Cleveland party bosses are pushing her opponent in Tuesday’s Democratic vote, but women, unions and LGBTQ groups support the openly gay lawmaker’s Ohio Senate campaign.
By Bob Vitale
With just days to go before Tuesday’s primary election, LGBTQ and progressive groups are stepping up their efforts to make sure the first openly gay person elected to the Ohio House becomes the first openly gay person elected to the Ohio Senate.
Members of Cleveland Stonewall Democrats are planning phone banks this weekend, going door-to-door to hand out campaign literature and recruiting people to work at the polls on Tuesday for Democrat Nickie Antonio.
Antonio, a Lakewood resident who was first elected to the Ohio House in 2010, is running this year to represent a bigger swath of Cuyahoga County in the Ohio Senate. She’s opposed in the primary by fellow Democratic state Rep. Martin Sweeney of Cleveland in the 23rd Senate District, which includes Lakewood and areas of Cleveland’s West Side, Parma, Middleburg Heights and other parts of western Cuyahoga County.
Sweeney, the former president of Cleveland’s City Council, was endorsed by the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party despite his role in passage of a 2009 city ordinance that allowed businesses and property owners to dictate the public restrooms used by transgender people.
Antonio has been endorsed by the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, the Cuyahoga Democratic Women’s Club, the Working Families Party, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, the Ohio AFL-CIO, the Cleveland Teachers Union, NARAL, Emily’s List, former Ohio Gov. Dick Celeste, former Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell and others.
“It’s all hands on deck,” said Erik Meinhardt, a vice president of Cleveland Stonewall Democrats.
The group of LGBTQ Democrats in Northeast Ohio, the Human Rights Campaign and Victory Fund also have endorsed Antonio, who has introduced legislation to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Ohio’s nondiscrimination laws in every General Assembly session she has served.
Sweeney has not joined other House Democrats as a cosponsor of the bills since entering the House in 2015.
The race between the two Democrats—the only Republican candidate is running as a write-in, so the Democratic primary winner is a heavy favorite in November—has grown increasingly testy as Tuesday nears.
Sweeney’s allies have accused Antonio of trying to mislead voters into thinking she received the Cuyahoga Democratic Party’s endorsement with a flier that features the words “endorsed Democrat” and follows with the progressive groups that have endorsed her.
One Sweeney radio ad has taken to calling Antonio “Tricky Nickie,” according to The Plain Dealer. The paper also reported that a Sweeney campaign mailing referred to the Victory Fund, which supports LGBTQ candidates, as “DC influence peddlers” and its support for Antonio as “dark money.”
In a video that Antonio’s campaign posted on Facebook, she called Sweeney’s claims “ridiculous,” “unimaginable” and “sad.”
Shocked by recent attack ads? So were we. Let's rise above, together.#WeGoHigh
Posted by Nickie J. Antonio on Thursday, May 3, 2018
The Victory Fund mailing compared Sweeney to Hollywood executive and sexual predator Harvey Weinstein because of an accusation against him during days on the Cleveland City Council. The group has called the Cleveland candidate “Sleazy Sweeney.”
Sweeney, as Cleveland City Council president, faced a sexual harassment complaint from the council’s clerk. The city, using taxpayer money, settled with the woman for $60,000 and paid $27,000 in outside legal fees, according to The Plain Dealer.
On Wednesday, the Cuyahoga Democratic Women’s Caucus called on Sweeney to repay the $87,000 spent by the city of Cleveland on his behalf.
“At a time when sexual harassment in the workplace has consequences against powerful men in all industries and there is an effort to create environments where all workers feel safe and free of intimidation, Mr. Sweeney has never paid for his past actions or suffered consequences,” the group said. “He walked away with taxpayers footing the $87,000 bill, retired, and was then immediately sworn in again, collecting a pension and a $76,259 council salary.”
Antonio also has been endorsed by The Plain Dealer, which called her “the superior choice.”