ELYRIA — On more than one occasion, independent Elyria mayoral candidate Tim Quinn has been known to quote the legend among independent political candidates: former wrestler-turned-governor Jesse Ventura.
But he’s using another politician’s words as a barometer for the city he wants to lead.“The measure of a country is how many people are trying to get in, and how many people are trying to get out,” Quinn said, quoting former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. “The same can be said for a city like Elyria.”
It’s possible that’s the first time the words of another country’s leader have been applied to an Elyria mayoral race. But it seems fitting since this year’s race is about as different as it gets from politics as usual.
The only candidate following the tried-and-true path to election is incumbent Democrat Mayor Bill Grace, 43, who has lifelong ties to the city, an eight-year tenure as mayor and experience as an Elyria councilman.
A Cleveland native, Quinn, 65, will appear on the ballot as an independent. He has lived in Elyria for the past decade and works as a commercial construction contractor and consultant.
The third candidate, Republican Ray Noble, won’t even have the benefit of having his name before the voters — he’s running as a write-in after the former Republican candidate, John Howard Jr., bowed out.
Noble, 70, has lived in New York but has spent much of his life in Lorain County and Elyria. He has a background in the automotive industry, but has since retired from Ford Motor Co. and now works as a child-care worker at a Lorain County youth center.
They are three very different men with one very common goal: Become Elyria’s lodestar.
Grace says the city is on the right track and has been for years despite the challenges doled out by former state legislators more interested in suburban or rural areas than inner-city or urban zones.
Quinn and Noble, however, are vocal about the job they feel Grace is doing, and have both criticized him for spending too much time on “cutesy things” and “beautification,” while failing to devote himself to the city’s bread and butter: economic development.
Grace laid out a list of his accomplishments over the years, including the installation of two new water towers, improvements in water pressure in the city’s water lines, rejuvenating Cascade Park and Ely Square, the Leo Bullocks Parkway and more — all with reductions in state assistance.
“Since I’ve been in office, the state has gone through a period of making infrastructure more our responsibility,” Grace said. “It would help to turn all that in the other direction and make it more the state’s responsibility.”
Grace has been dogged in his quest to lobby regional and state legislators to steer funds, businesses or legislation in such a way that it will favor struggling urban or semi-urban cities like Elyria.
Grace says he has strong ties with regional decision makers, as well as policy-making state representatives. There’s little doubt that, if re-elected, the thrust of his efforts in the coming years will be aimed at further influencing and prodding these bodies.
“The biggest challenge for Elyria is economic prosperity,” Grace said. “For me to help residents, I need to be able to be their voice on other stages.”
Quinn, however, is skeptical of Grace’s approach.
“Who is better served by those activities with those entities — the citizens or the politician?” Quinn said. “Who really gains? Bill
Grace is feathering his own nest. Right now, I have no aspirations for any other office than mayor of Elyria. I’m not going to run around the state gaining influence for my political career.”
A tough-talking, no-nonsense Cleveland native whose background in speed skating seems slightly out of character — he counts Olympic gold medalist and “Dancing With the Stars” victor Apolo Anton Ohno as a friend — Quinn says the city needs a senior center to cater to the burgeoning elderly population, and it needs a surge in high-tech and part-time jobs to serve young adults.
Noble, meanwhile, has criticized Grace for wasting money on “beautification projects,” while economic development falls by the wayside. Noble, notably, has been endorsed by the Ohio Teamsters DRIVE (Democrat Republican Independent Voter Education).
“I think Bill Grace is doing a lousy job,” Noble said. “Take Route 57 — there’s $23 million or so dollars in that project, and he has millions invested in putting trees on Route 57.”
A child-care worker at Lorain County’s Turning Point, Noble has fueled much of his campaign by way of grassroots and word-of-mouth, and he seems to run into someone he knows just about everywhere he goes.
One of Noble’s repeated themes: too many city administrators.
“While the citizens of Elyria are suffering, this administration is top-heavy,” Noble said. “They need to cut down on administration — they have two safety-service directors not doing anything, not even bringing jobs or economic development into the city.”
Quinn didn’t criticize the employee numbers, but he did say that Grace’s administration “has scared off public participation.’’
“All of government has put itself in the position of being constituent-unfriendly,” Quinn said.
Grace simply said he surrounds himself with able-bodied people who are efficient and reliable. He touted his achievements in code enforcement as testament, and said — perhaps with a hint of both gratification and frustration — that improvements in the city’s appearance has rightfully increased folks’ standards in Elyria.
As far as long-term plans, all three men said they have agendas.
Grace said the Elyria 2015 plan lays out much of his agenda, though he declined to say which big-ticket items might be in store. Midway Mall, state Route 57, NOACA interactions and a few developments are admittedly on his radar.
Noble also says he has a strategic plan — bolster the safety forces, attract companies, cut down on obstructive design-review guidelines and redevelop Midway Mall.
Quinn cited many of the same issues as well — he wants to bolster the city’s safety forces and revitalize the economy.
All three men have had to talk about the city’s current conflict with the Elyria firefighters, which resulted after Grace cut the minimum staffing level from 17 to 14 in hopes of curbing firefighter overtime.
Both Quinn and Noble emphasize that Elyria needs minimum staffing levels of 17 firefighters per shift. Grace, however, remained steadfast in the smaller number.
Noble and Quinn both say they know they are running against all odds as they have no prior political experience.
But each said they have rich backgrounds in business and industry that could benefit the city if they are elected.
“You think I don’t know that there’s never been an independent elected in Elyria?” Quinn said. “I know it, and I know what I’m up against. But I feel I just might make it in there.”
Contact Shawn Foucher at 653-6255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.