In eight of the past nine years, the Colavecchio name has appeared on a Summit County ballot.
Diana or her husband Paul Colavecchio have run for state representative (three times), Summit County Council (once) and Cuyahoga Falls council (four times), with Diana winning and then retaining a city council seat.
For the first time, both Colavecchios will be campaigning at the same time, with Diana trying to hold the Stow Municipal Court clerk’s post she recently filled and Paul trying for his first win by retaining his wife’s former Falls council seat.
When Democratic party leaders chose him earlier this month to fill the remainder of her term, it marked the most recent in a long line of relatives assuming another’s political post. The practice can have political benefits, but it also invites criticism for preventing “new blood” from entering politics.
Other recent examples include:
• Margo Sommerville was appointed to her father’s Akron City Council seat in January after Marco Sommerville became the city’s planning director.
• Marilyn Slaby, R-Akron, was chosen last year to fill her husband, Lynn’s, state representative position after he was chosen to join the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO).
• Christina Hagan, R-Alliance, was picked in March 2011 for the state representative seat her father, John, held for several years until 2008. She replaced Todd Snitchler, a Lake Township Republican, who had stepped down to accept the job as chairman of the PUCO. At the time, Christina Hagan was 22 and was finishing her college degree.
• Marilyn Keith was elected in 2011 to the Akron council seat her husband, Bob, once held. The council didn’t appoint Keith to the seat, instead picking Phil Montgomery as a place holder. Keith won the seat that November in a competitive race.
Voters opted to keep Slaby and Hagan in the seats they were appointed to fill. Margo Sommerville, like the Colavecchios, will run to defend her Ward 3 council seat this year.
Steve Brooks, associate director of the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, pointed to several reasons for relatives assuming open posts. He said politics can become a family business, with children who grew up watching their parents and deciding to follow in their footsteps. The same can happen with spouses — they become accustomed to political life and decide to jump into the fray.
“In some senses, it is logical that family continue” the legacy, Brooks said.
He said another factor is name recognition, which is vital in local races that might not generate much media coverage.
“If you go in and have no idea who to choose from, you can say, ‘Here’s a name I recognize,’ ” he said. “The people running candidates know that. They try to use it as much as possible.”
Not everyone looks favorably on the appointment of relatives. The Akron council’s choice of Sommerville, for example, led to criticism, including from Andrae Long, who had applied for the Ward 3 spot. He called it a foregone conclusion that Sommerville would be picked.
“What troubles me is that you made a mockery out of democracy,” Long, who plans to run for the seat, told the council after the appointment.
Local party leaders say they have to consider the pros and cons when deciding whether to appoint a relative to a political seat.
“I think you always have to weigh that,” said Wayne Jones, the Summit County Democratic Party chairman. “The reality is, in the Democratic Party, the positives outweigh the negatives.”
Jones said Paul Colavecchio was an attractive choice to replace his wife because he ran a good race for state representative last year. He said Paul also understands “the job because of his wife.”
Jones called name identification “extremely important.”
County GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff, who doesn’t often see eye to eye with Jones, agreed about the importance of name recognition.
“Name ID is important,” he said. “The Kennedys were an example of that.”
Arshinkoff said appointing a relative doesn’t happen all the time.
“The planets have to align,” he said. “You try to find the very best qualified candidate who wants to campaign and work to win. If it fits, it fits. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
Arshinkoff said Republicans picked Marilyn Slaby to replace her husband because she had served in the legislature in 2004, when she was appointed to replace Bryan Williams. Interestingly, she lost her bid to keep the seat to former Akron Superintendent Brian Williams, a Democrat. (Some thought the similarity in the names tipped the election against her.)
“She wanted to serve again,” Arshinkoff said. “She was elected.”
Jones and Arshinkoff cited numerous legacy names from over the years in Akron politics: Williams, Otterman, Sykes, Callahan, McCarty, Spicer, They have held numerous offices, including councilman, judge, state representative and prosecutor.
Diana Colavecchio said she hoped her husband would want to put in for her Falls council seat when she was appointed Stow clerk, but she left the choice to him.
“He eagerly jumped on board and thought it was something he wanted to do,” she said. “With his background mirroring my background, I think together we thought it made sense and would be a good fit.”
The couple has practiced law together in the Falls for seven years, with Paul taking the reins since Diana’s clerk appointment. Paul, 56, joined the firm after retiring as an attorney for the United Auto Workers. She said Paul was a part of her life on the council, attending quarterly meetings and campaigning door to door.
“Some people might look at it and think, ‘There’s a dynasty at play here,’ ” she said. “I looked at it in terms of who could best quietly and efficiently move in without a learning curve and serve the residents.”
Diana, 53, said it isn’t a done deal that a relative will be appointed to an open seat.
“You have to campaign,” she said. “You have to show you are qualified along the way. It’s not like ‘the fix is in.’ ”
The Colavecchios have a 19-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, who so far isn’t showing an interest in politics. If she did, her mother said she would be supportive.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see her name on the ballot some day,” Diana said, laughing.
Marilyn and Lynn Slaby have four children and three grandchildren, with all of them living outside of Akron and none showing any political inclinations.
Marilyn had several careers before jumping into politics. She was a teacher and worked for the board of elections, assisting other people running for office. Before she entered the political realm herself, she helped Lynn, who served first as county prosecutor, then as an appellate court judge.
Lynn, 74, ran for the state legislature in 2010, beating Brian Williams, who had defeated Marilyn after her first appointment to the Statehouse. When Lynn was appointed to the PUCO, Marilyn said she thought she was the natural choice to replace him because she had done it before, knew the people and had been keeping up with what was happening.
“When you’re appointed, you get sworn in and you sit down and start voting,” Marilyn said. “If you don’t know any of the bills, you’re really lost.”
Asked if it’s ever inappropriate for a relative to take another’s spot, Marilyn said it depends on whether the person is qualified.
As for her own political plans, Marilyn, 73, said she hasn’t thought beyond the term she’s now serving.
“In this job, you’re so busy, you don’t have time to worry about what’s going on in the future,” she said. “You’re there for two years and you work, work, work, work ... You don’t worry about what’s coming up.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith.