Ohio’s Lorain County, located along Lake Erie 30 miles west of Cleveland, is a textbook example of a region that has gone from riches to rustbelt.
Because of the protracted deterioration of major manufacturing, the resulting loss of jobs, and the county’s empty downtown storefronts, many consider it ground zero for the direction that the region—and maybe the United States—could go in next.
The future is in voters’ hands, and it begins with the state’s May 3 primaries for the 2022 midterm elections.
Some see the 2022 midterm elections as an important turning point because of the issues at hand that quickly emerged in 2021 and are continuing into this year: inflation, supply chain problems, high gasoline prices, workforce shortages, new variants of COVID-19, unrest around the world, and chaos at the southern border.
Some believe that the seats in play are up for grabs by either major political party. Although Lorain County has been a Democrat stronghold for at least six decades, former President Donald Trump’s victory there during the 2020 election signaled that times could be changing.
“That was big,” said Tom Patton of Avon Lake, who owned Avon Lake Beach Park Plaza along Lake Erie for 20 years.
Patton, who has a large collection of Lake Shore Electric Railway memorabilia, plans to place a museum at the plaza.
Anthony Giardini, the executive chairman of the Lorain County Democratic Party, agreed that the area has been changing from blue to red alongside the development of housing in the cities of Avon, Avon Lake, and North Ridgeville.
Giardini, who has served as the executive chairman for seven years, told The Epoch Times that he believes that the county is doing well—speaking from an economic, quality of life, and political point of view.
“I would say Lorain County is a 50–50 county,” he said. “Lorain County is still growing. The economy is decent, not super great, but decent. On housing developments, we don’t get too high, and we don’t get too low.
“Bendix Brakes are expanding in Avon. There’s also the Duck Tape plant off of Interstate 90 in Avon providing jobs. We no longer have the major or huge employers employing thousands, but we have a lot of medium-sized industries.
“If there’s a national downturn, I don’t believe we’ll be hit as hard. There’s not extreme poverty or bad crime—not to say we don’t have any, but not a lot of it. We also need to focus on lakefront development and establishing things that make Lorain County a destination area.”
David Arredondo, the executive chairman of the Lorain County Republican Party, told The Epoch Times he has an optimistic outlook for the Republican Party.
After narrowly losing the county in the 2016 presidential election, Trump flipped it in the 2020 election and won by a margin of nearly 4,000 votes against Joe Biden, marking the first time a Republican had won Lorain County since Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984.
When Michelle Hung and David Moore were elected to serve as Lorain County commissioners in the November 2020 election, it marked the first time in 60 years that two of the three commissioners were Republicans.
In the 2022 midterm, Republican Jeff Riddell is running for commissioner for the first time and looking to unseat Matt Lundy, a Democrat who has served two terms.
With the midterms nearing, the top post in Ohio again is in play.
Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, is running for reelection and facing Republicans Joe Blystone, Jim Renacci, and Ron Hood in the primary. On the Democrats’ ticket are John Cranley and former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.
Patton, a Republican, is hopeful for change.
“Our area seems to be going red,” Patton said. “When Trump won here, it was huge. I believe northern and northeast Ohio have a lot to offer, but I think Ohio needs to work on its tax structure.
“Look where people are moving—Texas, Florida, and Tennessee. We need to do something to keep people here.”
Patton was quick to say that the sale of the GenOn Energy Services coal-fired power plant in the fall of 2021 to developer Charah Solutions opens up a lot of possibilities.
Charah, an environmental remediation company, plans to shut down the plant in April and begin remediation on the 40-acre site for major mixed-use development.
“Overall, I think people in Lorain County are conservative,” Patton said. “We’re not anti-police. We don’t embrace communism—and a lot of people here see what’s going on.”
Plans have also been recently announced for a naval submarine repair and maintenance yard in Lorain along the Black River—the first major waterfront development in nearly 40 years.
Arredondo said one political party having a stronghold for decades has hurt the region, despite its assets of lakefront property, available land along its interstates, and buildings. But he remained optimistic about “the potential” for Lorain County.
“There’s more of an awareness of what’s going on out there, with what’s happening in our country,” Arredondo told The Epoch Times. “You have to look back to the 2016 elections.
“In the 2016 primary, more Republicans turned out to vote [about 45,000] than the Democrats [roughly 39,000], the first time in Lorain County history. There was a surge of candidates for offices that never held or ran for office before. People are stepping up because they want to see change.
“Your primary elections usually are a good indicator of how the party vote is going to go. I would say Lorain County is ground zero for needed political change, definitely in Ohio.”
Of Lorain County’s 216,562 registered voters, 168,256 aren’t affiliated with any party or could be considered independents, Paul Adams, director of the Lorain County Board of Elections, told The Epoch Times.
There are 31,038 registered Democrats, 17,183 registered Republicans, and 85 Libertarians in the county, according to Adams.
He noted that there was a surge of 12,993 new registered voters between 2019 and 2020, up to 218,506 from 205,513.
