News Today – Hudson mayor Craig Shubert exits but some say ‘toxic’ politics remain

by Guwahati_City

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Hudson, after a year of chaos, is looking for a new mayor.

And a new city manager.

And a new school superintendent.

Each person who held those jobs will exit by mid-March — either by choice or with a push — after getting caught in the perilous crosscurrents that have torn apart this Northeast Ohio suburb.

Ratcheted-up partisanship. National culture war issues. An ongoing battle over whether Hudson should stay the way it is — small, wealthy and made up of mostly homeowners — or purposefully evolve into a larger city, intentionally making room for residents with different incomes or housing needs.

All of these things have collided in recent years, fueled by social media, grandstanding and an influx of campaign cash — including so-called dark money, making it harder for voters to make informed choices. 

Many Hudsonites are embarrassed by incidents that have drawn unwanted national news attention and late-night comedians’ jokes over former Mayor Craig Shubert’s assertion that ice fishing shanties lead to prostitution. 

Shubert resigned Valentine’s Day, saying he had been joking, but neither his supporters nor critics believe it.

On paper, Hudson’s mayor has far less power than its city manager and school superintendent. The mayor, for example, can’t hire or fire any staff or approve or reject any budgets or spending.

Yet Shubert revealed the Hudson mayor does have one super power: the megaphone.

Historically, Hudson’s mayor served as the town’s biggest cheerleader.  But Shubert often wielded the mayoral megaphone to divide, his critics and supporters say.

Recent controversies: Hudson remains abuzz over mayor’s exit, council’s bid to remove city manager

Now, as Hudson looks for its next mayor, interviews with a dozen people — including a half-dozen current and former City Council members and mayors — reveal how Hudson splintered and how some hope to heal their city of about 22,000 people.

Live, work, play … and fight in Hudson

Hudson, which takes great pride in its historic look, has been working to reshape its downtown for the future since 1995.

Community Spotlight: Hudson boasts New England charm with plenty of shops and restaurants

In 2004, after years of planning, the city opened Ohio’s first outdoor, mixed-use market called First & Main at the corner of state Routes 303 and 91. 

Phase II — development on 20-plus acres of mostly industrial land adjacent to First & Main — has been in the works, on and off, ever since.

In 2019, the city appeared poised to move forward, pitching Phase II as a public-private partnership to create a live-work-play area made up mostly of upscale town homes, apartments that would let residents walk to downtown.

City Manager Jane Howington said at the time Phase II was aimed at attracting young professionals and empty nesters, many of whom don’t want to take care of a yard or big family houses, which is overwhelmingly what Hudson offers.

Pushback among a group of Hudson residents was immediate. 

Some worried about increased traffic. Others about how much it might cost residents. But the overriding issue, some city leaders say, was “density.” 

“‘Density’ became code word for more diversity in Hudson,” said state Rep. Casey Weinstein, who served on Hudson City Council from 2015 to 2018 before winning his state seat.

Some stoked fears Phase II included subsidized housing, or Section 8, which was never part of the plan, Weinstein said. 

Proposed condominiums were estimated to sell for between about $300,000 and $500,000 at the time. Leases would run between $2,100 to $2,400 per month.

City Council President Chris Foster said he hadn’t seen the town divided since he was a boy and there was a fight leading up to the village of Hudson merging with Hudson Township to create the city of Hudson.

Foster said progressives thought Phase II was important because it would increase diversity in Hudson.

“Hudson’s a welcoming community, but you can’t force those things,” he said. 

To Foster, the fight over Phase II — which continues even now — hinges on this: “Do you believe Hudson is the next Solon? Or should we remain a historic bedroom community?”

That dividing line, Foster said, has “morphed into Republican vs. Democrat, and none of it has been healthy.”

Hudson designed to be non-partisan, but it isn’t now 

Hudson’s City Council and elected officials are supposed to be non-partisan, according to the city charter.

There are no “R’s,” or “D’s” next to names on ballots “and it’s worked very, very well,” said Hal DeSaussure, a longtime Hudson council member who left office last year after he and his wife downsized. They moved to a new development in Akron aimed at attracting the same people Hudson’s Phase II is supposed to serve. 

Until they moved, the DeSaussures lived four doors from Craig Shubert. 

