By Ed Runyan
Democrats Bob Dean and Jim Graham have different visions for what the president of Warren City Council is supposed to do.
Dean, the incumbent, said that during his 18 months in the job, he has succeeded in restoring order to council meetings by getting them started on time and by refusing to use the gavel to quiet people down.
He also has used his name recognition in the community to organize an annual coat drive for kids, raise money for funeral expenses after several tragedies and serves on the county land bank to help eradicate blight.
Graham, former president of Local 1112 of the United Auto Workers union at GM Lordstown, said one of the most important roles for council president is to work as a “conduit” between the 10-member city council and the mayor.
The council president doesn’t have a vote unless its needed to break a tie. He makes committee assignments and runs the twice-monthly council meetings.
But Graham said his desire to see the city improve, his knowledge of the community and his leadership skills could help the city progress.
Graham, who lost in his bid to be the Democratic nominee for Warren mayor in spring 2011, will be trying to defeat Dean in the May 7 primary. The mayor’s race was Graham’s first run at political office.
Dean, who was an at-large councilman from 2004 to 2011, served 20 years in the military and later worked for the mayor of Houston as director of citizens assistance and as contract-compliance officer with the Cleveland Port Authority while it was building the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Dean said he’s “better than a bridge” between council and Mayor Doug Franklin’s administration because he was “the first one to endorse” Franklin for mayor, saying there is “absolute trust” between him and Franklin.
“They need leadership on council ... to open the lines of communication and respect,” Graham said, adding that he’s known Franklin 30 years and that he ran his race against Franklin’s predecessor, Michael O’Brien — not against Franklin.
“Doug is a nice guy. I think if you put the right resources around Doug, you can get things done,” Graham said.
Dean said Franklin has been working quietly on a “major project” that he probably will allow the Western Reserve Port Authority to announce instead of him because of his humble personality.
Graham, who vowed not to run for office again after losing to Franklin, said one reason he changed his mind is that a large number of council members “asked me to run.”
Graham referred questions about that to the council members themselves but claimed eight of 10 council members back him in this election.
Dean disputes the number but said he made himself unpopular with other council members by asking for the resignation of council member Cheryl Saffold last summer, after Saffold was cited for driving 50 mph in a 25 mph zone and asking the officer for a “council courtesy.”
Dean showed The Vindicator a Feb. 6, 2013, advertisement he bought in a local newspaper apologizing to council for “any and all transgressions, letters or words that were improper and or inappropriate.”
Dean said he took out the ad to apologize for “the atmosphere” the resignation request caused, not for the statements he made.
Saffold later was convicted of having obstructed license plates, but speeding and use of illegal plates were dismissed in Warren Municipal Court.
Dean said he thinks members of council who don’t like him will accept him as council president if he wins, and he thinks there will be some turnover as well.
Dean said advocating for poor children in Warren and helping families in tragedy is something “I get to do” because of his position on council, but Graham said fundraising should be left up to the churches.
Graham said as council president, he would spend his time trying to create a sense of teamwork among council members, saying it was his ability to draw people together that helped GM Lordstown return from the brink of closure.
Graham said he understands that business will return to Warren if city officials focus on improving the schools and safety.
“If we can improve on those, there is no doubt in my mind we can bring jobs into the city and the area.”
A well-known community block-watch leader, Larry Larson, is running to replace Fiore Dippolito as 1st Ward councilman. Dippolito did not seek re-election. The two other candidates are Felicia Davis and Clyde Wilson. In the 6th Ward, Saffold is challenged by Erica Royster. All other incumbent council members face no opposition.