“Three weeks from today,” Lorain’s Democratic mayoral candidate said Tuesday as he took a break from working the room at a Lorain Democratic Women fundraiser. “There’s a lot of anticipation. A lot of excitement. A lot of nerves.”
Just 26, but too politically savvy to admit it, Ritenauer knows that barring a cataclysmic upset, he’s a shoo-in for mayor in a traditionally Democratic city after knocking off incumbent Mayor Tony Krasienko in three-way May primary with Councilman Mitchell Fallis, D-at large. Now Ritenauer and Fallis — who is now running for the Lorain school board — were shaking hands with people, most of whom knew them well after 10 months of campaigning.
This is Lorain, after all, a city of 64,000. Not a presidential campaign with candidates flying around the nation regurgitating talking points in city after city. Still, the basic principles are the same. Things Ritenauer said he picked up after he started campaigning in January at a spaghetti dinner in a room where no one knew him.
“Once you start to do it you get used to doing it, and it just doesn’t matter where you’re at. The art of working a room,” Ritenauer said. “I don’t think it’s anticlimactic now. It’s just a different type of feel.”
A little more than four years ago, Krasienko was being sworn in as mayor and Ritenauer was one of his political appointees.
Krasienko balanced a budget that had been in the red for years — Lorain is projected to finish this year with a $1.81 million surplus, although a $2.3 million shortfall is predicted next year. While mayor, U.S. Steel invested $90 million in its Lorain plant, and after rising in 2008 and 2009, crime dropped 13 percent last year.
Despite the successes, Krasienko made enemies. He and longtime Councilwoman Anne Molnar, D-at large, regularly spar at City Council meetings. Councilman Dan Given, D-at large, Ritenauer’s uncle by marriage, quit shortly after being named Krasienko’s safety-service director.
Ritenauer left his post as deputy safety-service director to become safety-service director in North Olmsted in April 2010. The grandson of former four-term Lorain County Commissioner Fred Ritenauer and the youngest person in Ohio ever sworn in as a Democratic State Central Committee member in 2006, the ambitious Ritenauer had his own ideas about governing.
“The stagnation and just the status quo, I just couldn’t do it anymore,” he said. “It was one of the toughest decisions I have made thus far just because I loved what I was doing in Lorain. It was great to work for the city I was raised in.”
In April, Ritenauer attacked Krasienko for spouting “political rhetoric that rings hollow” and presiding over a “culture of mediocrity.” Despite Krasienko outspending Ritenauer $58,835 to about $44,000 in the primary, Ritenauer cruised to a 4,035 to 2,461 win, a 54 percent to 46 percent margin of victory in the primary.
Assuming Ritenauer is elected, why will he fare any better than Krasienko given the worst economy since the Great Depression? Ritenauer says it will be due to his ideas and philosophy.
His ideas include formation of a land bank, something Lorain County lacks but other counties have used to leverage state and federal taxpayer dollars to demolish and refurbish blighted buildings. Ritenauer said he’d increase regional cooperation, eliminating duplication of services to cut costs.
He said the city would more aggressively market itself in a Ritenauer administration — “we don’t even have a DVD about what the city of Lorain has to offer” — and buy new, more efficient road paving equipment rather than wasting money on older equipment.
Ritenauer said he’d use some of the knowledge he’s gained as North Olmsted’s public works commissioner. Ritenauer took the job after having to quit in April as safety-service director after an anonymous complaint was filed against him accusing him of being in violation of a federal law that forbids government workers who deal with federal money from running in partisan elections.
Walking around the North Olmsted public works garage Tuesday, Ritenauer spoke of how North Olmsted is purchasing new equipment for leaf pickups and plowing snow. Unclogging catch basins is not sexy stuff, but it is what constituents pay taxes for.
If elected, Ritenauer promises to conduct a performance audit of employees and services. He vows to hire the best people and not micromanage, modeling his style after North Olmsted Mayor Kevin Kennedy.
Of course, every corporate executive or leadership expert promoting a book recommends hiring good people and not micromanaging. But Kennedy said Ritenauer is the real deal.
Kennedy said he didn’t initially hire Ritenauer when he interviewed in North Olmsted, but Ritenauer was Kennedy’s first choice when his safety-service director left.
“For his age, he’s extremely knowledgeable in government, in how things work, and he has been very effective in getting things done in North Olmsted,” Kennedy said. “Particularly in a time like this, when things are tough, you need good management and you need good leadership, and he has that.”
While essentially an academic — Ritenauer has taught classes as an adjunct instructor at the University of Akron — and a career bureaucrat, Ritenauer said he got a taste of the private sector working in his family’s liquor stores as a teenager before they sold the chain. Ritenauer said government should not be run like a business, but business principles can be applied.
As the election grows near, Ritenauer said he’s not taking victory for granted. But it’s clear that the guy who’s never been good at waiting believes it’s his time.
“We can and we will do better,” he said. “I’m looking forward to being able to do that starting next year.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.