They weren’t friends. But in 2018, when Shubert launched his political career by running in the Republican primary for the 37th Ohio House seat, DeSaussure said he supported his neighbor.

“I’m a registered Republican and a lot of people didn’t know that in town,” DeSaussure said, adding that political party is irrelevant when you’re trying to figure out how to handle stormwater, traffic or other local issues.

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State of the City: Administrator calls Hudson ‘strong’ despite recent turbulence

Shubert was defeated in the primary, and the seat ultimately went to another Hudson resident — Weinstein, a Democrat — in the general election.

Undaunted, Shubert — who did not respond to Beacon Journal messages to comment for this article — made it clear to many that at age 62, he still had political ambitions. 

As a younger man, he studied political science in college and served as a communications assistant for U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Shubert’s home state of Iowa.

Shubert then worked as a television reporter, marketer and global business developer. 

In 2019, Shubert sought another office: Hudson mayor, challenging incumbent David Basil. 

Basil, like other recent Hudson mayors, had a long history of local elected experience, serving on City Council for a decade before becoming mayor.

Shubert had never been in an elected office. 

“I think he concluded, particularly with Phase II, that he could speak to an element of dissatisfied residents,” DeSaussure said. “His entire campaign was negative … and against me and anyone else who is considered (Hudson’s) old guard.”

It was also partisan during a time Donald Trump was redefining much of the Republican Party. 

Even though Shubert and Basil were both Republicans, some questioned just how much of a Republican Basil truly was.

Shubert narrowly won, garnering 3,242 (51.84%) votes to Basil’s to 3,012 (48.16%).

After the election, some of Shubert’s supporters and critics thought Shubert would change his tone and take on the traditional role of Hudson mayor, touting its exceptional school system, fiscally sound governance and amenities.

“The problem is he carried that negativity into the role of mayor,” DeSaussure said.

The Hudson Files

Grassroots groups opposed to Phase II and politically aligned with Shubert launched a website called “The Hudson Files” around 2019. It was taken down late last year.

Among other things, The Hudson Files routinely posted images of Hudson public records, along with tantalizing headlines, implying there was a small group of Hudson insiders colluding to run the city.

Some people, including Council President Foster, said the website, though negative, shed much-needed light on issues, including Phase II development plans.

Others had a dimmer view of the site, which they believe deepened the divisions in Hudson by posting records without context and trying to manipulate how people viewed Hudson leadership. 

“It was weaponized as a tool against certain people,” said Hudson Councilwoman Nicole Kowalski.

Shubert sometimes used his mayor’s megaphone to echo what was on the website. In July 2020, for instance, he asked state officials to investigate after The Hudson Files posted images of City Council President Bill Wooldredge’s city email showing Wooldredge was part of a thread discussing someone else’s campaign. 

Wooldredge said at the time he had “not engaged in conduct of any kind that would warrant any action against me.” 

Email controversy: Hudson City Council president will not be prosecuted by county over email use allegation

Brian V. LoPrinzi, chief of the criminal division for the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office, said the office concluded Wooldredge’s “limited use of city email” did not warrant prosecution.

LoPrinzi also scolded Shubert for playing politics in a letter: “We regret that this level of political inquisition has caused our office and the Ohio Auditor of State’s Office to expend its time and energies on a matter that is better handled by the council in which Mr. Wooldredge serves.”

By then, Wooldredge had decided not to seek reelection.

While that was unfolding, a group of residents against Phase II took aim at City Manager Howington after reading other public records posts on The Hudson Files.

In September 2020, the group asked the Washington, D.C.-based International City/County Management Association (ICMA) whether Howington violated its code of ethics.

Residents wondered if the emails showed Howington “was side-stepping requirements for open meetings and campaigning for council candidates who align with her personal, political or management viewpoints.

Two months later, ICMA “determined that there was no evidence of any violations and voted not to open a formal ethics review of the matter.”

Nevertheless, Shubert used the “Mayor’s Corner” column in “Hudson Life” to air his ongoing grievances, again defining Phase II as a “high density, affordable housing project” and suggesting Howington would receive undeserved pay raises that would put her earnings on “par with a member of congress.” 

It had been a tense year in Hudson, but nothing compared to what was about to unfold in 2021.

