“You know sometimes I tell people I’ve been a Republican mayor of a Democrat city for 28 years and they just sort of shake their heads. They can’t figure out how.”
That long and strange relationship is nearly over. By about 350 votes Tuesday, Robart lost to Cuyahoga Falls Democratic City Council President Don Walters.
Robart was targeted by unions and by Democrats. He says two campaign fliers tell what he sees the story of his loss.
One married Robart to the tea party. And, he acknowledges, he gave the critics some fodder, in giving the welcoming address four years ago to a gathering of thousands of tea partiers in his city.
Still, “I think they’re calling me the darling of the tea party was quite an exaggeration. For the most part, I don’t even hardly know those people. And I agree with a lot of the tea party items … but some I don’t . They took issue with me because we took down the dams.”
From the broad to the very specific
The second flier was specific to Cuyahoga Falls. It criticized as a boondoggle the long-delayed revitalization of an old shopping complex.
In addition, the opposition was galvanized by Robart’s embracing Senate Bill 5 two years ago. That’s the law, passed by conservative Republicans and pushed by Gov. Kasich, that would have severely curtailed most public unions. Voters forced it to a referendum and trounced it at the polls in 2011.
This week’s election had no statewide issues or candidates. But during a post-mortem Wednesday of the results, Ohio’s Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern was happily connecting the dots to incumbent Republican mayors who lost.
“In 2011, when John Kasich was looking for friends, he found them in people like Don Robart, and (Toledo’s) Mike Bell and (Montgomery County’s) Gary Leitzell and many others, and those people were firmly defeated last night, and we’ll continue to push our message through the 2014 cycle.”
Don't get ahead of the nature of politics
But Stephen Brooks, a political scientist at the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute, says Redfern may be exaggerating the point.
“Any person that has been in office for a long period of time, every time you run, it gets a little bit more difficult because it’s much easier to make people unhappy than happy.”
And he says the zigs and zags of redeveloping that shopping complex have made plenty of people unhappy.
Still, Brooks acknowledges S.B. 5 and the Tea Party association have helped the Democratic cause in Cuyahoga Falls and elsewhere.
“Once you have raised some doubts, you may look for something that is even more appealing. And certainly Democrats in the state of Ohio are longing to keep the labor issues high in voters’ minds because it was a victory for them that they can continue to run against Republicans.”
In defense of S.B. 5
The outgoing mayor parts with those Democrats – especially with Redfern. Robart still thinks S.B. 5 would have been good for Ohio.
“I don’t subscribe to his conclusion at all, but politically, obviously, it got defeated in the state of Ohio. So whether we took on too much including the police and fire, I don’t know. But I think that was a factor.”
Does he have any regrets?
“Sure, hindsight’s always 20-20, but I feel very strongly that the unions are a force that is hurting our economy.”
Democratic Chairman Redfern says those kind of arguments are what makes S.B. 5 still a force in state politics – two years after its defeat. Unions fear Republicans still plan to push the same agenda, using a different guise.
Still purple after all these years
University of Akron Brook’s says Republicans and Democrats would be wise to remember that Ohio is a truly purple state.
“What happens in small towns, especially small towns that have specific issues. It’s hard to make a statewide analysis. But it certainly is correct that it is difficult to run – I think especially here in Northeast Ohio – on a radical perspective at one direction or the other.”
And after 28 years in office, Robart sits back and inventories the projects he’s proud of – the kinds of things mayors in small and mid-sized cities all over the country like to list: A hotel, waterworks park, a natatorium, a standout recycling program, energy investments, and now the restart of the long-stalled shopping complex