Q&A: Shontel Brown On The Race For Ohio's 11th Congressional District

A portrait of Cuyahoga County Councilmember Shontel Brown, candidate for Ohio's 11th Congressional District, wearing a white shirt, a dark suit jacket and with her braided hair pulled up in a bun.
Shontel Brown, a Cuyahoga County council member for District 9 and the chairwoman of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, is running in the Aug. 3 special Democratic primary for the Ohio 11th Congressional District. [Shontel Brown For Congress]
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The special primary election to fill the vacant seat for Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, in Northeast Ohio, is Aug. 3. The district is reliably Democratic, the seat held for years by Marcia Fudge, and there are 13 candidates on the Democratic ballot. But the attention, energy and campaign contributions have coalesced around just two: former state Sen. Nina Turner (OH-25) and Cuyahoga County councilmember and county Democratic Party leader Shontel Brown.

Brown joined Ideastream Public Media’s “Morning Edition” host Amy Eddings at the Idea Center to outline her vision for the district, her thoughts on the negative tone dominating the airwaves during the campaign and whether the race is a proxy for the future of the Democratic Party; Amy’s conversation with Turner aired July 29.

I’ll start with the same question I gave Sen. Turner: Of all the issues facing Ohio’s 11th District, which includes Cleveland and Akron, what is the top concern for district residents?

So, the broad answer is recovering from this pandemic, right? And, in short order, I would say the priorities I see as it relates to recovering from the pandemic are health care, jobs and justice. And then finally, one that has been bubbling up very, very much in our news and conversations with the community is the gun violence, a safe community. And I would include that under the justice umbrella.

Alright, so I asked you for one, but you gave me your whole platform. Well done, well played.

[Laughing] Thank you!

Let’s talk about violent crime. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson joined other members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in asking for more federal help, including uniform background checks, which you support. Where do you stand on policing, and more resources for law enforcement?

I am one that supports providing more resources and support for law enforcement. One of the things I wanted to do and have been working on, on the local level – and I think this is still a topic of conversation at Congress – is an act called CAHOOTS, which stands for Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets.

What that does is, it provides a fourth option so instead of just police, fire and ambulance, you would get crisis intervention. And so, where there is a situation where we know there is no huge potential for violence, no weapons involved, we could use that fourth option and we would streamline those services so we wouldn’t necessarily be taking money away from the police. We would be taking money that’s already being funded for those services and streamlining them. And as it relates to the investment to police officers, I think we certainly need to invest in training, racial implicit bias training and cultural competency training.

A signature issue for progressive Democrats, including your opponent, Nina Turner, is “Medicare for All.” You say you’d vote for it if it came to the House floor, but you’d prefer to work with the Biden administration on a public option under the Affordable Care Act.  Can you have it both ways?

No, I wouldn’t say that. I think that what we’re dealing with is, you’ve got to recognize who’s at the table and what you can get done, right? With President Biden, I think we have a better, more immediate effect if we take the public option. That would get us closer to where we’d all like to be. The all-or-nothing approach usually gets you nothing.

But what about progressives’ point that now is the time to really push through big, Democratic agenda items because there’s the control of the White House, the House and the Senate?

So, I believe a bipartisan approach is important for sustainability, right? We won’t always have the majority. And so we just don’t want to put ourselves in the position where we’re just going back and forth and reversing. We’re making one step forward and only to take two steps back.

There’s a nasty ad war going on between your campaign and Turner’s. Your very first campaign ad in May was critical of her. Why’d you choose to go this route so early?

You know what, it was simply a contrast. I said, my exact words [were], “that’s different than Nina Turner.” And that’s true. We are different.

I would not have to go into the halls of Congress with a long letter of apology for anything that I’ve said to attack or insult anyone in Congress or the White House, for that matter. But, I also like to point out after that, something about that didn’t necessarily sit quite well with me because I wanted to be able to highlight the fact that I have a lot of accomplishments under my belt. So, from that point forward, I think you will have noticed that there was nothing but positive, nothing but Shontel Brown-focused campaign from my campaign, where you hear Shontel Brown say, “And I approve this message.”

Right, and the other ads that you’re referring to are from the Democratic Majority For Israel Super PAC. They’ve got a negative campaign [ad] against Nina Turner running. Do you think this threatens to drown out your policy positions?

I should hope not. I think that when you look at TV ads, they are one of the ways to communicate to your electorate. But the best way is delivering results, which I have been doing, again, for nine consecutive years.

On county council, you voted to award a total of $17 million dollars in county contracts to a general contracting company, Perk, a company that has deep familial and business ties to your partner, Mark Perkins. Why didn’t you recuse yourself from those votes?

Well, let me be abundantly clear. That contract that you’re referencing and my fiancé are not in any way shape or form are related. So the allegations around that are misleading and untrue. My partner, my fiancé, has no ownership in that company. So, to insinuate that I’ve done something inappropriate or that was illegal or that I should have recused myself is inappropriate and not a valid point.

It is unfortunate that the desperation from that campaign is alleging such egregious, offensive – because no one member has any undue influence. The process in which contracts are awarded at the county go through so many steps that, again, pointing to me as a person that had the sole power or control to be able to do such a thing is just wrong, is just false.

This campaign is being seen by the national media as a referendum on the future of the Democratic Party – progressive, or mainstream. Do you see it that way?

What I can tell you is this: When constituents call me and they want to know, where can I get rental assistance? When is the next food bank happening? How do I get my hands on a PPP loan? They never ask me, “Oh, by the way, are you a progressive or are you a moderate?” They’re just happy that they have a public servant willing to work on their behalf. 

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