Culture war in Hudson makes national news

The ongoing national culture war on critical race theory landed in Hudson in May when a small group of white parents showed up at a school board meeting complaining about how the schools were teaching their children to think about race. 

It escalated when several Hudson High School students were accused of making hateful racist and homophobic comments while playing an online video game.

And it exploded after international news media seized on an Akron Beacon Journal story about Hudson American Legion leaders cutting the microphone of retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter, 77, on Memorial Day as he tried to educate his hometown about the role freed slaves played in the origin of the holiday.

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What’s happening in Hudson? City finds itself at center of national reckoning on race, slavery and truth

Fights among residents in Hudson social media groups erupted over race, racism and a push for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), both in the schools and in the community that summer.

And in September, Shubert dropped a new culture bomb in the run-up to the school board race where two cultural conservatives were trying to unseat incumbents.

Shubert went to a school board meetings and, as mayor, called for the board to resign or face charges for distributing “child pornography.”

At issue was a supplemental book being used by a college-level writing class. The book was “642 Things to Write About.” One of the prompts is: “Write a sex scene you wouldn’t show your mom.”

“That just lit the town on fire,” Weinstein said. Shubert “used his position and platform to divide … and the school board was the pinnacle of that.”

A prosecutor would later determine the book wasn’t pornographic, and an internal school review showed the prompt had never been assigned.

But video of the mayor’s school board appearance went viral and was picked up by cultural conservative media, most of which hailed Shubert as a hero of their cause without ever exploring whether the allegations he made were true.

Conservatives across the country sent messages of praise to Shubert and death threats to the school board.

Many, including City Council members, called on Shubert to recant his accusation and apologize. 

But he never did.

Instead, he accepted praise from another Ohio political culture warrior, U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel.

In a Facebook video weeks before the school board election, Mandel falsely claimed the Hudson school board was “pushing all this inappropriate sexual stuff on little kids in the schools.”

“This guy’s a hero of mine,” Mandel says, standing alongside Shubert. “He should be a hero of moms and dads, and Judeo-Christian values, and just traditional American values throughout this country.”

Dark money lands in local Hudson races

A slick, jumbo-size postcard hit Hudson voters’ mailboxes in October showing an unflattering picture of Hudson Councilwoman Kowalski looking sad with the message: “It’s time Hudson stopped getting Nicole’d and dimed … Hudson doesn’t need higher property taxes.”

The attack ad says it was paid for by Hudson United PAC and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

But it’s impossible to know who paid for the attack because it is dark money, the kind that until recently had been used almost exclusively at the federal and state level. 

Federal records show that Hudson United raised $75,777 between July and December of 2021, all of it from an Ohio limited liability corporation (LLC) called 1799 Heritage Preservation.

The only name included on state records for 1799 Heritage is Harry Veryser, an adjunct economics professor at University of Detroit Mercy who did not return messages from The Beacon Journal.

It is not clear what connection Veryser has to Hudson, though 1799 is the year the city was founded.

Open Secrets, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that tracks data on campaign finance and lobbying, says that LLCs are sometimes established to help push dark money into races by disguising the identity of a donor.

Kowalski, a Democrat, battled back on Facebook by explaining the dark money and how it was being used in Hudson to attack her and support a slate of three other candidates.

She pointed out the Florida-based political ad company, Majority Strategies, was behind the Hudson ads and specializes “in influencing the opinion and behavior of voters.” Majority Strategies’ website features a pawn, she said.

“Don’t be a pawn,” she said, asking: “Who would have local interests in a local election at the level that they would fund campaign tactics like this?”

Two of the three council candidates Hudson United supported won.

And Kowalski, despite the attack ads, won, too.

“I don’t think we’ll ever know who spent that money,” Kowalski said recently. “It’s an issue of accountability … when you look at $75,000 spent, that would imply influence.”

Weinstein said campaign finance reform is the answer in Hudson and across the country.

When Weinstein ran for council in 2015, he said it was an “utterly sleepy affair.” There were no attacks. But all of that changed because of partisanship and money.

A 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling created loopholes allowing dark money to flow. 

Power­ful groups on both the right and the left have poured more than $1 billion into federal elec­tions since.

But dark money in more recent years began showing up in state races — it is part of the massive federal corruption case in Ohio involving FirstEnergy, lobbyists and former Ohio House Speaker Larry Housholder, for example — and now at the local level in Hudson.

