Meet the six candidates who are trying to become the next Ohio Democratic Party leader

The Ohio Democratic Party will soon have a new chair. David Pepper resigned last month. Those who succeed him will lead a party that has been in the minority in the Statehouse for the past 20 years and has not won any office at the state level except for three seats on the Supreme Court in the past ten years.

There are six candidates who have run to succeed David Pepper as chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. One of them is Antoinette Wilson, who led the campaign for the new Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Brunner. Wilson, who owns a marketing firm, ran for the chair in 2014, the year Pepper was selected.

“I’ve been very, very adamant about the need for an 88 county strategy that is built from the ground up. It includes the strengths of what each county has, but more importantly, understanding where their challenges have been and figuring out how to do it differently, “says Wilson.

Craig Swartz is based in Upper Sandusky. He recently ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Senate. He says he has an economic blueprint for Ohio.

“And I feel like Ohio, especially in rural Ohio, doesn’t get our message and don’t hear what we can do for it,” says Swartz.

Meryl Neiman is the head of the Ohio Progressive Action Leaders, or OPAL. She says she would focus on the long-term work of building a voter base.

“We have to expand the electorate to win, which means a different approach than a campaign cycle, that we have to do the harder, slower job of connecting with people all year round, registering people and knocking on doors” so Neiman says.

Gary Josephson is now retired, but he ran a union that went on strike against Ohio State University two decades ago. He lost in a Democratic elementary school for the Ohio House last year.

“Ohio is like a bombed-out country that doesn’t have what it had when I was young,” says Josephson.

“Now let’s talk about what we can build, what we can do together,” added Josephson.

Vanessa Enoch has a PhD in Politics and Social Change and experience in Political Strategy. She is a two-time Congressional candidate from Butler County.

“I’m a nontraditional candidate. I’ve mostly worked outside of the system for change to improve communities across the state,” says Enoch.

Another candidate, Summit County Councilor Liz Walters, was previously the State Party Executive Director. She says she can’t do an interview on the record at this point.

Ohio House representative Thomas West (D-Canton) and 18 members of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus sent a letter to the Ohio Democratic Party urging for more diversity in its leadership, but without mentioning that they had one favored certain candidates by name.

David Niven, professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, says whoever gets the job will have their work cut for them.

“Ohio is whiter than the nation. It is older than the nation. It is less educated than the nation. This is not the formula the Democrats are good at right now, “says Niven.

The Democratic Party will elect its new leader on January 14th.

This story was updated with comments from the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus on Friday, January 8, 2021 at 2 p.m.

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