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'Done Fighting This Madness,' Akron Mayor Steps Down

Akron, Ohio Mayor Donald Plusquellic in 2013.
Dave Martin
Akron, Ohio Mayor Donald Plusquellic in 2013.

Everybody says Mayor Don Plusquellic loves Akron, Ohio. It's just some of the people he can't stand, as he said in March to a packed crowd at his State of the City address.

Now Plusquellic, one of the longest-serving mayors in the country, plans to attend his last ribbon-cutting this weekend.

Soon after that, he is cutting ties with city government. Plusquellic spent decades in office in Akron — he's credited with transforming the local economy.

But he is also called bombastic and a bully, and he recently said he feared that a City Council member might kill him.

"And I will never voluntarily agree to give out an unearned windfall of hundreds of thousands of dollars to a small group of greedy individuals who because of their greed and a spiteful bitter judge have screwed up a very well run department," he said in March.

That department he referred to is the fire department.

Over the nearly three decades Plusquellic has headed this midsize city 45 minutes southeast of Cleveland, he has crossed swords with firefighters and federal judges — and battled contractors, parking lot attendants, the Republican governor, Democratic council members, apolitical bureaucrats, and reporters — especially reporters.

"They twist things around and stories around that you don't even know if they were there at the actual meeting," he once said in a tussle with WKYC reporter Tom Beres.

Yet he easily won elections, partnered with Akron's schools, revitalized downtown and held on to key global companies like Goodyear and Firestone. And the Brookings Institution profiled Akron as a city that successfully transitioned to the new global economy.

So Plusquellic seemed like a smart bet to run for an eighth consecutive term this fall. Then came that State of the City address, which he barred councilman Bob Hoch from attending. He explained it was because he feared Hoch might shoot him.

"My 88-year-old mother is sitting there. My 84-year-old aunt and her husband and my stepfather. My daughter. I don't care what anybody else thinks at this point."

What many other people thought was that his claim was flat-out bizarre. Count Hoch among them.

"I can't imagine where anybody got an idea that I was going to shoot the mayor. That was just the most absurd thing I had ever heard. I'm not a gun person. I don't carry guns; I don't use guns," Hoch said.

"It's unfortunate that he went out the way he did blaming the Beacon Journal, because he's done a lot of good things."

Hoch acknowledges he is battling Plusquellic over long-delayed promotions in the fire department and questioning his plan for Akron to start its own construction company to ensure residents get jobs.

But, he says, that's politics — not personal.

Akron Beacon Journal Editor Bruce Winges says his reporters thoroughly investigated the mayor's claim, including talking to the city's police chief, who saw no threat.

"You know, in that situation, there's one of two possible outcomes here. One is that there's a credible threat and the fella should be arrested. Or two, is that the mayor's just flat-out mistaken on this," Winges said.

But the mayor didn't back off. Instead, he sent an email late last Friday announcing he is "done fighting this madness." Not at the end of this year, but at the end of this month.

A portion of Mayor Don Plusquellic's eight-paragraph resignation letter
/ AkronOhio.gov
A portion of Mayor Don Plusquellic's eight-paragraph resignation letter

He devoted half of his eight-paragraph resignation letter to criticizing the Beacon Journal.

He especially objected to being called "a 'B word' " on the editorial page. It wasn't clear if he meant "bastard" or "bully" — the paper has referred to him as both.

But it has also repeatedly endorsed him — and lauded the city's progress in his 28 years as mayor.

"It's unfortunate that he went out the way he did blaming the Beacon Journal, because he's done a lot of good things," Winges said.

And that, many here say, is the essential contradiction of Don Plusquellic, an extraordinarily thin-skinned man who has largely succeeded in a profession that requires the thickest of skins.

Copyright 2015 WKSU

M.L. Schultze