Following Recall of East Cleveland's Ernest Smith, Council Struggles to Find Candidates to Fill His Seat

Just six people have applied. Smith said it's because residents love him

click to enlarge King campaigning for re-election in 2017. - Brandon L. King, "Mayor's Facebook Page"
Brandon L. King, "Mayor's Facebook Page"
King campaigning for re-election in 2017.

Twenty days after East Cleveland Councilman Ernest L. Smith was ousted by a 34-vote margin in a recall effort in the November 9th election, city council begins the onerous task of finding his replacement now that results have been officially certified by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.

This fall, petitions circulated around the city of 14,000 to recall both him and Mayor Brandon King.

King survived his effort by fewer than 20 votes.

Council has received just six applicants to fill Smith’s seat. It’s led Council President Nathanial Martin to extend the application deadline five days to December 1st. Martin rejects the notion that the small turnout is due to Smith’s ousting, instead pointing to what he sees as a greater issue in East Cleveland politics.

“We need to ask: Do you care about the city?” Martin said. “They need to keep controlling the ego. We need to serve people not to be on the ego trip—or a power trip.”

The effort to remove Smith from his seat included a colleague — Patricia Blochowiak  — and earlier critiques from those on council included an ethics complaint filed by Juanita Gowdy against Smith in 2021. The complaint argued that Smith used his city-issued car off work hours, and allegedly spent upwards of $9,000 on gas and maintenance.

“In essence, [Smith] has given himself a raise that is illegal,” the complaint read.

There were other issues, many of which made headlines. In 2019, he was accused of allowing underage dancers to perform at a building owned by his grassroots organization, Oppressed People Nation. The charge was never proven in court, though Smith was hit with a misdemeanor for selling liquor without a license.

In an interview, Smith told Scene that the search for his replacement is relatively in vain. He asserted a flyer-heavy recall campaign started by residents Charles Holmes and Dawn Jones—which accused Smith, among several things, of “human trafficking girls from Detroit in a council car"—was a result of political jealousy.

“We only have a few resumes because the majority of people that are involved, they want Ernest L. Smith to be their councilperson,” he said. “So a lot of people are not interested in becoming a council person. They had the council person that they wanted. They had the council person that they just elected.”

Blochowiak contends that Martin's deadline extension was prematurely done—that is, before Smith's ousting was certified. 

"The entire process by [Council President] Martin was not legitimate because it was not discussed nor voted on by Council," she said.

Blochowiak believes that the recall will have positive consequences. "I think that people with integrity are going to want to be on council with him gone," she added.

Martin, who will decide Ward 3’s leader if council can’t reach an agreement by December 30, hopes the drama of the November recall will subside so that East Clevelanders can focus on city-wide revitalization efforts. He points to the Metropark’s role in making improvements to Forest Hill Park as a symbol of the long-neglected area’s potential.

That is, if political witch hunts subside. Including supposed campaigns brewing for his own recall.

“Hey, they almost got Brandon, they got Ernest,” Martin said. “But they couldn’t get me!”

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Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
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