Let's see: At the end of 2009, sweeping county government restructuring was just getting underway; the federal corruption probe that greased the skids for that reform was generating rumors but no big-ticket indictments; the medical-mart proposal was being rewritten by the folks who have the most to gain from it; and all of Northeast Ohio continued to struggle, like few other places in the nation, under the weight of the ongoing foreclosure crisis and rising unemployment. Oh, and the most troubled city in the region ousted its mayor, who became the butt of jokes on late-night talk shows for the bawdy photos of him that leaked shortly before the election.
So 2010 is almost certain to be a tumultuous and historic year for local politics. Here are some people to watch.
Lakewood Councilwoman Nickie Antonio
Lakewood's rainbow politician looks to ride a formidable wave of LGBT support into the Ohio house district 13 seat, where she would become Ohio's first openly gay legislator. Antonio is a former educator, nonprofit administrator and recent past chair of the Cuyahoga Democratic Women's Caucus. She won a council at-large seat in 2005.
Cleveland City Councilman Anthony Brancatelli
The modest, approachable Brancatelli — whose Ward 12 includes Slavic Village — has earned a reputation as the voice of Cleveland's massive housing crisis. His ideas for regenerating neighborhoods, coupled with hands-on experience in dealing with the nuances of vacant and abandoned homes, make Brancatelli an asset.
There doesn't seem to be a public office FitzGerald doesn't want. A Lakewood councilman for three terms, FitzGerald lost a 2002 primary for Ohio House District 13. He won the mayor's seat in 2007 and lobbied hard for the county auditor's spot as the vultures circled Frank Russo. Now he's the first person to announce a run for county executive.
The daughter of former State Rep. Annie Key, Howse got her chance on Cleveland city council for two months in 2008 (as an appointed successor to Fannie Lewis) but couldn't win the Ward 7 seat in an election. However, Howse remains a visible leader as a city planner with the Opportunity Corridor transportation project and her nonprofit girl empowerment group Footprints.
Cleveland Councilman Jeffrey Johnson
Johnson's got the dynamic personality and hard-won experience to have a serious impact now that he's made a triumphant return to politics as Ward 8 councilman. Johnson was a Cleveland councilman and state senator before his well-chronicled incarceration following his conviction in 1998 on corruption charges. We're not expecting meekness from the man who once had the vanity plates "Sen JJ" on his ride and an eye on Congress.
East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton
A former executive assistant to County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones and East Cleveland council president, Norton just took the reins to a city notorious for extreme poverty, corruption, dysfunction and whatever you want to label the pre-election leaking of photos of outgoing mayor Eric Brewer dressed in women's underwear. If Norton can negotiate that environment and make some headway against the staggering challenges his city faces, the door to bigger things could open for him.
Currently executive director of University Circle Inc., the affable Ronayne is known for his days in Jane Campbell's administration, where he wore several important hats. Now he's considered a possible county executive candidate. While the jump from the nonprofit UCI to the top county spot would be huge, Roynane is well-regarded: Chicago Mayor Richard Daley even reached out to Ronayne for a possible cabinet position in the Windy City.
Cleveland Municipal Judge Michael J. Ryan
Ryan's back story is a weeper: He overcame the adversities of growing up in a drug-torn household to go to law school and become a Cleveland magistrate in his late 20s. Ryan lost a 2004 Democratic primary for a county judge spot and pulled out of a bid for Congress in the wake of Stephanie Tubbs-Jones' death following a riveting speech to county Democratic slatemakers that ended with him saying he didn't think it was his time yet. Given the obstacles he's overcome to achieve what he has, he could be a bright light for years to come.
This Kansas native has been raising eyebrows for her energy and activism in Democratic circles. Shuckahosee worked for the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns, earning a reputation as a knowledgeable organizer. Recently, she was a convener for the county party reform group Cuyahoga Democrats for Principled Government and is spearheading efforts to bring new blood to local party politics. She's currently executive assistant to Cleveland council president Martin Sweeney. Not an obnoxious self-promoter, she's showing promise as a young voice.
You could argue that Sutton, of Copley Township near Akron, has already arrived. As president of the freshman class of Democrats elected in 2006, she was a visible leader in Washington, D.C. from the time she took her oath of office in January 2007 to fill the seat vacated by Sherrod Brown when he ran for the Senate. As progressive as Brown, Sutton authored the ballyhooed (and successful) "Cash for Clunkers" bill and has been an advocate for the now-vanished dream of a public option for the U.S. health-care system.
Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge Joan Synenberg
The friendly, engaging Synenberg is an anomaly: a Republican Cuyahoga County judge who has described herself as a "social liberal." She's well liked by a broad base and visible in the community for her involvement in issues ranging from HIV/AIDS to animal cruelty. And she showed Bill Mason earlier this year that she will not be pushed around after the prosecutor tried to have her tossed from the controversial Joe D'Ambrosio case, scoring mucho points in our book.
Curtis L. Thompson II
President of the Cuyahoga County Young Democrats, Thompson made an unsuccessful attempt at Mike Polensek's Ward 11 seat last fall. Despite that understandably failed effort to unseat one of the city's most established politicians, Thompson — a Collinwood native and a former web developer for the city of East Cleveland — possesses the drive and enthusiasm of a future leader.
Pepper Pike Councilwoman Jill Miller Zimon
The prolific writer behind political blog Write Likes She Talks has a chance to back up her punditry as an officeholder. We don't think she'll have too many problems. Zimon has long been an advocate for more women in public office and put her money where her mouth is by running for her local city council last year. We like her ideas for more Internet-friendly government and communication with voters through the web. She's already launched a new blog (jillmillerzimon.blogspot.com) to share her thoughts on civic involvement and her role as a council member.