More Than 20 Local Orgs Call on Budish to Withdraw Wondolowski Appointment to Port Authority Board

click to enlarge David J. Wondolowski - Port of Cleveland
Port of Cleveland
David J. Wondolowski

More than 20 local organizations have called on Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish to withdraw the appointment of Dave Wondolowski to the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority Board of Directors.

In a letter to Budish delivered early Friday morning and copied to members of Cuyahoga County Council, as  well as the media, the organizations argued that Wondolowski's rhetoric on the 2021 mayoral campaign trail, and his work behind the scenes of the Kevin Kelley campaign to design a mailer that darkened Justin Bibb's skin and presented a timeline of his supposed criminal history, made him unfit for the position. The Port board oversees operations in the Cleveland Harbor and supports major infrastructure and economic development projects through its financing arm.

"Just as elections have consequences, so should rhetoric which misleads and inflames – especially when the speaker is also in a position of immense responsibility," the letter read.  "To call Mr. Wondolowski’s statements destructive understates the damage that such rhetoric causes when not addressed, or worse yet, rewarded. It is especially confounding that you would appoint such a divisive figure to the board of the Port of Cleveland after a mayor who received a massive mandate from Cleveland voters declined to do so."

Wondolowski had been the Vice Chair of the Port's board until his term expired at the end of January. At that time, Mayor Bibb made clear that he would not re-appoint him. Wondolowski had understood the writing to be on the wall, given his support for Kelley.

In Wondolowski's place, Bibb tapped Dan O'Malley, the Executive Secretary of the North Shore AFL-CIO, an appointment that maintained a representative for organized labor on the board. (O'Malley was also the President of Lakewood City Council and resigned that post to avoid a conflict of interest. According to the Port's bylaws, no board member may hold public office.) 

But last week, Budish sent a letter to County Council President Pernel Jones nominating Wondolowski for a seat currently occupied by local attorney Jan Roller, who has served on the Port's board since 2012.  Roller also happened to have been a Bibb supporter in the Cleveland mayoral race. Multiple sources told Scene this week that they suspected the appointment came at the direction of Budish's chief of staff, Bill Mason, who also worked behind the scenes of the Kelley campaign.

Though Wondolowski is a prominent member of the local Democratic Party machine—an old guard for which he, Mason and Kelley are figureheads—the organizations that signed the letter to Budish characterized his language and actions as "Trumpian."

Among the signatories were Black Lives Matter Cleveland, Cleveland VOTES, the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, the Cuyahoga County Women's Caucus, Organize Ohio, SEIU Local 1, the Young Latino Network and more than a dozen other ward and issue-based organizations.

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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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