It appeared as though Trump had won Lorain County in the 2016 election by 300 votes on election night. Then, after all of the provisional ballots were counted, Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by 131 votes, according to the results.
Giardini said Trump surprised him by winning the county over Joe Biden.
“I would equate Trump to Ronald Reagan,” he said. “He said a lot of things that caused him to appeal to a lot of people. What he said appealed to a lot of Democrats.”
Without Trump on the ballot, Giardini believes that the Democrats will do well in the midterms.
“We’re definitely going to get out there and work hard. There’s no doubt about that,” he said.
Arredondo, who has served as executive chairman of the Lorain County Republican Party for nearly two years, believes that a change in the county’s political makeup is coming.
“Outside of Lorain and Elyria, the two biggest cities in the county, you’re seeing a different middle class,” Arredondo said. “It’s changing from a blue-collar manufacturing and farming region to one of skilled trades, an educated workforce, and good-paying jobs.
“We’re no longer a highly industrial union area that drives the vote.”
Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, has an 8.5 percent sales tax, while Lorain County’s sales tax rate is 6.5 percent.
Many decades ago, the medium-sized city of Lorain, Ohio—the largest city in Lorain County—was called the “Industrial Empire in Ohio’s Vacationland.”
It was during a time when most things were “Made in the U.S.A.,” and Lorain boasted itself as the home of Adm. Ernest J. King, commander of the U.S. Naval Fleet during World War II, and world-renowned author Toni Morrison.
The money flowed as generations of high school graduates grabbed an immediate ticket to the middle class by acquiring lifelong jobs at the Lorain Works of U.S. Steel (now Republic Steel)—which once employed 12,000 people in the 1950s and 1960s—the American Ship Building Co., Thew Shovel, and Ford’s Lorain assembly plant.
But it’s not that way anymore, and it hasn’t been for a long time.
Three of those four key factories are gone. When overtime is offered at the mill, it’s newsworthy.
Boarded up or empty storefronts with “For Sale” or “Lease” signs hanging in the windows line Elyria’s downtown.
Lorain has been somewhat more successful in its downtown revitalization efforts by upgrading the performers appearing at The Palace Theatre and bringing in some new restaurants and independent shops.
Lorain saw the closure of Thew Shovel and the loss of 2,500 jobs in 1983. American Ship Building, which was owned by then-New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and once employed 4,500 people, closed the following year.
In the 1970s, Ford’s Lorain Assembly Plant once boasted the largest United Autoworkers Local in the United States, with a membership of 7,500, and it proudly produced 61 vehicles per hour on the assembly line. Ford ran the last Econoline van off that assembly line in late 2005 and shuttered the plant.
In the 1980s and 1990s, U.S. Steel and Ford continued bleeding manufacturing jobs.
The steel mill, which has been a presence in the city since the early 1890s, is struggling.
Arredondo, who also served as vice-chair of the Lorain County Republican Party for 13 years, said he has noticed a shift toward the right in the region since the Lorain Ford plant closed.
His brother Joel Arredondo is a Democrat and has served on the city council for 13 years.
More than 60 years ago, when then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy came through the city of Lorain on a campaign stop, it created quite a frenzy.
The city’s then well-oiled Democratic machine rode a blue wave of excitement and entrenchment for many years, but now, some see that machine as clogging and bogging with an uncertain future for the party.
“The unions aren’t dead, but they’re not what they used to be,” David Arredondo said. “It’s taken a while, but the voting patterns have been changing.”
The sentiments of Chris Foisy, a lifelong Democrat who lives in Lorain, echoed Arredondo’s.
Foisy’s grandfather Steve Dohanyos worked at the steel mill, while his father, Raymond Foisy, worked at Ford.
Foisy, 43, who has been a realtor since leaving corporate sales a little more than two years ago, believes that the Democrats are doing a good job, at least on the local level.
He cited downtown revitalization efforts along Broadway in downtown Lorain with new restaurants and some shopping plazas.
He has voted in eight presidential elections and has always voted for the Democratic candidate since Bill Clinton in 1996. He agreed with and supported former President Barack Obama’s stimulus package.
“We don’t have as strong as a union base as we once did, and the reason for that is, we no longer have the union employers in town,” Foisy said. “I’d love to see more of a bigger use in the Ford site and the steel mill rejuvenated in some way. When you have a mass exodus of jobs like Lorain did, it’s hard to get other businesses to invest into coming in.
“I feel like our local leaders are doing a good job.”
Foisy cited the recent announcement of the proposed submarine repair yard under Lorain Mayor Jack Bradley, a Democrat.
Now, health care networks such as Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and Mercy Health have a strong presence throughout the county, and Lorain County Community College has been opening more satellite and departmental campuses.
Several years ago, the City of Avon approved a major tax break for Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems in order to keep the company from leaving Ohio and convince it to locate its new campus along Interstate 90.
“We have to develop new industries and attract them here,” Arredondo said. “The potential is here, and it’s great potential.
“There’s no point in looking back at the past. It’s what we have to look forward to.”