Plain Dealer Endorses Nina Turner Over Shontel Brown for Congress After Testy Interview

click to enlarge COURTESY SEN. NINA TURNER
Courtesy Sen. Nina Turner

The editorial board of cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer has once again endorsed former Cleveland City Councilwoman and State Senator Nina Turner in the 11th district congressional race. In the May primary, Turner will face Shontel Brown, the former County Councilwoman and current chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party who defeated her in the 2021 special election and is now the incumbent in the seat formerly held by Marcia Fudge.

Arguing that Turner would be a "fighter" in Washington and would govern in the tradition of former Congressman Louis Stokes, the editorial board said Turner had "the passion, experience, toughness and out-of-the-box thinking to give Cleveland a powerful, socially committed and independent congressional voice."

The decision looks to have been made by the director of the editorial page, Elizabeth Sullivan, and edit board members Thomas Suddes and Mary Cay Doherty. Suddes largely moderated the endorsement interview, the audio of which is available in full at the end of the PD story

The hour-plus exchange allowed both candidates to make their case to voters. They described themselves in much the same way their campaign literature did in 2021. Shontel Brown sees herself as a cooperator, someone who can work with anyone, including those with whom she disagrees, to deliver results for constituents. Turner sees herself as a fighter, someone who's willing to go to bat for residents and the issues they care about, even if it means putting her career at risk or speaking out of turn. She stressed that while much could be accomplished in the halls of congress, there was equal power and potential in the streets. She argued that public pressure was often the most effective way to achieve change. 

Both candidates agreed in broad strokes on the importance of voting rights, the urgency of providing resources for reproductive healthcare in an era when abortion rights are increasingly threatened, of taxing the wealthy and increasing employment to shore up social security, and of providing aid to Ukraine while pursuing diplomatic solutions instead of escalating a global conflict with Russia.

The vocal disagreement, which arrived later in the interview, largely concerned Shontel Brown's decision to remain in her position as Chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party through the last election and the current one. Brown maintained that there was no conflict of interest, especially because the party had not endorsed in the race. She said that last year, it would have been premature to resign before she knew if she would win the congressional seat and that while she plans to relinquish the chairmanship later this year — she will not seek another term — she did not want to neglect her responsibilities or short-change her party electors by vacating the post early.

Turner rejoined that regardless of how Brown felt, there was an appearance of impropriety. Turner said Brown had enjoyed an unfair advantage and that candidates across Ohio were suffering because the chair of the Democratic Party in Cuyahoga County — the state's most important Democratic stronghold — was only able to provide a fraction of her time and attention to the crucial tasks of voter outreach and mobilization.

The disagreement spiraled into accusations about campaign finance and comportment during the bitter, expensive 2021 special election.

The Plain Dealer granted that Brown was "congenial and pleasant," though prone to scripted talking points, and said that she had conducted herself "reasonably well" during her first few months in office. The edit board agreed with Turner, though, that Brown should have stepped down from her leadership position in the county party. 

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