The Ohio Democratic Party will soon have a new chair. David Pepper resigned last month. Whoever succeeds him will lead a party that has been in the minority at the Statehouse for most of the last 20 years, and in the last decade has not won a state-level office, save for three Supreme Court Justice seats.
There are six candidates who have applied to succeed David Pepper as Ohio Democratic Party chair. One is Antoinette Wilson, who ran new Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Brunner’s campaign. Wilson, who owns a marketing company, applied to be chair in 2014, the year Pepper was chosen.
“I’ve been very, very adamant on the need for an 88-county strategy that is built from the bottom up. It incorporates the strengths of what each county possesses but more importantly, understanding where their challenges have been and figuring out how to do it differently," Wilson says.
Craig Swartz is an Upper Sandusky resident. He recently ran an unsuccessful campaign for state senate. He says he has an economic blueprint for Ohio.
“And I feel like Ohio, particularly those in rural Ohio, just aren’t getting our message and hearing what we can do for them," Swartz says.
Meryl Neiman is a leader of Ohio Progressive Action Leaders or OPAL. She says she would focus on the long-term work of building a voter base.
“We need to expand the electorate in order to win which means a different approach as opposed to an election drive cycle, that we need to do the harder slower work of engaging with people year-round, registering people, knocking on doors," Neiman says.
Gary Josephson is retired now but he led a union that waged a strike against Ohio State University two decades ago. He lost in a Democratic primary for the Ohio House last year.
“Ohio is like a bombed-out country that doesn’t have what it had when I was young," Josephson says.
"Now let’s talk about what we can build, what we can do together," Josephson adds.
Vanessa Enoch has a doctorate in public policy and social change as well experience in political strategy. She is a two-time congressional candidate from Butler County.
"I am a non-traditional candidate. I’ve worked mostly outside of the system for change for the betterment of communities across the state," Enoch says.
Another candidate, Summit County Councilwoman Liz Walters, previously served as the executive director of the state party. She says she couldn’t do an on the record interview at this time.
Ohio House Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton) and 18 members of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus sent a letter to the Ohio Democratic Party, urging more diversity in its leadership but it didn't mention that it favored any particular candidate by name.
University of Cincinnati Political Science Professor David Niven says whoever gets the job will have their work cut out for them.
“Ohio is whiter than the nation. It’s older than the nation. It’s less educated than the nation. This is not the formula the Democrats are doing well with right now," Niven says.
The Democratic Party will choose its new leader on January 14th.
This story was updated with the comments from the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus on Friday, January 8, 2021 at 2 p.m.