Newcomer challenges incumbent in Niles 1st Ward

NILES — First-term incumbent Patrick Joseph “P.J.” Kearney II is being challenged by political newcomer Doug Sollitto for the Democratic nomination for the Niles 1st Ward Council seat.

Kearney, 48, a graduate of Niles McKinley High School and lifetime resident of the city, said his goals include continued improvement to infrastructure, specifically water lines, and support and strengthening of the police force.

Kearney said waterline repairs and improvements are needed, especially in his ward. The waterline breaks have been frequent, he said, but the water department has been efficient in making repairs.

Kearney also said keeping the police at full force and their equipment up to date is important.

Kearney has been met with backlash for several social media posts from 2016 that seem to condone violence toward women. In response, Kearney said people misinterpret the posts, which he says were intended as jokes between he and his girlfriend. One of the posts in question shows an image of a woman with a black eye and reads, “Know your role.”

“I don’t really care about social media anymore,” Kearney said last week, noting although he still maintains a Facebook page, he doesn’t go on the site often.

Still, a check of the site indicated he posted to the site 10 times between April 20 and Friday.

Kearney also said he “had some problems,” some 20 years ago — referring to a 2001 indictment for trafficking in cocaine. He eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted trafficking, court records show.

Of the charge, Kearney said it happened years ago and it shouldn’t affect an election happening now.

Kearney said he ran for council so he could help bring the city out of fiscal emergency.

He said he has a good track record in Niles, and responds to constituents’ calls. He said he would freely hand out his cell phone number to his constituents.

“There’s a lot of pride, integrity and honesty going on in the first ward,” Kearney said.

Sollitto, 52, said a main goal is improvement of parks — especially Kennedy Park, which is in the 1st Ward, and he said is the only park without a bathroom.

He said he thinks children should be the priority in regard to parks. Sollitto said if elected, he’d like to establish a volunteer committee specific to his ward to help keep the parks clean.

Sollitto said he also wants to address the condition of the roads and be a transparent representative of his ward.

He puts cell phone numbers on his card, and said he plans to use a similar policy to his workplace, where he must respond to all calls within 48 hours.

With nearly three decades of experience as a corrections officer at the Ohio State Reformatory, then Mansfield Correctional, Trumbull Correctional and the Ohio State Penitentiary, and holding 14 elected positions in the Ohio Civil Service union, Sollitto said he feels qualified for a council position despite having never run for public office.

“My whole life has been security,” said Sollitto, who said he also worked previously for the county sheriff’s office.

Sollitto said he wants to bring back a block watch program for the 1st Ward like those implemented by former seat holders.

He also would bring back the city income tax department, as long as the move was fiscally sound, Sollitto said. He said the tax collection agency RITA served its purpose, but he expects their collection numbers to go down now that most outstanding debt has been collected.

“I think outsourcing is bad as a whole,” said Sollitto. “If you have people in town who can do the work, you manage them and train them.”

He wants to bring jobs back to the downtown area, especially small mom and pop stores and businesses geared toward children, he said.

There is no Republican seeking the GOP nomination. Also, there remains time for a non-party candidate to file in the race. The deadline to do so is May 6, the day before Election Day.