Candidates in council and school board races across the eastern suburbs of Cuyahoga County filed the required campaign finance reports last week with one of the largest contrasts seen in the Orange Board of Education race.
Incumbent Melanie Weltman raised $2,400, incumbent Beth Wilson-Fish raised $3,600 and newcomer Meredith Bond raised $29,000 in the race where two seats are up for grabs, according to the reports.
“It’s a little amusing in a way that a couple of the candidates said they were proud of the fact that they’ve raised just $2,000 and no one has ever raised as much as me,” Dr. Bond said in a phone interview on Sunday. “We need to raise funds to perform outreach. That’s what campaigning is all about. Having the idea of raising a couple thousand dollars is complete upside-down logic.”
The two incumbents had a different view. “This is not a big fancy operation,” Ms. Weltman said. “I don’t know if I feel that [raising large sums of money is] appropriate for a school board campaign in a relatively small community.”
“It’s very humbling,” Ms. Wilson-Fish said, “to have so much support as we walk into this election, financial and hands-on.”
The Orange BOE candidates’ reports were among others submitted to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to meet the state’s Oct. 24 deadline for filing preliminary campaign finance reports for the Nov. 5 general election.
According to Rosemarie Amato of the county elections board, candidates do not have to file a campaign finance report if they raise or spend less than $1,000. In Woodmere, Nakeshia Nickerson was the only council candidate in a field of eight who filed a report that showed she raised $3,110 and spent $2,434.68.
In Orange Village, Mayor Kathy Mulcahy is running unopposed for re-election and she did not raise or spend any funds, but had an in-kind contribution of $3,878, according to the county. Brent Silver is running unopposed for a two-year unexpired term on council and did not raise or spend any funds.
According to the reports, of the five Orange council candidates running for three seats with a four-year term, Staci Adelman Vincent received $995 in monetary contributions and $3,800 in other income and spent $4,095.08. Councilman Alan Charnas self-funded his campaign at a cost of $1,607 for mailers and yard signs. Amanda Kurland self-funded her campaign with in-kind contributions of $3,799.68 for campaign handouts and mailers. Pradip Kamat had $700 in monetary contributions, $175 in other income and $120 in in-kind contributions. He spent $835.69.
In the Orange BOE race, Hunting Valley resident Dr. Bond paid $11,639 to public relations firm Melamed Communications for outreach during her campaign, according to the report. The campaign finance report noted that the firm was hired to help with the “website, mailing, yard signs, [and] consultation.”
Melamed Communications also has secured contracts in other high-profile campaigns including one from Hunting Valley Village government officials, who paid the company $15,000 between November of 2018 and July of 2019 for “communications and strategic consulting,” according to village financial records. Alan Melamed, president of Melamed Communications, explained his work with the village.
“We had some discussions about their issue last year but we weren’t involved in what went to the legislature,” he said. “I was contacted about their issue just as general [public relations] but we were not involved. They gave me some background on what their concerns were, but we wound up not doing anything with it.”
Though he would not specify, Hunting Valley was involved in trying to get school taxes reduced for village residents in the Orange City School District. That amendment to the state budget was vetoed by Gov. Mike DeWine.
Dr. Bond said that she chose Melamed Communications because her colleague, Lee Fisher, the dean of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University and former Ohio attorney general and lieutenant governor, recommended the firm to her.
Mrs. Wilson-Fish of Moreland Hills has spent $2,210.85 through Oct. 16, including $538 on postcards and $1,571 on campaign signs. Ms. Weltman of Pepper Pike has spent $4,066.09. Her campaign expenditures were not included in the Oct. 24 report because Ms. Weltman spent her own money and had not been reimbursed yet, according to her treasurer, Heidi Perla. She said that the funds were used to buy buttons, postcards, stamps and signs. Ms. Weltman also placed several ads in local newspapers.
Seeking to capture one of two available seats on the school board, Dr. Bond said that fundraising is necessary to reach out to the Orange schools community, which includes Pepper Pike, Moreland Hills, Orange Village, Hunting Valley and Woodmere and parts of Solon, Warrensville Heights and Bedford.
Her campaign finance report named 23 donors and 12 of them live in Hunting Valley, including some council members and Mayor Richard Hollington. Most contributions listed in the report were $1,000 or $2,500. Dr. Bond emphasized that she is not linked to the movement that attempted to lower school property taxes for Hunting Valley residents.
“Do people really think I’m going to be tempted to ruin my 30-year career in education?” she said. “Why, ethically, would I even contemplate that? I’m not going to be pulled in this direction, it’s totally unethical.”
She also said that every resident’s voice and opinion is of equal value, and no one gets to “skip to the front of the line.”
Mrs. Wilson-Fish received contributions of $25 to $100 from various communities, including Pepper Pike, Orange Village and Moreland Hills, according to the report. She also held an open house at the home of a retired teacher where community members had appetizers and learned about why Mrs. Wilson-Fish is running for the school board.
Ms. Weltman described her campaign as “grassroots” and said that she has also received generous contributions, many $25 to $100, from friends, family and community members. She also received contributions from throughout the Orange schools community.
Candidates must file a post-general election campaign finance report by Dec. 13 to document activity through Dec. 6.