Trevor Elkins, a Year After Campaign Finance Conviction, Runs for Newburgh Heights Mayor's Seat Again

He did jail time, 200 hours of community service, and sent out thousands of apology letters

click to enlarge Trevor Elkins wants his job back - Campaign video still
Campaign video still
Trevor Elkins wants his job back
A little more than a year after Trevor Elkins resigned from his post as mayor of Newburgh Heights following his guilty plea to campaign finance violations, he mailed out roughly a thousand postcard-sized apologies to residents, asking for forgiveness.

Elkins, who had served as Newburgh's mayor since 2011, was softening the waters for a comeback bid to once again lead the village, a bid which he officially announced last weekend.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Joan Synenberg last June sentenced Elkins to 30 days in jail, and fined him $3,000 with 200 hours of community service, for mixing personal funds in his campaign bank account.

"I let my wife and children down," the mailer, which was sent out last week, reads. "I let my mother down. I let my family down. I let my friends and supporters down. And I let you, the residents, down."

The question to ask, as Elkins prepares a summer of canvassing and meet-and-greets in his mayoral run, is will Newburgh Residents forgive him? With Newburgh council's "full approval," and no elected officials running against Elkins yet, it's easy to say that, for now, any residual animosity against Elkins misdeeds may not actually matter.

"Look, in politics, you're not going to be somebody's cup of tea all the time," Elkins told Scene in a phone call. "I have my naysayers and I have a population of folks here that don't like me. That's just the world, by the way, whether you're in politics or not."

As far as the early reception to his apology tour/campaign canvassing: "It's received genuinely with the intent that I give it," he said. "They've been accepting of it by and large, as far as I can tell, at least the folks I've talked to have forgiven me."

It could be the case come November that, for a village of 1,815, voters may see no one else may be more qualified.

Originally from the Finger Lakes area of upstate New York, Elkins relocated to Cleveland in the mid 1990s, then to Newburgh Heights in 1998. In 2005, two years after working on Dennis Kucinich's presidential campaign, Newburgh Mayor Paul Ruggles called Elkins, urging him to run for office. He won in a landslide. (Elkins sees it, almost two decades later, as a political ruse.)

In Elkins' ten-year career at Newburgh City Hall, he combined a neighborly image with a kind of progressive's experimentation that saw him become a player in local Democratic politics. One year, he cut city employees' work week down to 32 hours. Another, he vowed to pay off at most $50,000 of new homeowners' student loans—as long as they stayed at least 15 years. (There are just three in the program today, Elkins said.)

Come 2019, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections begun an investigation into eight years of Elkins' campaign finance management. A report to the Ohio Elections Commission, in 2021, confirmed the Board's suspicions: Elkins had used his campaign account 651 times for "personal expenditures," totaling $134,000 in transactions. A hearing later that year found that Elkins "repeatedly, improperly and admittedly violated" the law.

"To put it bluntly," Elkins told Scene. "I fucked up."

In April of 2022, Judge Synenberg sentenced him to a month in jail.

“It’s alarming and unfathomable that in 15 years as a public official that you did not understand that you don’t use campaign finance contributions as your personal bank account,” Synenberg said last June at the sentencing hearing. “This isn’t a technical, clerical error. This happened over and over until you got caught.” reported then that, as part of his plea deal, Elkins was barred from running for office, or operating a campaign account "until 2028." But according to Elkins, those conditions were dropped in substitution for jail time, his fine and a year of probation, of which Elkins served six months. (Synenberg diverged from the plea deal Elkins had agreed to with prosecutors in handing out her punishment. “I’m surprised, quite frankly, that the [prosecutors] don’t recognize the seriousness of a public official violating the public trust…You come in here splitting hairs. I think that indicates a lack of understanding of why you’re here today.”

Elkins told Scene the public didn't hear the full story. And on his website, he seems to blame the hubbub the courts created, and the ensuing media coverage, for the sour dint in his reputation.

"You deserve to know the facts instead of what was leaked to the public through the gossip circuit," Elkins wrote, "and often mistaken media reporting."

Regardless of what may end up just being a bad 2022, Elkins, who is a married father of three daughters, may end up reclaiming his post by reminding voters of his longevity in town, of his family man image.

But, Elkins says, this is not a comeback in the classic sense. At least in his point of view.

"So to me, a comeback would be, oh, I retired, and then decided you know what? Four years later or two years later or ten years later, I want to do that again," he said. "Or I got beat and said, you know what? I'm going to try this again. That's the comeback to me."

He took a breath, then added, "This is just me screwing up, then saying to the voters, 'I'd like to continue the work I was doing.'"

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About The Author

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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