CLEVELAND — In four days, voters in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District will decide between the two top Democratic candidates for who to send to the general election in November.
The race to fill the seat vacated by Marsha Fudge, who was nominated as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Joe Biden, has been both contentious and expensive with two of the top candidates, Nina Turner and Shontel Brown, frequently trading barbs.
With both campaigns ready for this weekend’s final push, both candidates sat down with News 5 for wide-ranging interviews that covered topics including access to broadband internet, gun violence in Northeast Ohio and the state of political discourse nationwide. Both Brown and Turner agreed to 15 minute interviews on Thursday at their respective campaign offices. Exhausted but still enthusiastic, both candidates are preparing to welcome in out-of-district and out-of-state visitors this weekend.
Brown, who is a Cuyahoga County Councilwoman and chairwoman of the county’s Democratic Party, will welcome Rep. James Clyburn, the highest ranking Black member of the house, Rep. Joyce Beatty, and other prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus for "get out the vote" efforts this weekend.
On the other hand, Turner, a former Ohio state senator, will also welcome some power players to Northeast Ohio, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and political and social activist, Dr. Cornel West.
The race between Turner and Brown, which has grown tighter in recent weeks, has often been cantankerous and described as a race between the Democratic Party’s moderate establishment wing (Brown) versus its more progressive wing (Turner). However, both candidates share some of the same broad priorities, including creating job opportunities for some of Northeast Ohio’s most economically distressed neighborhoods as well as curbing gun violence.
“It’s no secret that Cleveland has struggled, ranking as one of the poorest big cities in the nation. I’m excited that we have an administration that is looking at things through a lens of equity, equality and inclusion and trillions of dollars in investment,” Brown said. “We’re talking about once-in-a-lifetime investments to reverse decades of discrimination and deterioration as it relates to our infrastructure.”
Turner, who also secured the endorsement of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, and a slew of local and state representatives, said gun violence in particular will require a multi-pronged approach that branches off one of the key drivers of gun violence: poverty.
“We’ve got to deal with poverty. We’ve got to get illegal guns off the street,” Turner said. “We’ve got to close gun show loopholes. This is bigger than just that. It really is what can we do to lift communities. I very much want to be part of that.”
Both candidates agree that improving the nation’s woeful access to broadband internet is also a pressing concern moving forward. The COVID-19 pandemic, which in a matter of days sent tens of thousands of students and teachers across the state into remote learning — regardless if the child had consistent access to the internet at home or not. Recent census data has found that Cleveland is the worst-connected major city in the country with mind-bogglingly large swaths of the city’s neighborhoods — particularly those on the east side — with limited or no broadband access. Turner and Brown both agreed that the federal government should be playing a more active role in ending the digital divide.
“It does have a role and the role is to give more money and in the infrastructure bill, there is money there. We have to do it a deep way — infrastructure wise,” Turner said. “The need for broadband is real and we’ve got to make the investments and I see the federal government and the state and local governments working together. Broadband is a utility in the 21st century. You have to have it. It is not a luxury. Businesses cannot function. Our children cannot go to school. Nothing can happen really if you do not have broadband.”
Brown said she witnessed how deep the digital divide goes in the early days of the pandemic, pointing to her acquisition of 5,000 WiFi hotspots for students learning remotely.“I understand that this is a serious need and it’s one that will really create equal opportunity and one that will create and level the playing field when it comes to access. We definitely have a key role to play at the federal level,” Brown said. “Things that have been happening for decades have now been exposed. The good news is that we have people that are actually recognizing these things and they are in a position to make the investments to reverse the discrimination and deterioration that we have been experiencing for decades in the past.”
Brown has also secured a number of key endorsements, including former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, and the mayors of several cities that make up the 11th Congressional district. Brown has also boasted the endorsement of Marcia Fudge’s mother, who said in a recent advertisement that Brown, “shares Marcia’s values and will continue her legacy in Congress.”
The district both women are vying for is one of the more socioeconomically diverse districts in Ohio. It includes portions of Cleveland’s east side, East Cleveland and parts of Akron that have generational poverty while also including portions of the Cleveland metro area’s more affluent suburbs. Brown said these wide ranging demographics are nothing new to her; her county council district contains many of the same areas.
“I’ve had the good fortune of representing a diverse district in my current elected capacity, being the only candidate with any legislative experience, especially during some of the most turbulent and troublesome times in our nation’s recent history,” Brown said. “When you’re looking at someone who can walk in the doors of Congress on day one, I’m best prepared and best positioned to do that.”
Through her experience as a state senator and a prominent supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns that criss-crossed America, Turner said her experience in working with people of all kinds of ideologies, and priorities, including Republicans, will serve her and the 11th District well.“I can and I have worked [with Republicans]. I’m proud of the work that Gov. John Kasich and I have done [on police reform],” Turner said. “I look forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration. I do, however, have the courage to ask for more.”
Despite agreeing on the importance of a number of issues that they aim to address while in Congress, Turner’s viewpoints, especially those on Medicare for All and student loan forgiveness, definitively mirror those of the Democratic Party’s more progressive wing. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stumped for Turner last weekend. However, both Brown and Turner emphatically insisted that this special election should not be viewed through the lens of moderate versus progressive.
“Healthcare comes up a lot. Jobs, underemployment come up a lot. Safety comes up a lot. Nobody sits down or comes up to the door saying, ‘oh you’re that progressive woman running?'” Turner said.
“I’m running on my record. I’m running on the issues,” Brown said. “When someone calls me for food bank information, rental assistance or PPP loans, they never end the call with, “oh, by the way, are you a progressive or a moderate?"”