Prizm News / May 8, 2018 / By Bob Vitale

Nickie Antonio and her wife, Jean Kosmac, celebrate with supporters in Lakewood.

Also among Tuesday’s winners was Democrat Rick Neal, who could become Ohio’s first openly gay member of Congress.


By Bob Vitale

The woman who has championed LGBTQ civil rights in the Ohio General Assembly for the last eight years will be back at the Statehouse in 2019.

Nickie Antonio, who in 2010 became the first LGBTQ candidate elected to the Ohio House of Representatives, won a Democratic primary Tuesday for a seat in the Ohio Senate. In a Cuyahoga County district that includes Cleveland’s West Side and the suburbs of Parma, Parma Heights and Lakewood, Antonio took 55 percent of the vote to defeat fellow state Rep. Martin Sweeney.

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Her 2,559-vote margin also marked a victory over Cuyahoga County’s Democratic machine, which endorsed Sweeney in January, paid for sample ballots that included his name and footed the cost of a negative mailing that accused Antonio of misleading voters.

“Our campaign was actually a campaign of people. That’s what made a difference,” Antonio told supporters who gathered at Deagan’s Kitchen & Bar in Lakewood. “We did the kind of campaign I really wanted to do. We did a campaign that had heart.”

Antonio was one of 10 LGBTQ Ohioans who won primary elections on Tuesday, a day that also saw LGBTQ allies Richard Cordray and Betty Sutton win the Democratic nomination for governor and lieutenant governor with 62 percent of the vote in a six-candidate race.

Cordray, who ran the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under President Barack Obama, and Sutton, a former member of Congress, will face Republicans Mike DeWine and Jon Husted in the Nov. 6 general election.

DeWine is currently Ohio’s attorney general. He’s best known for fighting marriage equality all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he lost the 2015 case that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples nationwide.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown was unopposed in the Democratic primary and will run for a third six-year term in November against Republican Jim Renacci.

The LGBTQ candidates who won on Tuesday represent the entire spectrum of the community:

• Lesbian: In addition to Antonio, Democrat Rebecca Howard was unopposed for her party’s nomination in Ohio House District 53, which includes Hamilton, Oxford and other parts of Butler County.

• Gay: Democrat Zach Dickerson won his party’s nomination in Ohio House District 42, which includes Dayton’s south suburbs. He collected 56.5 percent of the vote, according to final, unofficial totals. Democrats John McManus (House District 41, Dayton and Kettering), Jeremy Blake (House District 71, Newark), Garrett Baldwin (House District 85, Urbana and Bellefontaine) and Tyler Sappington (House District 94, Athens and Nelsonville) were unopposed for their party nominations.

• Bi: Democrat Melinda Miller was unopposed in the Democratic primary in Ohio Senate District 31, which includes Newark.

• Transgender: Democrat Lis Kenneth Regula was unopposed for the Democratic nomination for Portage County auditor in Northeast Ohio.

Rick Neal, right, husband Tom Grote and the couple’s daughters greet supporters Tuesday night in Columbus. (Photo courtesy of Neal campaign)

In Ohio’s 15th Congressional District, openly gay Democrat Rick Neal of Columbus won his party’s nomination to challenge four-term Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers in November. Neal, a former foreign aid worker, won 64 percent of the vote against Rob Jarvis, a high school teacher from Nelsonville.

“Tonight, we made history,” said Neal, who could become Ohio’s first openly gay member of Congress.

While all of the other LGBTQ candidates are challenging incumbent Republicans in November, Antonio faces only a write-in opponent in her heavily Democratic district.

The real fight was Tuesday’s primary.

While she failed to gain the backing of party bosses—”a sample ballot is no small thing to run against,” Antonio said—the Democrat did put together a coalition of progressives, women and LGBTQ voters. She won endorsements from the Human Rights Campaign; the Victory Fund, which supports LGBTQ candidates around the country; Cleveland Stonewall Democrats, Emily’s List, which supports pro-choice women, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, the Cuyahoga County Democratic Women’s Caucus and other groups.

Her campaign leadership was a team of women, she said, and they defeated what she told supporters is a “good old boys network, which isn’t very good for a lot of you.”

Three LGBTQ candidates lost primary bids on Tuesday: Matthew Guyette in Southwest Ohio’s 8th Congressional District, Mary B. Relotto in Franklin County’s House District 24, and Billy L. Sharp in Cleveland’s House District 10.
Twitter: @Bob_Vitale

Bob Vitale
A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, Bob has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.