CLEVELAND, Ohio – For the first time in nearly two years, State Sen. Nina Turner is not on the campaign trail. It’s not clear for how long, though.
Even before she lost her bid for secretary of state last week, Turner was seen as a likely candidate for mayor of Cleveland in 2017. Rather than gather with fellow Democrats in Columbus on election night, Turner chose to watch the returns with supporters in her hometown, adding to such speculation about her future.
Then, soon after her loss to Republican incumbent Jon Husted was complete, Turner emerged as a possible replacement for Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, who resigned after failing to keep even his own seat in the legislature.
Turner made only one commitment Friday while reflecting on her campaign and discussing her future in an interview with the Northeast Ohio Media Group.
After her term as a state senator expires at the end of the year, Turner will continue teaching African-American history and other social studies classes at Cuyahoga Community College. More time away from politics could mean a busier course load.
“Back to academia,” said Turner, who will turn 47 next month. “I definitely want to use my experience from this campaign to enhance what I do in the classroom.”
Turner was less clear about her interest in running for mayor, a position she’s been linked to since cutting her political teeth under former Mayor Michael R. White and serving on City Council. Turner is close with the office’s current occupant, Frank Jackson, and would not challenge him if he ran for an unprecedented fourth term.
“I love my mayor,” Turner said when asked if she would be a candidate in 2017.
As for the state party post, Turner only would speak generally.
“I am interested in seeing the party progress,” she said, adding that she wants a “voice at the table” and to have a role in “helping to reshape” the party. And while many agree a top-flight fundraiser is needed, Turner said not to discount the importance of “people-raising” – or rebuilding faith among disappointed activists.
“I think I have a lot to offer,” Turner added. “I’m not going anywhere.”
David Pepper, who lost his bid for attorney general last week, has talked about forging a “partnership” with Turner atop the state party’s power structure. Turner noted Friday that she and Pepper, a former Hamilton County commissioner, bonded on the campaign trail, presenting themselves as Ohio’s “election protection team” – a nod to their support for expanded early voting hours.
The only job Turner seemed to rule out was U.S. senator. Democrats are eager for a strong candidate in 2016, when Republican incumbent Rob Portman is up for re-election. Portman could choose to run for president instead.
But don’t expect a Turner bid. “The Senate does not interest me,” she said.
Turner had kind words for the embattled Redfern, saying that she believed the party under his leadership did “the best they could” to help her campaign.
She was less charitable when it came to reflecting on FitzGerald’s candidacy. Though both hail from Cuyahoga County, they’re not closely aligned. All of the party’s statewide candidates got along well, Turner said, “except for FitzGerald.”
She added: “FitzGerald was the outlier.”
The top of a statewide ticket, when strong, should have coattails for the down-ballot candidates. But FitzGerald was plagued by poor fundraising and, at the end of his race, by revelations that he didn’t have a driver’s license for a decade.
“Obviously this was going to be a tough year for Democrats,” Turner said. “Was that path made tougher because of what happened to Mr. FitzGerald? Absolutely.”
Turner was particularly frustrated that so much political coverage in the final weeks, even in the context of down-ballot races, focused on FitzGerald’s troubles.
“People acted like he was the only one who was running,” she said. “For the media to [try to] isolate us and get us to talk about him … this wasn’t just about him.”