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.
I’m a believer in continuous learning.
You have to be, to run a city as diverse and distinct as Akron.
You have to be someone who embraces change, otherwise you quickly face irrelevancy.
Over the past four months, I’ve learned that it’s not so much the process of running for mayor that changes you, although a vigorous process is good, it’s the people I’ve met and the stories they carry with them. It’s the personal connections and relationships I’ve developed while on this journey. Those experiences transfer to you, almost by osmosis, and that passion for Akron has fueled my belief that this city is poised for a bright future. Coming into contact with our non-profits and community-based organizations, who are all pulling to make this city better, I can’t help but be inspired.
There is so much good happening in Akron right now. There are so many amazing individuals leading change within our community. From neighborhood initiatives such as the Better Block in North Hill and Porch Rokr in Highland Square, to community events such as First Night Akron and the Akron Marathon – we are a city filled with brilliant minds and a community-driven spirit. Recently, I had the privilege of keeping pace on my bicycle alongside the men’s overall leader during the Akron Marathon. I don’t mind sharing with you; this was almost like a dream come true for me. As we made our way along the route, I began to understand why Knight Foundation Program Director Kyle Kutuchief calls the marathon “Akron’s national holiday.” Neighborhood after neighborhood revealed loved ones holding homemade signs, countless volunteers assisting runners, and dedicated police and fire forces making sure we all stayed safe. As we rounded the corner of Merriman Road and West Market Street, the cheers for the race leader were so loud I couldn’t help but be moved. The sheer number of person hours it takes to pull off such an event, year after year, serves as a prime example of what is possible in this community when we work together.
Another aspect of my experience in this campaign has been recognizing that there are communities within Akron that are not seeing growth and prosperity. These are not perception problems, but rather real needs that must be addressed. Some concerns that residents have expressed to me are very personal and speak to their unique situation. Others I’ve found to be widespread across the city. All these concerns deserve our attention and our best efforts.
A few months ago, I received a letter from a resident who lives on Diagonal Road in the southwest side of the city. Her letter expressed a deep concern over the future of her neighborhood and the vacant homes that seemed to be multiplying around her. She wanted to know what I planned to do about this, and it was safe to say she was not supportive of my candidacy at that moment. As I read the letter, I was inspired by the passion she held for her part of town, and I decided to knock on her door and address her concerns personally. After all, she had taken the time to write the letter, put a stamp on it and send it in. I felt she at least deserved a visit.
To see her amazement that a mayoral candidate would respond to her letter personally struck me. Shouldn’t it be our culture to address legitimate concerns in such a way? We began to talk, and she expressed how she did not feel her worries were being heard in this campaign. We walked outside, and she showed me the handful of homes falling down around her meticulously maintained and beautiful home. I explained my ideas for ridding neighborhoods of blight, and she shared hers as well. We parted ways with smiles on our faces, and a few days later I received another letter from her. This time it conveyed her appreciation for the visit and declared her intent to support my campaign going forward.
It occurred to me as I drove away that no amount of direct mail or television advertising would have reached this resident. What she needed was a personal connection. She needed to show me those vacant homes and feel validated that her civic engagement matters. If we are to change the trajectory of our most at-risk neighborhoods, then we as city leaders must change how we respond to needs of our residents. We need to further address the root causes of such inequity, and the leader of a city as great as Akron should make this their primary focus. In theory, a rising tide should lift all ships, but that’s not currently happening. Seeing this on the campaign trail has moved me.
Running for mayor of Akron is certainly about offering plans and ideas, but it’s also about bringing unity, hope, and a new sensitivity to the issues all residents face. Some of the challenges facing our city are significant, but so is our reservoir of faith. Faith in our ability to join together and rise to the occasion, and faith that Akron’s best chapter is yet to be written. This faith is apparent on the faces of those who stood on neighborhood sidewalks to cheer on complete strangers in our Marathon, and it’s articulated through the cares of concerned citizens who desperately wish to improve their community.
If given the opportunity to serve as the next mayor of Akron, I’ll seek to harness this faith and build the connections that will bring us together and transform our city. Together, we can move Akron forward to a place where neighborhoods are reclaimed and rebuilt at the direction of empowered residents. A place with a vibrant, accessible downtown that serves as the center of energy for business, arts, culture and community programming. A city where every child has the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy community that nurtures their potential. A government that practices transparency and efficiency. This is my vision for Akron, and from what I’ve experienced thus far in this campaign, we have all the raw materials necessary to make it a reality.
Editor’s Note: After the primary, Horrigan became the official Democratic candidate.