Editor’s Note: A few weeks before Akron’s September 8th primary election, we asked all potential mayoral candidates to submit an essay about their experiences on the campaign trail. We will be posting the responses we have received. Please note that these opinions do not reflect those of the Akronist or Akron Digital Media Center. This is not a series about endorsing a particular viewpoint, instead we are interested in examining the campaign process from those who entrenched within it.
Appalled and Hopeful.
Those are the two words that describe my experience so far running for mayor.
I have never run for any political office. When I started I was under the naive impression that the process of running for office would be straightforward and inviting. I mean, how many times as a kid are you told, “Of the people. For the people. By the people.”
We are a country that was founded on the principle that the people could govern themselves. Europe thought we were crazy. “The people can’t govern themselves.” We proved them wrong. But now I hear that people without “experience” can’t govern. I’m told only career politicians playing in the two party system can, and should, win elections. Anyone outside of that paradigm is just being silly, wasting your vote and wasting their own money.
We seem to easily forget that people outside of politics hold office all the time. Woodrow Wilson was the President of Princeton in 1909, a small struggling college at the time. By 1918 he was president of the United States and leading the world in trying to arrange a lasting peace after World War I.
Our system is filled with new-to-politics participants.
● Michael Bloomberg
● Arnold Schwarzenegger
● Ronald Reagan
● Jesse Ventura
But lately there’s a lot of dynasty and political pedigree in politics. They propagate the “experienced two party” narrative. Voting for anyone else means voting for a loser. But, I’ll tell you, they don’t let us inexperienced nobodies get on the ticket without a fight. The process for getting on a ballot has been nothing short of appalling.
It all starts in the Board of Elections.
This is run by two Republicans and two Democrats appointed by the Secretary of State. Running for mayor, in Akron, you need 50 signatures to get on the ballot as a Republican or Democrat. Running as an independent, you need 372 signatures, which is equal to 1 percent of the voters who cast ballots in Akron in the last gubernatorial election.
Why do Independents need more signatures? Because it’s run by the Democrats and Republicans.
Also, I turn in my signatures the day before the Democratic primary. So for months I’m not even a real candidate. And because I’m not officially on the ballot, I’m not invited to speak at debates. My name is left off of all discussions. I’m invisible.
Not to mention, getting those qualified signatures is a bureaucratic quagmire. Here’s what it should be about:
● Those signing should live in the relevant county or city. Yes.
● They should be registered voters. Yes.
● They should not be counted more than once. Yes.
● Should that be the end of requirements? Yes.
Unfortunately, entire lists of otherwise verified, valid signatures get tossed for things like:
● Using white out: Petition denied.
● Forgetting to enter signature tally on the back: Petition denied.
● Make a small error on form — reversal of first and last name, anything crossed out, anything left blank, or having a typo anywhere at all (don’t white it out): Petition denied.
And, it’s not like you can ask them if you are doing it right. As of right now, the only thing they will do is show you a petition that is filled out correctly. They can offer no guidance, point out no flaw they might see. In fact, a woman filing, borrowed white out from BOE staff, used it on the petition in front of them, and then filed. Money taken. Petition denied. This is only one of many “issues” and scrutiny of the BOE.
The appointed BOE has control over more than just council and local primaries. The pro-pot group ResponsibleOhio submitted over 105,000 signatures to get their initiative on the ballot in Cuyahoga County. A controversial 62,230 signatures were deemed invalid by the Board of Elections.
Your right to vote doesn’t need to be stolen at the booth. It can be stolen before it ever gets on the ballot. This has all been put into place by the two party system. They make it all but impossible to be heard if you aren’t one of the people in power. That’s not my American government.
But ultimately none of that matters. I’m still hopeful.
My motivation to stay in this race is for the people of Akron. I truly believe that’s a unique position. I have had a lot of obstacles thrown my way, but social and economic justice keep me in this campaign.
Because I have to get so many signatures, I am on the street a lot. The number of people that are underprivileged, hungry and homeless is shocking. They are everywhere.
Yes. Our downtown is beautiful, but everything starts to degrade as you radiate away from Lock 3 and UA. We have many:
● Homeless & Hungry
● Abandoned homes
● People desperately looking for work
● College educated minorities looking for above minimum wage pay
There are so many people that aren’t being heard in this city. But experienced politicians will shrug and say there’s no money. The state cut our funding. Let’s build a stadium and the money might trickle down.
It’s time we solve our problems in ways that old-style government cannot and will not do. We need to be creative and innovative. Why is our upcoming sewer project not seen as an opportunity to go green like the city of Philadelphia is doing? Why is the Rubber Capital of America (now the pothole capital of Ohio) not considering recycled rubber asphalt?
I truly believe we don’t need someone who has spent their entire career in politics. We need someone who knows what it’s like to create and run a business. Someone who knows how to use the latest technology to help facilitate communication so we can work together more closely and inspire true innovation and growth. We need someone who hasn’t spent their whole life being indoctrinated in politics.
They say I’m crazy, “the cowboy candidate,” the guy with no chance and no experience. But I keep running because I believe Akron, and all of this country, deserves a variety of choices in politics. I keep running because Akron deserves choices for their next mayor. I keep running because I have an innovative perspective that Akron needs in the 21st century.
Ultimately, I’m filled with hope. The system, while convoluted, is still of the people, for the people, by the people. You just have to dig through decades of bureaucracy and pretense to get to the core.
The people of Akron are amazing and resilient. We once were one of the fastest growing, most innovative cities in America. We can be that again.
You can read about my initiatives here: http://www.sagelewis.com/category/initiatives/
Editor’s Note: Lewis submitted 1,086 signatures before the September 7 deadline. However, most of the signatures were deemed invalid. According to Lewis’ website, most of the reasons were because they:
” 1. Weren’t registered.
2. Not the correct address.
That was the fatal flaw of my strategy. Most of my time was spent with the homeless. Apparently they have a hard time remembering if they were officially registered as a voter or where they lived when they were registered.”
Lewis will not appear on the November ballot as an independent candidate.