With less than a month left until Election Day, campaigns throughout northeast Ohio are kicking into full gear. Perhaps one of the most interesting races this election season is the one for Akron's mayoral seat. For the first time in more than a decade, 17-year incumbent Don Plusquellic is being challenged by a well-known name in Summit County politics. But just when you'd expect Republican challenger Bryan Williams to turn up the heat, he's toning it down. ideastream's Renita Jablonski reports.
State Representative Bryan Williams welcomes reporters to his campaign headquarters in Akron's Quaker Square every Wednesday morning. The mid-week press conferences have become a staple in the "Williams for Mayor" campaign. They serve as an opportunity for Williams to point out why Akron needs a change. Until last week, Bryan Williams' campaign was characterized by criticizing Don Plusquellic, charging Plusquellic's administration is full of corruption and favoritism. But now Williams is trying to put his run for mayor in a different light.
Bryan Williams: It's kind of a redux of what we have been talking about all along but we're trying to, in a more positive way, in a more future-oriented way, connect the dots for the people. That under a Williams administration, the city will be safer, less expensive to live in, it will have better educational opportunities, at all levels of education, and it will be more ethically pure.
Williams brighter outlook may be a result of some more negative campaigning gone wrong. For instance, the Republican had a lot of apologizing to do after a top 100-list on the Williams for mayor web site, called "Don Plusquellic's Hall of Shame" included a reason not to elect the incumbent that contained false information. The now changed number-61 charged that Plusquellic gave a tax break to a political friend. It went on to say that soon after, the company filed for bankruptcy protection. But the company, Quality Mold, is healthy and in business. Williams apologized to Quality Mold and changed the web site though he says things like this have nothing to do with his new attitude.
Bryan Williams: When you're a challenger running against a well-entrenched incumbent, you have to make the case for change first, and the case for the future second, so we're just following that natural flow.
Williams says there's no getting around the fact that Plusquellic has many advantages in this campaign, and says those advantages have helped shape the perception that Williams is doing nothing more than slinging mud. He cites this example: during a Wednesday morning presser last month, Williams highlighted that while Don Plusquellic's wife was on the payroll at Oriana House, a drug treatment center, the company received zero interest loans and a multimillion dollar no-bid contract.
Bryan Williams: When I criticized the mayor for not complying with the public disclosure law when he had a personal interest in a contract, it was reported and spun by the administration very effectively that I was picking on his wife. You know, the truth of the matter is that I don't care what his wife does, I don't pick on his wife. The responsibility under the law was for him to disclose by affidavit prior to getting into that contract. But that wasn't portrayed in the media that way.
The same day Williams brought up Mrs. Plusquellic's ties to Oriana House happened to be the official opening of Plusquellic's campaign headquarters.
Don Plusquellic: We're going to go out and run as positive as we can. When it comes to comparing records, we're going to do that too because he has no record to stand on so that's why he's gone out making up things, and making up accusations, and doing things as low as picking on my wife who's not on the ballot.
Stephen Brooks is Associate Director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. He says he's not surprised the campaign is unfolding this way.
Stephen Brooks: Any time that you are taking on a popular incumbent, you need to find ways to, if you will, show some chinks in the armour.
People like Charles Small don't see those chinks when they look out on Main Street in downtown Akron. He says Williams can talk about corruption all he wants, to him it's tangible things like Canal Park, and the Inventor's Hall of Fame that matters.
Charles Small: We have a team here. We've had more building going on here since the 20s and 30s.
Stephen Brook admits that the things voters can see will make a difference. One of those things will be TV ads and Akron residents won't see any Bryan Williams commercials until later this month because Williams doesn't have enough money in his campaign piggy bank to start adds any earlier. He blames legislation passed this summer.
Bryan Williams: The mayor and his rubber-stamp city council have succeeded in changing the rules of the game mid-stream. There's a $300 contribution limit that individuals and political entities can give to a candidate.
Williams admits that when the donation limits were first passed, he considered dropping out of the mayor's race. But he says despite the odds stacked against him he's committed to giving Akron voters a choice and pledges to keep going strong until November 4th. In Akron, Renita Jablonski, 90.3.