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Shontel Brown Edges Out Nina Turner In 11th District Democratic U.S. House Primary

Shontel Brown speaks with reporters at her election night watch party in Bedford Heights.
Matt Richmond
Ideastream Public Media
Shontel Brown speaks with reporters at her election night watch party in Bedford Heights.

Updated: 2:29 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021

Shontel Brown has won the Democratic primary in the 11th Congressional District special election to fill the seat vacated by Marcia Fudge.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, unofficial results showed Brown earned just over 50 percent of the vote. Her closest competitor, Nina Turner, had 44.5 percent. Eleven other candidates including former Cleveland City Councilman Jeff Johnson split the remaining Democratic votes.

In a victory speech at her party in Bedford Heights, Brown recalled her first run at elected office.

“I got into this world of politics because I wanted to help my neighbors,” she said.

“I do this work for the people. That has always been my foundation. That has always been my moral compass. That has always been my guiding force in this work that I intentionally describe as public service because I know I work for you,” Brown said pointing to her crowd of supporters.

Turner conceded shortly after 10 p.m. Tuesday, telling her supporters, “It’s okay to be sad today. The work continues tomorrow.”

Turner making her concession speech at her election night party in Maple Heights.
Taylor Haggerty
Ideastream Public Media
Turner making her concession speech at her election night party in Maple Heights.

Turner, a former state senator and Cleveland City Council member, had the support of local political figures including Mayor Frank Jackson and Councilman Blain Griffin. Brown, a Cuyahoga County Council member and chair of the county Democratic Party, was endorsed by Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan.

The two women's candidacies galvanized progressive and establishment wings of the national Democratic Party. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigned over the weekend for Turner, a supporter of his presidential campaigns. And Brown spent the final weekend of the race campaigning with South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, whose endorsement was credited with boosting Joe Biden's presidential campaign in 2020.

Moderation Wins
At her campaign party in Bedford Heights, Brown recounted her start in politics and her legislative efforts on Warrensville Heights City Council and Cuyahoga County Council over the past nine years.

“This didn’t come overnight,” she said. “This wasn’t a ‘surprise surge for Shontel.’ Shontel has been doing the work. I have been doing the work.”

Brown said her accomplishments haven’t been “sexy” and haven’t gotten much attention.

“But I don’t need the credit, I just need to make sure that the people I have been called to serve are getting the resources and the supportive services that they need,” she said.

To that end, Brown reiterated a theme of her campaign, collaboration, and drew a contrast with the progressive wing of the Democratic party that supported Turner.

“This isn’t an all or nothing thing. This is about making progress. And sometimes that takes compromise. Because when you demand all or nothing, usually you end up with..”

“Nothing,” the crowd said, completing her sentence.

Brown thanked her longtime supporters including “queenmaker” Marian Saffold, Fudge’s mother. She also credited Congressional representatives who backed her candidacy like House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.

“So as potentially the next member of the 11th Congressional District, the next member of Congress, I can walk in the door with good relationships,” she said.

"Don't Leave This Place Sad"
In her concession speech, Turner said her campaign was an example of what progressives can do in Cuyahoga County and elsewhere.

Work to implement progressive policies is ongoing, Turner said, and she will continue to support candidates and efforts to bring them to light despite the loss.

“Don’t leave this place sad. Don’t leave this place depressed. I want you to leave this celebration more resolute. We still have more work to do,” Turner said. “My work continues, and I’m really excited about the opportunity for the next step in my journey.”

Some Turner supporters at The Lanes in Maple Heights shed tears as they departed at the end of the night. For Dr. Kristin Kranz, a family physician who volunteered with Turner’s campaign and worked with the progressive advocacy group Our Revolution, the campaign was a chance for change.

“We need to live, survive and thrive. We should all be able to do that in America, and right now, people aren’t doing any of that,” Kranz said. “We are dying because of COVID. We’re dying because we don’t have healthcare.”

Turner’s policies, such as higher minimum wage and healthcare reform, would have changed that, Kranz said.

“When one falls, we all fall. When one rises, we all rise. And Nina wanted to raise people up so that they lived in dignity,” she said.

But supporters say the election results won’t dampen their efforts to make changes. Gloria Allen Levert has been volunteering for political campaigns for about 25 years, and she plans to volunteer for a mayoral campaign starting next week.

“We’re not sad, we’re happy. We’re still going to keep doing what we’ve got to do to help the citizens,” Allen Levert said. “Long as we do good stuff, we ain’t got to worry about – we didn’t lose nothing. We just got to continue on. That’s what we got to do.”

Low Voter Turnout
According to unofficial numbers, the special election — in an off year in the middle of summer — was marked by low voter turnout. In Cuyahoga County, less than 17 percent of registered voters cast ballots. In Summit County, only 10 percent voted.

The Brown campaign told NPR they believed they were more likely than the Turner campaign to benefit from lower turnout.

In the Republican primary race, businesswoman Laverne Gore beat Felicia Washington Ross with 74 percent of the vote.

But the 11th district is gerrymandered to be reliably Democratic, and the primary winner will likely win the seat in the general election on November 2.

The seat on Capitol Hill has been vacant since March when the U.S. Senate confirmed Fudge as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Ideastream Public Media's Nick Castele contributed to this story.