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Shammas Malik wins Akron mayoral primary, in line to be the first person of color as mayor

In his primary night victory speech, Shammas Malik says as mayor, he'll focus on tackling racial disparities across various issues from policing, to housing to education.
Ryan Loew
/
Ideastream Public Media
In his primary night victory speech, Shammas Malik says as mayor, he'll focus on tackling racial disparities across various issues from policing, to housing to education.

Shammas Malik will likely be Akron’s next mayor.

Malik won the Democratic primary earning 43% of the vote, according to unofficial election results from the Summit County Board of Elections.

Malik addressed the crowd at the John S. Knight Center where his supporters had gathered to watch the results come in.

"Thanks to people in this room and people across the city, change is coming," Malik said.

A current city council member and former assistant law director for Akron, Malik is expected to win the general election in November since there is no Republican or independent challenger on the ballot.

As mayor, he will work on the systemic disparities that exist across policing, housing and education in Akron, Malik said.

"[It’s] deeply rooted, so we have to tackle it head on," he said.

Until inauguration day, Malik will spend the next seven months meeting with residents across the city, he said, to learn about their priorities.

“I’m from northwest Akron, right? I’m born and raised there. I know every street in Ward 8 like the back of my hand. I don’t know every street in east Akron like the back of my hand,” Malik said. “I have my work cut out for me to make sure our administration reflects the richness of our community geographically, racially, in terms of gender, in terms of every kind of difference. I take that very seriously.”

Malik, who is Pakistani and white, would be the first person of color to serve as mayor.

“It means a lot, in a city that has a really painful racial history, right?” Malik said. “But I also recognize that as much as I have a different experience as a person of color, and as a Muslim American, I also will never understand what it’s like to be Black in Akron.

“I’ve tried not to say, ‘I have all the answers to this,’ but to listen, particularly to a lot of our Black leaders, and then to take action and follow their lead, and that’s what I’ll continue to do to address that,” he added.

The runner-up

Deputy Mayor Marco Sommerville secured just under 26% of the vote, while Councilmember Tara Mosley received 17%.

Akron Deputy Mayor Marco Sommerville reaches out to a supporter at his election night watch party.
Abbey Marshall
/
Ideastream Public Media
Akron Deputy Mayor Marco Sommerville reaches out to a supporter after conceding to Shammas Malik in the race for mayor on primary night, May 2, 2023.

Sommerville, who was endorsed by Mayor Dan Horrigan and former Mayor Don Plusquellic, conceded as the race’s runner-up Tuesday evening. Though Malik’s voicemail box was full, Sommerville said, he sent a text to congratulate Malik and let him know he would be “more than happy” to assist in the future.

“We wish him well on running the city,” he said.

Sommerville also congratulated his daughter Margo who won the primary for her seat on Akron City Council. She previously said she would step down from her position as council president if her father clinched the mayoral nomination.

The senior Sommerville said he plans to focus on his business, Sommerville Funeral Services, which he runs with Margo.

“I’m going to enjoy my grandkids and work my business that I have and enjoy what life I have left,” he said, while assuring his supporters he will “still be involved in the community.”

“We’re still going to make things happen, we’re not going anywhere because this is my home,” he said.

Mayor Dan Horrigan, who was in attendance, declined to speak to media. In a written statement, he said, "My administration is committed to setting our next Mayor up for success by offering a smooth transition as we get closer to 2024."

The next mayor will be sworn in Jan. 1, 2024, succeeding Horrigan, who has held the office since 2016.

A race to be proud of, another run in the future?

Ward 5 Council member and third place mayoral candidate Tara Mosley threw her support behind Malik.

“We have to change this city,” Mosley said, “and I will be right there with him making sure that he does.”

Akron mayoral candidate Tara Mosley (left) looks at election results with her campaign treasurer Lucas Blower at Jilly's Music Room on Tuesday, May 2, 2023.
Ryan Loew
/
Ideastream Public Media
Akron mayoral candidate Tara Mosley (left) looks at election results with her campaign treasurer Lucas Blower at Jilly's Music Room on Tuesday, May 2, 2023.

Mosley told supporters that she was proud of her race.

“I don’t need y’all console me,” Mosley said. “I’m good, and I’m OK with Shammas Malik. I’m good.”

Mosley’s campaign aimed to put the first woman and the first woman of color in the mayor’s office. She was inspired to run when her 10-year-old granddaughter was looking at the pictures of former mayors and wondered why there hadn’t been a female mayor.

“The race that we have ran and the young ladies in this community and little girls like my granddaughters, we ran with a purpose of making sure that women had a voice in the conversation,” Mosley said, “and I think we spoke loud and clear.”

Mosley hinted at another potential run for mayor.

“If things don’t go the way they’re supposed to and people don’t do the things they’re supposed to, I’ll see you all in four years,” Mosley said.

For now, she will focus on finishing her term on council, which ends in January. She’s endorsed independent candidate Shamoriea Hilliard to replace her.

Of the four remaining candidates, 8% picked Jeff Wilhite, a current Summit County Council member; 4% selected former Great Streets Akron administrator Mark Greer. Cell phone store manager Josh Schaffer and teacher Keith Mills each received less than 1% of the vote.

Akron's challenges ahead

The seven candidates faced off in several debates and community forums over the past several months, in which they discussed key issues including public safety, housing and education.

A survey earlier this year showed crime was the top priority for Akron voters, along with K-12 schools, housing and police reform.

Safety is the “cornerstone” of Malik's priorities, he told Ideastream Public Media. Some of his ideas to improve public safety in the city include implementing community policing and a mental health unit to respond to certain calls, he said. He’d also like to overhaul the police department’s current headquarters at the Harold Stubbs Justice Center.

As mayor, Malik would be tasked with forging a working relationship with city council, which will have some new faces, with Councilmember Mike Freeman not seeking reelection and incumbents Russ Neal and Ginger Baylor having lost their reelection bids, according to unofficial results.

The mayor will also play a large role in helping the community heal in the aftermath of a grand jury declining to indict the officers who fatally shot Jayland Walker, an unarmed Black man, last year.

Updated: May 2, 2023 at 11:50 PM EDT
This story has been updated.
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Anna Huntsman covers Akron and Canton for Ideastream Public Media.
Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.
Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media. A Northeast Ohio native and lifelong listener of public radio, Abigail started in public radio as a news intern at WKSU. She graduated in 2022 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Kent State University.