Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Thursday, August 3

Ohio House 18th: Celebrezze (D) Continues Family Tradition in Challenge to Patton (R)

Last Friday afternoon I caught up with 18th Ohio House District candidate John M. Celebrezze at the Phoenix Coffee House at Superior and 21st in downtown Cleveland. Celebrezze defeated former Congressman and state legislator Ron Mottl (D), the "Father of the Ohio Lottery," in the primary. I've been wanting to meet Celebrezze because I have heard that he won that primary basically by out-working his opponent.

Very soon after we sat down, Celebrezze pulled out his wallet and showed me a small campaign button that he carries around every day. It is blue text on yellow and says simply "Celebrezze for Mayor." The button refers to his uncle, Anthony J. Celebrezze, the five-term Mayor of Cleveland who later served as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and then as a federal appellate judge in Cleveland. "I can't tell you how proud I am to be Uncle Tony's nephew," Celebrezze told me, and the power of his uncle's example became dramatically clear as we talked. Celebrezze's campaign shirt (which he wore to our meeting), his flyer, and his campaign web site all bear the blue-on-yellow color scheme of the campaign button, as a tribute to his uncle.

Celebrezze has been surrounded by politics all his life, thanks to his uncle and other Celebrezze relatives who were elected to judicial posts (including Ohio Chief Justice Frank Celebrezze). In addition, his cousin Anthony J. Celebrezze Jr was Secretary of State and Attorney General and ran for Governor in 1990. Although this is his first time seeking public office for himself, he has run campaigns for others many times, most recently the judicial campaign of Steve Bailey (D-Medina) for Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas.

As a youngster Celebrezze enjoyed hearing his Uncle Tony's stories about JFK and LBJ. (For example, he relates, his uncle said that Kennedy interrupted a conversation by saying "Tony, I've got to go -- I'll see you when I get back from Dallas," and of course did not return alive.) However, Celebrezze's father Sal was a union carpenter, and his parents owned a farm in Richfield, Ohio. Celebrezze earned his way through Bowling Green State University, where he received a bachelor's degree in education, by working at Richfield Trailer Sales. He then pursued a successful thirty year career in public education, first as a teacher and later as a vice principal, principal, and school district business manager, during which he obtained advanced degrees in education from Bowling Green and the University of Toledo. He began his career and retired in the Findlay City School District, although in between he was also a principal in the Van Buren Local Schools and taught part-time at the University of Findlay. His wife Nancy also taught in public schools for 33 years. Celebrezze, now 58, recently fulfilled a promise to his Uncle Tony by obtaining a law degree, and he works as a legal assistant at the Medina law firm of Marco, Marco & Bailey.

After retiring from the field of education, Celebrezze moved to Medina to take care of his aging parents, his two siblings being deceased. "I've had a good life," Celebrezze told me, "but the best work I ever did in my life was to come home and take care of my parents." His father, living mostly on social security, was in assisted living for three years. Celebrezze told me that during this time he really appreciated Uncle Tony's work in fighting for Medicare. Also during this period,Celebrezze learned about the high cost of medications for seniors, as his father's prescriptions soared to as much as $700 per month. Asked about the new Part D prescription coverage, Celebrezze scowled and said he is "not particularly impressed" with it, because it is "quite complicated" and "people continue to be disillusioned by it." He is particularly thankful to senatorial candidate Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Avon), who visited his father at the assisted living facility and arranged a bus trip to Canada to buy less expensive drugs. Brown met the bus before it departed Medina at 7:00 am, and Celebrezze rode the bus in order to save his father hundreds of dollars on medications.

As a certified school superintendent working in the public schools, Celebrezze has followed the Ohio school funding crisis closely from the very beginning. The boards of education under which he served belonged to the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, founded by William Phillis, which brought the DeRolph school funding case. Celebrezze later traveled with gubernatorial candidate Tim Hagan (D-Cleveland) in his 2002 campaign as an advisor on the school funding issue. Celebrezze remembers that his favorite education professor at Bowling Green State University told the class many years ago: "On your watch, Ohio will come up with a better way to fund schools." Celebrezze points out that his "watch" as a school official ended in the year 2000, and still no solution has been reached by the legislature. Since the Ohio Supreme Court gave up jurisdiction of the case (after ruling on it four times), he says, "there has been no will to solve the problem."

When I asked him how the problem can be solved, Celebrezze framed his answer as "the ABCs of school funding." "A" is for Adequacy, because the Ohio General Assembly must determine the specific meaning of the Ohio constitution's guarantee of an adequate education for all students. The "B" is for Budget, meaning that the legislature must deal with developing an education budget that allocates sufficient funds to provide adequate education, not engage in the "residual budgeting" (i.e., the schools get whatever is left after everything else is paid for) that occurs today. "C" is for Cost, because in order to create a budget for adequate education the state must determine the actual cost of educating a student. This "is doable," but the commission appointed by Governor Taft to study the problem did not do it. At this point Celebrezze and I engaged in an extended discussion of property taxes as an element of school funding, and the reasons why school districts are compelled to repeatedly seek property tax levies, which was fascinating but too complex to recite in detail here.

Turning to his campaign, Celebrezze told me that he regards the 18th as a swing district. Although incumbent Rep. Tom Patton (R-Strongsville) has been in office for two terms, his victory over incumbent Rep. Susan Adams (D) in 2002 was very close (53.4% to 46.6%), and the district was previously represented by Erin Sullivan Lally (D). Knocking on doors, which he does nearly every day, Celebrezze finds that "health care is a real big concern," as is paying for schools and keeping jobs in the district. "Democrats stand for the idea that we've got to take care of each other," Celebrezze says, relating the idea to the way that he took care of his father. Celebrezze is "a team player" with Ted Strickland on his Turnaround Ohio plan.

According to Celebrezze, "Patton's Achilles heel is his record." Patton was a Democrat who switched parties "after meeting up with Larry Householder." Having run in 2002 as "the only Republican who is a union member," Patton immediately voted the Republican line, including anti-labor votes like excluding employees of a particular unit of state government from collective bargaining and rejecting increases to the minimum wage. "Tom should be accountable to his record," Celebrezze says. As for himself, Celebrezze hopes to earn the kind of reputation that his Uncle Tony has:
If I'm elected and go to Columbus, I hope that when I'm done people say of me what they say of my uncle: "Yeah, he did some very good things." That's my code of professional responsibility.
John Celebrezze has been endorsed by the Ohio Federation of Teachers, the Cleveland Teachers Union, the UAW CAP Council for Cuyahoga and Medina Counties, and AFSCME-OAPSSE, AFL-CIO. Upcoming fundraisers include an event hosted by his cousin's son Anthony J. Celebrezze III on August 17 from 5:30 to 7:30 at Club 185 in Columbus, another to be hosted by County Commissioner Tim Hagan (D-Cleveland) on September 14 at a time and place to be announced, and one hosted by County Prosecutor Bill Mason, Parma Mayor Dean DePiero, and Ray Wohl on October 5 from 5:30 to 7:30 at Tony K's in Berea.


At 8:53 PM, Blogger redhorse said...

I think Celebrezze is right, the 18th could swing, particularly if he's putting in the effort to reach voters everyday.

Nice piece, yds.

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