Pictured are East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton (wearing black suit and a light blue tie), and East Cleveland City Council President Thomas Wheeler (wearing grey suit and a patterned tie)
By Editor-in-Chief Kathy Wray Coleman, a-24-year journalist who trained at the Call and Post Newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio for 17 years, and who interviewed now President Barack Obama one-on-one when he was campaigning for president. As to the Obama interview,
CLEVELAND URBAN NEWS.COM-EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio - East Cleveland voters on Tuesday recalled two-term Black Mayor Gary A. Norton Jr. and the mayor's ally, city council president Thomas Wheeler, in a special election spurred by attempts by Norton and Wheeler to hand the Black city to neighboring Cleveland via controversial merger discussions that remain pending.
Absentee ballots could change the results of a close election with some 53 percent of them counted at press time.
Norton lost by 20 votes, 548-528, and Wheeler by 18 votes, 229-211, unofficial results of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections reveal.
Per the city charter, council vice president Brandon King will now assume the helm as mayor pending a subsequent election.
Wheeler faced recall efforts on two previous occasions, both of which he overcame.
Norton faced recall for the first time on Tuesday.
Wheeler is Black like Norton, as are the other four council persons of the 99 percent impoverished Black Cleveland suburb, a city of some 18,000 people.
Among those opposing the merger with Cleveland are some local community activists of both Cleveland and East Cleveland, outspoken East Cleveland Councilman Nate Martin, East Cleveland Councilwoman Barbara Thomas, and retired East Cleveland judge Una H.R. Kennon, now the president of the East Cleveland Board of Education and the longtime president and founder of the Black Women's Political Action Committee.
Kennon could not be reached for comment but sources say she led the effort to oust Norton and Wheeler as a seasoned Black politician.
Cleveland currently has 17 wards with roughly 25,000 constituents in each ward. A ward 18 will be added if the merger materializes and will be former East Cleveland, city officials have said.
East Cleveland Councilwoman Barbara Thomas told Cleveland Urban News.Com, Ohio's most read digital Black newspaper, that while she did not push the recall she is vehemently opposed to any merger of the chocolate city with Cleveland, also a largely Black city.
"A merger is not a good fix," said Thomas during a Cleveland Urban News.Com interview on Tuesday.
The special election was certified in September by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections after activist and resident Devin Branch, who last month was arrested and charged with allegedly assaulting Norton, submitted more than the required 600 petition signatures.
Branch, a former member of the East Cleveland Library Board, has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor assault charge, which he says is frivolous and politically motivated.
Norton, who was first elected city mayor in 2009 after defeating then mayor Eric Brewer and was re-elected in 2014, says Branch was the aggressor.
Under the East Cleveland charter, Norton and Wheeler could have resigned instead of facing a potential recall, but both refused.
Norton and Wheeler are both Democrats.
East Cleveland is nearly bankrupt, according to state auditor David Yost, a Republican.
It has a median income of $15,000 and most residents live below the poverty line.