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La Liga de Las Americas

Latino candidates celebrate victories in the cities of Cleveland, Lorain, and Toledo, and Franklin County


By Alan Abrams
La Prensa Senior Correspondent


Latino candidates scored major victories in last week’s municipal elections in Cleveland, Lorain, and Toledo, and in Franklin County, often with gritos filling the airwaves across northern and central Ohio.


Joe Santiago defeated Nelson Cintron, Jr. for a seat on Cleveland’s Council in a replay of the 2001 race. Last time around, Santiago lost in the primary. This time he won Ward 14 by 106 votes with a margin of 51.88 percent to 48.12 percent, in unofficial tabulations.  

What was his secret? “I never stopped running since 2001,” says the 39-year-old Santiago.


During the time between campaigns, Santiago earned a degree in business management from the University of Phoenix, graduating this June with a 3.4 grade average.


Like Escobar’s Ward Three in Lorain, Ward 14 in Cleveland is plagued with crime, drugs, and abandoned housing, much of it the result of predatory lenders. But Santiago hopes to make a change by bringing in development and maintaining an open door policy.


“Something has to be done about Ward 14.  We’ve lost our grocery store and two banks. One reason is that we’ve had poor leadership. I will work with the CDCs, and with the police, the new mayor, and council. I worked with the Tremont West CDC for eight years and I serve on 13 boards,” says Santiago.


Lorain’s Escobar

Toledo has its Louis Escobar and Lorain, Ohio has Dave Escobar, who, at 34, ran as an unopposed Democrat in Lorain, Ohio. It was his first race. Escobar successfully ran against three Democrats in the primary, with no Republican opposition on the Nov. 8 ballot.


Escobar represents Lorain’s Third Ward where he sees one of the greatest concerns being the fact that “everybody’s flooding, and people are not being paid for their damages.”


Much of Ward 3 experienced sewer backup and extensive flooding after mammoth, diluvian rains scoured the area.  


The Third Ward has a 60 percent crime rating, another problem Escobar is hoping to address.


Did he have a large campaign organization?  “I mainly did it by myself with the help of some close friends,” he says.


Escobar works for Ohio Edison. “I read meters and do collections, and I’m a member of their First Response Team. My job has helped prepare me for being on council. I deal with people everyday—that and dogs,” he quips.


Torres in Toledo

In Toledo, longtime community activist Robert Torres won a resounding victory in his campaign for election to the Toledo School Board, being the top votegetter in that category, with 25,501 unofficial votes (20.09 per cent). Torres, the only Latino in Toledo and Lucas County to win office in the Nov. 8 election, is the director of Toledo’s Hispanic Affairs Commission (HAC).


Why does Torres believe voters responded so positively to his campaign? “I think the voters felt disengagement with the school board and the school leadership,” he replies.


“People were looking for a change.  Our Three for Change grass roots campaign understood the needs of people in the neighborhoods,” he adds.


Torres credits his core of volunteers with much of his success. “My campaign was not run by elected officials or political power brokers. My co-chairs, Delphina Mora and Tracy Martínez, are both mothers.


“We got a message across to the community that grass roots are a positive force.  We ran our operation on a tight budget.  My two opponents outspent me three to one,” says Torres.


Another factor in his election was his recognition that it is “important to be seen at every event in the community. Even for family functions, we were out there and physically visible. Everyone knew who we were,” explains Torres.  Thanks to his volunteer corps, Torres was very seldom alone at any campaign stop. He estimates his hardcore volunteer group as comprising between 50 and 75 supporters.


Thankful for his many volunteers, last Saturday, Torres met with his main organizers at El Camino Real restaurant in Toledo to plan a campaign support fiesta in December.

Torres thanks Robert Guiterrez, his marketing guru, for including symbols in his campaign signs that “speaks to Latino pride, and showed pride in military service.”


Guiterrez was only one example of Torres’ determination to use talent within the Latino community. His campaign treasurer, Sonya Troche, is executive director of Adelante, Inc., Jesús and Tammy Avila were responsible for his school appearances, and Michael Cortez had responsibility for house parties.


Torres also credits Bill Lichtenwald, president of the Teamsters Union, Dennis Duffey, of the IBEW, and Jack Wilson, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, with playing key roles in his victory.


“They stepped up and supported my campaign and supported me personally,” says Torres of the three.


When he analyzes the factors leading to his victory, Torres believes that “Most importantly, people wanted change.  They wanted to change the school system, change the way they’re doing things, and change the status quo.


“Our platform was a winning platform. At every one of the forums we were at, there was no doubt who people were going to vote for. In fact, at the very last forum, three of my opponents didn’t even bother to show up.” 


Elements of his platform that struck a chord with voters included community engagement, parental support, and school responsibility.  He is especially vocal on the concept of parental involvement.  “We need to put a parent at the table with the superintendent,” he explains.

He will also fight to remove the ban on parents and others with whom the administration disagrees from attending school board meetings.
Torres advocates a levy committee independent of TPS that will recommend what the administration should be doing.  He is also greatly concerned about an alarming trend in the enrollment numbers.  “We’re losing kids to charter schools,” says Torres.


When asked how soon will he be involved in making changes to the current school board, Torres replied, “From day one.”


Steven C. Steel, who is married to Latina activist Catherine Hernández, also was victorious and will be joining Torres as one of the three new members of Toledo’s School Board, along with Darlene Fisher.


Torres, Steel, and Fisher were all endorsed by La Prensa.

Lourdes Santiago

In races that did not net ballot-box victories but victories in Latino pride, Lourdes Santiago received 47.30 per cent of the vote in her unsuccessful campaign for Toledo Municipal Court judge against incumbent Lynn Schaefer—who had previously held the seat of Judge Joseph A. Flores in the Common Pleas Court of Lucas County, Juvenile Division. Santiago is a prosecuting attorney for the City of Toledo and expects to be before the voting public in the near future. One wonders how Lourdes Santiago would have fared if Mayor Jack Ford had not reneged on his commitment to endorse her candidacy for judge, come election day?


On a final Glass City note, Bob Vásquez, who came within a hair of winning a seat on Council [shy by .7 per cent), could very well find himself as a member of that august body. As the next highest vote getter, his candidacy has a lot to offer in the event of a future vacancy on Council, as is speculated by the possible removal or departure of councilwoman Betty Schultz, who was recently named as one of the Noe conduits in a pending federal indictment against Thomas Noe, for illegal contributions to the Bush-Cheney U.S. presidential campaign in 2004.

Franklin County

Incumbent Chris Rodríguez, 45, returns as Whitehall Council’s Ward 1 representative, winning 66.34 per cent to 33.66 per cent over Kelly Roule.


It should be noted that Westerville Council incumbent Anne Gonzáles outdistanced five other candidates in Council races, including councilman-mayor Michael Heyeck, garnering 22.94 per cent of the total votes.  She has been on Council since 2001, holds a B.S. degree in Industrial and Organization Psychology from Otterbein College, is married to Latino John Gonzáles, and the mother of three children. 


Jay G. Pérez received 45.01 per cent of the vote in his unsuccessful campaign against Dwayne Maynard for Franklin County Municipal Court Judge. This is not the Jay Pérez of Tejano fame, but a successful attorney in Columbus.

Bob Vásquez

All in all, tremendous accomplishments by Latinos/as—Hasta La Victoria!










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