July 31st, Friday afternoon, Kimberly Trenary took her seventy-seven year old mother grocery shopping at Giant Eagle. After a slog at the license bureau, both women were tired after shopping. Kimberly checked out just ahead of her mother and waited for her mother’s motorized scooter to finish getting through the line. Unlooked for, an older, bespectacled, grey haired man in his late 60’s approached Kimberly, shocking her with a torrent of verbal abuse. She had no idea who the man was. Startled, she stuttered as the man finished, “Leave the mayor alone! He does a great job and runs the city just like his dad. I know the pretty, green house you live in and I know your red pick up truck. Leave the mayor alone, or else.” Kimberly collected her mom when the man stalked off, got out of the Giant Eagle lobby and left, herself, shaken to the core, scared, and more than a little bit angry.
The unfortunate truth is, this incident is not surprising and is another incident in a string of bizarre tactics, intended to intimidate signers, volunteers – and finally, Kimberly, herself. What is surprising are the demographics of a loyal knot of Mayor Bill Judge supporters, apparently determined to derail the peaceful circulation of a recall petition. Most are older adults engaging in stalking the signings, appear to be at or near retirement age. Time has not stilled their instincts for employing schoolyard bully tactics. It’s disturbing but fascinating to watch their public displays, unfold.
When the Mayor was elected in a razor-close Democratic primary, many voters felt that they could not, in good conscience, switch to (D) to vote. Some were confused and did not know they could vote in a Democratic primary. Some were unclear when the primary actually happened, and were suspicious about the whole affair. Still others, decried the tightness of the race and wanted an open election to decide the Mayorship. Whatever the complaints, the results of election did nothing to rally unified support for Judge, and the controversy of the election, itself, made the possibility of unity more remote.
Started July 3rd, the petition to recall the embattled Mayor from City Hall, was intended, at its inception, to give the vocal opponents of the Mayor, and those who felt the primary election was unfair, a chance to be heard. Kimberly Trenary said that the petition allowed long time complainers and detractors to “put up or shut up”. She said that, “If I get out there and people don’t actually want to sign, and put their money where their mouth is, they need to quiet down and get behind him. We need unity, or we need new leadership, and now, [voting] citizens have a chance to decide which it will be.” Rather than being seen as a ho-hum, democratic maneuver that was a labor-intensive long-shot, it was seemingly viewed as a threat and rallying point for Judge supporters.
At the first signing, reasonably, and as expected, Bob Morehead of the “Barberton Herald”, showed up at Decker Park, with his camera. He hung out, asked questions, chatted a bit, then left. A partisan article was printed the following week, but nothing unexpected. The article did show open support for the current administration, and downplayed turnout. A more balanced article in the “Herald” followed. If things had stopped there, the petition might have gotten lukewarm support.
On the ground, at actual signings, things appeared to be war, for the opposition. At one signing, a group of teachers came with folding chairs and sat in a tight ring for the duration of the signing, within a few paces of the petition. At Tuscora Park, a black Chevy Avalanche parked opposite the signers, within about 30′ feet of the signing tables. For some time they kept their lights on. Both occupants remained in the vehicle, watching or filming the activity in the pavilion, for two hours. At Breitenstein Park, an older couple set up lawn chairs in the woods opposite the signers, watching through binoculars for the duration of the signing. Some signers spotted the couple and waved. Others, weren’t so pleased about the surveillance. Days later, the same man who commandeered the binoculars at Breitenstein, showed up at Lake Anna, for the next signing. Again, sat on a bench opposite the volunteers for the duration. He then circled the Lake in his car, after he had been photographed again, spying the proceedings.
Kimberly Trenary was personally accosted the day after the Lake Anna signing. After a weekend of thought and rest, Kimberly had considered giving up. Instead, after urging from friends, she called the Barberton Police to log a complaint of the incident, in the event something should happen to her property or she was confronted again. The policeman who responded, told Kimberly that in his view, the threat warranted a full police report. She is now undertaking the expense of cameras and other security measures, and intends to just continue forward as she did before – standing in area parks, taking signatures on a piece of paper.
Overall, the bully tactics have had the opposite effect over what the supporters of the Mayor must have hoped. They perhaps thought that people would get scared; fear loss of friends, property damage, costly retaliation from City Hall or the local newspaper – and just back off. To their dismay, they may find that trying to publicly bully one woman into silence, will actually gain her and her cause, many friends.