“If you don’t know who is contributing to that and why, it gets out of control,” Weinstein said.

Hudson political environment is ‘toxic’

Foster said he hadn’t realized how divided Hudson was until he ran for council.

Opponents, he said, tried to tie him to the Government Accountability Institute in Florida, which was co-founded by Steve Bannon, a Trump loyalist who has since been indicted for contempt for refusing to cooperate with the investigation into the Jan. 6 attempt to overturn the election.

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Foster, who calls Bannon a “racist,” said he was instead connected to a conservative policy group in Ohio with a similar name.

“It was a lightbulb moment for me,” Foster said. He said his opponents knew there wasn’t a connection, but put it out there anyway.

“I lost sleep over it,” Foster said, pausing as his voice cracked with emotion.

Foster, who self-identifies as a libertarian even though he’s a registered Republican, also connects what’s happened in Hudson to the national political divide. 

“I probably stopped voting for a president in the ’90s; instead I’ve always voted against,” he said. 

He thinks that’s what happened in Hudson last year, too. He said the city is 60% Republican but Biden won “because Trump is a despicable character … Trump didn’t lose because of voter fraud, but because he’s an egocentric jerk who spent too much time texting.”

Locally, Foster sank $20,000 of his own money last year into the Hudson School Board campaign of conservative candidates Diane Demuynck and Mark Justice trying to unseat incumbents.

The race grew so contentious that an anonymous person sent letters to people with yard signs supporting incumbents, repeating the mayor’s false allegation that the board member supported “the sexualization of Hudson’s underage children.”

2021 election: Hudson school board race heads down homestretch in turbulent year

Demuynck and Justice lost, but some of Foster’s critics said that kind of spending shows Foster’s commitment to maintaining Hudson’s divide.

Foster said he and his wife’s contributions weren’t over politics but how the board handled an issue his children had with a teacher a few years ago. 

“The political environment is so toxic in Hudson I’m not sure if I will run again,” Foster said. He is up for election in 2023 and said he will decide next spring whether to seek reelection.

When Shubert resigned, few publicly came to his defense.

But Councilwoman Beth Bigham — a Republican who narrowly lost to Weinstein in the District 37 race and has filed paperwork to challenge him again — urged people to offer Shubert “grace.”

Bigham said at a council meeting that leaders had ridiculed, humiliated and cyberbullied Shubert. 

“I find it all so disgusting and distasteful, and we can be better than that. We should be better than that because our children and our community are watching,” said Bigham, who did not respond to interview requests.

How can Hudson heal?

Former Hudson Mayor William Currin remembers the 1970s when it was considered bad form in Hudson to put any political signs in your yard.

“Now, it’s sign city,” said Currin, a Democrat.

Basil, a Republican who served as the city’s mayor after Currin, said Hudson’s non-partisan local politics helped distinguish the city from other communities for years.

“Frankly, almost everyone I know, even if they carried some sort of party jacket outside of Hudson, for the most part, they tend not to wear it in Hudson,” Basil said. “That’s why I have hope.”

Former Councilman DeSaussure said it will take time.

“People need to pay attention to who is doing what on (City) Council … and the community needs to get involved,” he said.

More immediately, though, all eyes are on who City Council will appoint to replace Shubert. 

That person, many believe, can either begin to heal the community or make things worse.

The city is taking applications through March 11 and will appoint someone in April. At least six people applied in the first few days, Foster said.

“I’ve spoken to people who would be good … and none of them have applied,” Foster said. “They don’t want to apply because of the mudslinging.”

Foster said his goal is to select a mayor who is so universally accepted that the person will go unchallenged on the ballot when the appointed mayor must run for a full term.

That is something both Hudson Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on.

Many in Hudson, including Currin, are pushing for Basil to again be mayor so the city can return to what several called “normal.”

Basil, who was narrowly defeated by Shubert, describes himself as semiretired as a lawyer, and said he’s flattered, but hasn’t decided whether to apply.

Whoever Hudson’s next mayor is should embrace the words of poet Rudyard Kipling, Basil said.

“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs …,” Basil said.  

“When things get contentious,” Basil said, “the mayor needs to calm the waters.”

Beacon Journal reporter Phil Keren contributed to this report. Beacon Journal reporter Amanda Garrett can be reached at

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