, this program has added to overcrowding in Lorain’s jails, and a second program designed for crime prevention is now needed.
Dave George, Kokoski’s opponent, proposed an umbrella program to fund struggling after-school programs so they do not close. He also suggested creating a community center or restarting a YMCA in Lorain to give the county’s youth something to turn to other than crime. George also promotes a completely transparent system of measures so residents can make sure commissioners are doing exactly what they say with citizens’ tax dollars.
Kalo’s opponent, Joshua Meszes, is campaigning on environmental sustainability in Lorain on top of new jobs and less crime. If elected, Meszes would like to work closely with Oberlin’s environmental program to incorporate green technologies into the Commissioner’s Office and throughout Lorain. Meszes is a 2005 Ohio State graduate. “It’s not about age, it’s about dedication,” he said.
Two Democrats are vying for a spot on the newly created Domestic Relations Court. The court combines the functions of the former Domestic Relation Court, which heard juvenile and marital cases, and the Probate Court in order to cut judicial costs.
Paulette Lilly has been a judge on the former Domestic Relations Court for 12 years. She recently switched parties from Republican to Democrat for this election. Throughout Lilly’s years of service there have been allegations that she misused county resources including travel expenses, county vehicles and computers. She has said she is confident that these accusations are politically motivated and she will be cleared.
Her opponent, Jim Walther, has secured endorsements from the Lorain County Democrats, Lorain County police, labor unions and retirees. From 2001-2004 he was the Acting Judge and Magistrate of the Lorain Municipal Court, and he currently practices law privately. In response to Lilly’s numerous investigations, Walther is running “to restore integrity to the court.”
The last seat up for election is county engineer, which oversees all maintenance on roads, bridges and drains in Lorain. Ken Carney has held the office since 1989 and is opposed by Thomas Hesmond in a dirty race.
Hesmond viciously attacked Carney Monday night for not securing as much state funding as possible for projects. Carney replied that Hesmond’s numbers were skewed because only one project qualified for the funds.
Four years ago, Hesmond ran against Carney as an independent with Republican backing. Carney questioned Hesmond’s recent Democratic registration and proclaimed himself the true Democrat, citing his endorsement by the Lorain Democrats.
Hesmond has also been publicly attacking Carney’s personal life, reminding voters that he has been charged twice with drunk driving and once with attempted assault.
The OC Democrats organized the event with the leadership of Brian Pugh, College senior and former head of the OC Dems. Pugh contacted all of the candidates last semester.
Despite the low turnout, “For a weeknight and a primary, it was what we were looking for,” said OC Dem, co-chair and College sophomore Sam Lewis. Indeed, when the students who attended go to vote on March 4, they will not simply be voting for unfamiliar names ,but making decisions based on the issues and positions of the candidates.