ELYRIA — The first Meet the Candidates Night on Wednesday included a heated debate between Republican County Commissioner Tom Williams and his opponent, state Rep. Matt Lundy, D-Elyria, who is vying for Williams’ seat.
The forum was organized by the Lorain County AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers Community Action Program Region 2B. Union rights were a big part of the debate. Lundy, who took office in 2007 and whose term expires Dec. 31, portrayed Williams as an anti-union, anti-government corporatist and tea party sympathizer.
Lundy hammered Williams for voting against a symbolic measure passed by the three-member Board of Commissioners opposing Senate Bill 5, which would’ve stripped public workers of most of their collective bargaining rights. The bill passed in the Legislature, but was defeated by voters in a 2011 referendum.
“There’s only one pro-labor candidate in this race, and you’re looking at him right now,” Lundy said to applause from the 100 people in the audience at Lorain County Community College. “I have a nearly eight-year record, that’s a proven track record of working for working families.”
Lundy said Williams, who took office in 2011 and has frequently feuded with Democratic commissioners Ted Kalo and Lori Kokoski, is divisive. He cited Williams referring to county judges who sought more money from commissioners as “thugs in robes.”
Lundy said Williams’ opposition to tax hikes to fund public transportation and county government epitomized his pro-corporate, anti-government beliefs.
“It’s not about being anti-government, Tom,” said Lundy, who is leaving the Legislature due to term limits. “It’s about good government.”
Williams denied he is anti-worker or a tea party supporter, and said his vote against Senate Bill 5 was because he doesn’t believe county commissioners should tell state representatives how to vote. Williams noted he walked the picket lines in December in support of striking Lorain County Job and Family Service workers who were seeking higher pay and more time off.
Williams denied being divisive, but said he has fought for greater transparency on the board and defended calling the judges thugs. He said his opposition to the judges saved taxpayers $600,000.
Williams said he was proud of defending residents of Amherst, Elyria and Sheffield townships when Lorain, which provides sewer service to the townships, raised their rates to 200 percent of what Lorain residents pay. Lorain’s City Council reduced the rates to 130 percent after a backlash by residents of the townships.
“Being a county commissioner is representing the entire county, and sometimes you have to take on elected officials to make sure your point is heard,” Williams said to applause. “I bring balance to county government. I make sure that we question all expenditures.”
Before the debate, several candidates made their case for election. The most passionate remarks came in a 21-minute address by state Sen. Nina Turner, D-Cleveland, who is running for Ohio secretary of state, the office that oversees elections.
Turner condemned the Republican-majority Legislature for voting restrictions such as eliminating the “golden week” in which voters could register and vote on the same day, and a law that gives the Legislature sole authority to authorize mailing of unsolicited absentee ballots.
“I am running for secretary of state because I understand that all paths lead through the ballot box,” Turner said. “The citizens of the great state of Ohio deserve a secretary of state who will protect and expand access to the ballot box.”