In 2017, Richard A. Starr, a product of the King Kennedy public housing complex and the streets of Cleveland’s challenging Ward 5, looked at the city’s leadership and how he believed it was failing the people of his ward, and decided he could do a better job. So he ran for City Council against longtime incumbent Phyllis Cleveland. And he got thumped by about 16 percentage points.
This year, he is back – wiser, better-educated and just as determined, running for the council seat again, but not against Cleveland, who resigned in May for unspecified health reasons (she was hired a month later as administrative manager of governmental affairs for the Cleveland Department of Public Utilities).
Opposing Starr, 32, in the Sept. 14 nonpartisan primary will be recently appointed Ward 5 council member and community activist Delores Gray, who was hand-picked by Phyllis Cleveland to succeed her, and Dyrone Smith, a Libertarian, who ran for mayor four years ago. The two top vote-getters will face off again in the Nov. 2 general election.
Neither Gray nor Smith agreed to participate in the endorsement interview with The Plain Dealer/cleveland.com editorial board, nor to provide any background information or position statements.
But no matter, because Starr appears to be the perfect choice for the job.
He is immersed in his ward, which encompasses the Central neighborhood and parts of Midtown, Kinsman and downtown, and growing up had examples all around him of the path he didn’t want to follow. “Most of the male role models from my childhood ended up in prison,” he wrote in his candidate data sheet. “I steered clear of trouble by joining the King Kennedy Boys and Girls Club.”
That made an impact on him and changed his life, because not only did he join, but after graduating with honors from East Tech High School, where he was senior class president and MVP of the football team, he returned to the Boys & Girls Club in a leadership role, and has stayed on for 13 years. He is currently director of sports and recreation for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio, overseeing the programming and curricula for 40 sites in Cleveland, Lorain, Sandusky and Akron.
“I wanted to be able to give back to kids that look like myself, grew up in the same environment as me, and also have some struggles and challenges, that have kept them from being able to reach some of their goals,” he told the editorial board.
It was in that role that he became close to Arthur Keith, the 19-year-old who was shot and killed by a Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority police officer last November, and Anthony Hughes Jr., 15, killed less than a month later in a drive-by shooting while he was walking home from a gathering commemorating Keith at the King Kennedy Boys & Girls Club.
The deaths of those two emphasized to Starr the lack of leadership, accountability and responsibility that Starr, who says he arrived on the scene five minutes after Keith was shot, believes is missing from ward leadership.
“From a leadership standpoint, you have to be there,” Starr said. Despite requests from him and others, he said no leaders reached out to offer assistance to the family, or to provide trauma counseling for the kids who witnessed the shootings.
Following his electoral loss in 2017, Starr did a self-analysis, after which he concluded that in order to pursue a spot on council, he needed to complete his education. That he did, earning his undergraduate degree in sports and business management from Baldwin Wallace University and then, just this month, a master’s in business administration from the school.
“I have the experience, on paper and in reality,” he said. “I have dedicated my life to putting our youth on a positive path and [to] stand away clear of criminal activity. As councilman, I could do that much greater. Everyone in Ward 5 deserves the opportunity to do something much greater than where they are currently at. It takes leadership, but not just leadership – leadership with great work ethic and also that vision to see where we need to go.”
Richard A. Starr comes across as thoughtful and passionate, a man who has experienced the challenges that life in a rough part of the city threw at him, and who knows what it takes to overcome them. In short, exactly the kind of person the people of Ward 5 need to represent them on City Council. It would be a travesty if he is denied the ability to bring that passion to City Council.
Richard A. Starr is the best choice, by far, for Ward 5 voters in the Sept. 14 nonpartisan primary. Early voting begins Aug. 17.
One of the three candidates competing Sept. 14 in the Cleveland City Council Ward 5 nonpartisan primary contest — Richard A. Starr — was interviewed July 14, 2021 by the editorial board of The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com. Candidates Delores Gray, the appointed incumbent, and Dyrone Smith declined to participate. The second part of the endorsement interview is in the audio file below; the first part was cut off by audio difficulties but should be posted here shortly.
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Other resources for voters:
The League of Women Voters vote411.org voters’ guide.