James Hardy, Chief of Staff to the Mayor of Akron, discusses his personal background, challenges facing the city and his experience as a student

“For me, my political involvement, it starts coming here to the University of Akron. I took this class 12 years ago. I got a tremendous amount out of the Campaign Battleground class. Having that hands-on experience really helped me figure out whether or not I wanted to get involved [in politics],” James Hardy, Chief of Staff to Mayor Dan Horrigan, told the National Battleground’s class.

As an undergraduate at the Bliss Institute, Mr. Hardy was involved with the College Democrats, a role that allowed him to join John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004.

After college, Mr. Hardy was elected to the Akron School Board in 2005 and became the board president in 2009. In 2006, he was the regional director for the Jennifer Brunner for Secretary of State Campaign. Following that campaign Mr. Hardy became the special assistant to the President at Kent State University, where he also earned a Master’s in Public Health. This lead to a brief stint at Summa Health Systems before he joined the Summit County Department of Health. Following Mayor Horrigan’s election last fall, Mr. Hardy was appointed Chief of Staff.

“I didn’t ask to be Chief of Staff right off the bat,” Mr. Hardy told the class. Instead, Mr. Hardy led the transition team between the Fusco Administration and the Horrigan Administration. Mr. Hardy said in politics and governing, “you have got to know someone is going to have your back and tell you the truth.” He felt he could provide this to Mayor Horrigan.

The most pressing issue facing the city is clearly the Combined Sewer Overflows, remnants of a turn-of-the-20th century engineering practice resulting in storm water overflowing into sewage drains during heavy storms. The remedy  is estimated to cost $1-$2 billion.

The consent decree mandated by a federal judge requires the city, and therefore its residents, to foot that cost. However, Mr. Hardy noted, “the EPA allows for an ‘integrated plan,’ where the consent decree can be forgone if the city can do it for cheaper and make it more environmentally friendly.”

Other issues facing the city include the disproportionately high infant mortality rates in zip codes 44320 and 44327. These zip codes also have disproportionately high rates of obesity and diabetes and a 10-year difference in life expectancy from other zip codes in the Akron area.

On the merger of Huntington Bank and First Merit, Bank Mr. Hardy said somewhat sarcastically, “that was fun, definitely a learning experience.” The merger was problematic for the city given FirstMerrit’s commitment to provide jobs in the city in exchange for renovation of the plaza in front of the FirstMerrit building. There were questions on whether Huntington Bank, a bank out of Columbus, would honor that agreement. For the time being, it appears Huntington will honor the agreement and could bring 200 jobs into Akron.

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