Two state senators face challengers within their parties

February 22, 2004
Cleveland Plain Dealer

Two incumbent state senators in Northeast Ohio face primary challenges on March 2, and a pair of local state representatives are facing off for a third Senate seat.

Sen. Bob Spada, a North Royalton Republican first appointed to the Senate in 1999, faces opposition from Broadview Heights Councilman Donald Sopka.

Meanwhile, appointed Sen. Kimberly Ann Zurz of Coventry Township is challengeed by former Rep. Tom Seese of Uniontown.

The third race - between Republican state Reps. Jamie Callender and Tim Grendell - went from red-hot to lukewarm this month, when it appeared GOP leaders in Columbus were going to make the contest irrelevant by appointing Callender to the Lake County Common Pleas bench.

However, the appointment had not been made last week, leaving Callender wondering - but still campaigning - less than two weeks before the primary.

He and Grendell are competing for the 18th District seat being vacated by Sen. Bob Gardner. Gardner is running for Lake County commissioner.

Sixteen even-numbered Senate seats are in play this year. Thirteen of them are controlled by the GOP. Due to term limits, five seats are without an incumbent defender.

Among those forced to depart due to term limits are both the highest-ranking Republican in the chamber, Senate President Doug White of Adams County, and the highest-ranking Democrat, Minority Leader Greg DiDonato of Dennison.

Heated primary battles are under way in both their districts.

Click on the "Read More..." link below for more.

State Reps. Tom Niehaus and Jean Schmidt are running for White's seat. Democrat Paul Schwietering will face the winner in November.

Rep. Charlie Wilson and former state Rep. Jerry Krupinski are battling it out for DiDonato's seat. Republican Lawrence Stacey II will take on the victor in the general election.

Because of White's impending departure, this year's elections will have ramifications for the next leaders of the chamber.

Ruling Republicans have already signaled their interest in having Sens. Jeff Jacobson and Randy Gardner, Republicans from Dayton and Bowling Green, respectively, serve as Nos. 1 and 2 during the next term. However, each will have to retain his seat against a Democratic challenger in November.

Spada, 56, has sponsored a number of key Republican bills during his tenure - including legislation establishing Ohio's Do Not Call registry and a package of reforms of the state's care system for people with mental retardation or developmental disabilities. Jacobson has indicated that Spada will hold a position of some influence in the next session if re-elected.

Sopka, 59, a retired teacher from Broadview Heights, calls Spada beholden to the party leaders who first appointed him - although Spada has since won re-election - and said he is better positioned to represent Cuyahoga County and all of Northeast Ohio. Sopka ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2000 against Sen. Ron Amstutz.

Sopka said he favored the concealed-weapons proposal that state lawmakers approved in January, a bill Spada voted against, and would push for tax reform if elected.

Democrat Robert Matius will face the winner of the Sopka- Spada race in November.

Zurz, 45, who spent 10 years on the Summit County Council, won her Senate appointment in August over a field of contenders that included Seese. She replaced term-limited Sen. Leigh Herington, also a Democrat.

Seese, 59, of Coventry Township, was a state representative from 1986 to 1995. He is a retired machinist and labor representative. Republican Kevin Fowler will challenge the winner of that primary in the fall.


The OFCC PAC has made endorsements in several of these contests. Please make plans to vote on March 2.

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