In Ohio, a GOP Newcomer Battles a Family's Political Legacy

In Ohio, a GOP Newcomer Battles a Family's Political Legacy

Cynthia Blake hopes to end the Sykes family's representation in Ohio's 34th district.

Published November 4, 2014

(Photos from left: Emilia Sykes for State via Facebook, Cynthia D. Blake for State via Facebook)

Former first lady, senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor and son and brother, respectively, to George H.W. and George W. Bush, are trying to decide whether to run for president in 2016. Their prospective bids have raised the question of whether political dynasties are contrary to the concept of democracy in America.

Cynthia Blake, a Republican running to represent Akron in Ohio's House of Representatives, is asking a similar question as she faces off against Democrat Emilia Sykes, whose mother and father have held the seat they hope to fill for the past 30 years. Vernon Sykes is stepping down because of term limits.

But the younger Sykes bristles at the notion that she is just a brand, as her opponent has described her. She is an attorney for the Summit County Fiscal Office and contends that her work experience and education, which includes a master's in public health, make her more than qualified. The fact that her parents have represented the district is just a bonus that helps ensure that their "responsive representation would be maintained."

Sykes, 27, likens her experience to that of other offspring who've followed their parents into the fields of law or medicine. Having watched hers commit their lives to public service, she says, was simply a matter of time before she also ran for office.

"I do get the question a lot about my family and whether I'm suited for the job, am I old enough, can I do it all the typically negative responses," she told BET.com. "I've never felt entitled to this position and knew I had to get out early and work very hard for it and make sure people understand that I have my own ideas and experiences and that's what I will bring."

If elected, she adds, her time in office will not be Vernon Sykes 2.0, but it will reflect the same values and commitment to the community.

Blake, who describes herself as a community activist, acknowledged in an interview with BET.com that her bid to represent the largely Democratic district is an uphill battle. But if she prevails, Blake says she will be aggressive and assertive but also willing to compromise "to bring meaningful legislation to the floor that can make an impact on people's lives." She believes that those skills and her life experiences make her a stronger candidate.

"I'm asking the voters to vote for the best candidate. Don't just vote for a name; look at the record that can really make a difference for the district," Blake said.

Neither candidate actually has a record, but the Cleveland Plain Dealer endorsed Sykes because of her background in public health, while praising Blake, 54, for her genuine commitment to her neighbors' well-being.

State legislatures are filled with lawyers, business people, maybe a few teachers, says Sykes, but not many people who like her "view the world through a public-health lens," and have a desire to explore ways in which health issues can be incorporated into various policy areas.

She also is a strong proponent of women's reproductive rights issues, a controversial topic in the Buckeye State, which she says also sets her apart from her opponent.

"I'm a woman and of reproductive age. I know exactly what it means when [lawmakers] start taking things away, which will make me a different type of advocate for those issues," Sykes says.

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Written by Joyce Jones

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