AVON — One of four candidates vying to succeed longtime Mayor Jim Smith has been endorsed by his fellow City Council members.
Kevin Ward, the city’s 3rd Ward councilman, has been endorsed by the four members of Avon City Council who are not running for the job.
“I am honored that they were willing to sign their names as a show of support and confidence in me,” Ward said of a letter signed by at-large Council members Mary Berges and Craig Witherspoon, 2nd Ward Councilman Dennis McBride and 4th Ward Councilman Dan Urban.
Ward, 44, a management consultant, said he spoke with each of his four Council colleagues about gaining their support.
“I knew what their feelings were and knew this was coming, but the letter was not mine,” Ward said.
Ward characterized the letter of support, which is going to be used as part of his campaign literature, as a reflection of the leadership experience the two-term councilman has shown.
“Our city is a large city, and it requires someone who has a lot of previous experience,” Ward said. “The people I have worked with on Council the last four years have seen that firsthand.”
Bryan Jensen, 52, a four-term Council member who is also running for mayor, termed the endorsement letter as more of a gesture of friendship than one resulting from a real appraisal of the candidate.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I see this as absolutely more about a friendship-based endorsement as opposed to one geared to the person who cares most about the city and has the experience to run it,” Jensen said.
Ward is opposed by Jensen, president of Pinehaven Greenhouses; Dan Zegarac, 56, a two-term at-large councilman and Council president employed by the Ganley Auto Group as a sales/business manager; and Rich Summers, an attorney and former assistant law director in Parma.
An endorsement by fellow Council members isn’t as big a deal as one coming from the man who has held the mayor’s job for 20 years, according to Jensen.
“I was a little nervous at first when I heard about an endorsement, thinking maybe the mayor had backed him (Ward),” Jensen said.
“As councilpeople, we spent one or two hours a week doing things for the city,” Jensen said. “The role we play is not as significant. If the mayor is endorsing someone, that would be important.”
Veteran politician Zegarac, a lifelong city resident, cited his more than 50 years of community service and also didn’t see the letter as having a major impact in the campaign.
“I’m not really concerned about what (the endorsement) means. I was the top vote-getter in the city in the 2011 election. I look forward to the election — what’s important to me is the electorate — the voters, and not so much an endorsement from another Council member or members. I feel real good about the upcoming election.”
The incumbent Smith will step down at the end of the year after two decades as the city’s top official.
Witherspoon disagreed with Jensen’s assessment of the endorsement.
“This is definitely not a friendship thing,” Witherspoon said. “I have a lot invested in the city and it comes down to looking to the future of the city and who is the best replacement for the mayor (Smith).”
Pointing to the city’s explosive growth over the past decade, Witherspoon said Ward is the man for the job based on his business background with large companies.
“I find him to be a very intricate guy who gets into the nuts and bolts of the city … the details,” Witherspoon said. “His past work experience taught him that.”
All three Council members running for mayor would do a good job if elected, but McBride said he opted to back Ward based largely on his financial background working with businesses.
“On balance, Kevin is a little stronger than the other two given his consultant’s role, and the fact he has a slightly more rounded skill set,” McBride said.
McBride said he has no knowledge about Summers.