With good reason, City Club of Cleveland CEO Dan Moulthrop opened a conversation with State Senator Sandra Williams Tuesday by asking her to explain her position on the corrupt House Bill 6, the nuclear plant bailout which is alleged to have been the crown jewel of a $60 million racketeering scheme orchestrated by FirstEnergy and former House Speaker Larry Householder.
Williams, whose City Club appearance was occasioned by her interest in a 2021 Cleveland mayoral run, is the ranking Democrat on the State Public Utilities Committee. She not only voted yes on HB6 but was one of its co-sponsors. She reaffirmed her support Tuesday, saying she backed the bill in order to save Ohio jobs and an Ohio company and to reduce energy costs.
She acknowledged the bill's deficiencies. She said she tried to ensure that energy efficiency standards would be included in the bill — instead of being rolled back, which they were, making Ohio one of the most retrograde states in the nation in terms of environmental policy — but was ultimately unsuccessful. She said she believes that right now, HB6 should be repealed and replaced.
Moulthrop wanted to know why the repeal was taking so long, (given that it was forged in corruption, and the repeal should be a no-brainer), and Williams said that there were "lots of moving parts." The state legislature simply isn't ready to vote. Many of the bill's supporters, she said, don't feel that they've done anything wrong.
For her part, Williams said that to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, she has donated the campaign contributions she received from FirstEnergy to Northeast Ohio nonprofit organizations. Williams was one of 54 state lawmakers to receive FirstEnergy cash since 2017, and received the most among Democrats in either chamber.
"If people believe that we have pay-to-play in the Ohio legislature, I want to be sure that people know and understand that that was never my intent," she said.
With respect to her mayoral ambitions, Williams said she was considering a run for one simple reason: "I want to see Cleveland be better." She said she has been actively consulting with "influencers" in the city, including those who do not live in Cleveland, to help make her decision.
Loosely outlining her policy prerogatives, Williams said she would continue the "great" work of Mayor Frank Jackson in building up downtown, developing the east side, and attracting businesses and conventions. She said that if she had been in charge for the past decade, she would have devoted more resources to cleaning up brownfields to attract development, crafting career pathways for Cleveland students who don't attend college and cultivating minority businesses.
In her early conversations, Williams said that that the "number one" concern she's heard is the culture and inefficiency at City Hall itself. She said she wants to find where the bottlenecks are in various city departments and cut red tape where necessary to ensure that people and businesses are getting the services they need as efficiently as possible.
She said that in her legislative work she has always been "hands on" and vowed to have an "open door policy" with residents. "My only job is to make City Hall work as effectively as it can," she said, "and make this city the land of opportunity that I know it can be."
Moulthrop reminded Williams that she is, for now, the only female candidate who has openly considered a mayoral run. Williams said she had no idea why that gender imbalance still persists, and lamented the fact that people still believe the challenging work of leading a big city might not be women's work. She wondered if there was even an appetite for female leadership in Cleveland.
"From this point forward, talking about my potential run, I'm going to take a page out of Kamala [Harris'] playbook," she said. "I just eat 'no' for breakfast. I'm no longer going to allow people who don't think I have the skillset to run this city deter me... Women are leading all across this country, and have been some of the most effective people through Covid-19."
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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...