In 2009, Sandra Kurt became the first openly LGBTQ+ person to run for office in Summit County. A few years prior, the ward she was running to represent on Akron City Council had voted against Issue 1 – which sought to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. “That indicated to me, well, maybe these voters are ready for an out candidate,” says Kurt.
Kurt won the council seat and became the county’s first out elected official. The victory also marked the beginning of a decade-plus career in local politics that Kurt is hoping to continue as she seeks a second term as Summit County Clerk of Courts.
The Buckeye Flame caught up with Kurt to talk about her trailblazing career and her campaign to retain her seat as the county Clerk of Courts.
How did you first get into politics?
In 2005, I got involved with the Summit County Progressive Democrats, specifically to protest the Iraq War. At the time, I had my engineering career at Goodyear and I never really thought of myself as someone who’d run for office. But the more I got involved with the group and got to know the local candidates and elected officials, the more I learned about how a campaign is run and what qualities make for a good public servant. By 2009, I knew some folks in the LGBTQ+ community and the local Democratic Party who thought I’d be a good candidate for Akron City Council, especially after my Ward [rejected]Issue 1. So, between that and the fact the city was starting a big project to fix our storm water system, which my technical experience lent itself to well, it seemed like a perfect opportunity – and, turned out, it was!
What drew you to run for Clerk of Courts initially?
2015 was a very tumultuous year in the city of Akron. The mayor of 28 years decided to step down, and Dan Horrigan, who was Clerk of Courts, ran for the office and won. I was serving my second term on the Summit County Council and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, so the Clerk seat felt like a perfect fit. It’s a full-time job, and, recently retired from Goodyear, I had the time to do it. It was a good mesh of my background and my skills, so I approached the Democratic Party and expressed my interest; the central committee appointed me unanimously for the nomination and I started campaigning. I never anticipated being Clerk of Courts, but since taking office in 2016, it’s been such a privilege to support the residents of the Summit County through this office – which is why I’m running again.
What’s your biggest accomplishment as Clerk of Courts so far?
The Summit County Clerk of Courts is divided into the Legal and Title offices. On the Legal side, probably my biggest accomplishment has been instituting electronic filing and updating our accounting system, both of which allowed us to serve the public better and save taxpayer dollars. On the Title side, I’ve added hours to make it easier for folks to use our services on their time, so they don’t have to take time off work. When the opioid crisis hit, we partnered with a local organization to provide free drug-disposal bags at Clerk of Courts locations. As an elected official, I think it is important to be a good community partner and try to be innovative in the ways you do that, and I’m proud of the work we’ve done so far.
In 2009, you became the first openly LGBTQ+ person to run for office in Summit County – and you won! What did this milestone mean to you then, and in your view, how have things changed since?
When I was first deciding whether to run, I thought, if I do this, people will see: she’s out, everybody knows it, and nothing terrible happened to her. Toward the end of the campaign, there was an anonymous homophobic smear letter that came out against me, but it was very heartening when the Akron Beacon Journal – which had endorsed me in both my primary and in the general – published an editorial the Sunday before the election defending me. The Democratic Party and LGBTQ+ community rallied around me, and when I won, I realized how embracing our city actually was. We didn’t know it at the time, but we had started down a path where we now have a number of out elected officials in Summit County – Patrick Bravo and N.J. Akbar on Akron School Board; Bobby McDowell of Mogadore City Council; Anthony Gomez on Cuyahoga Falls School Board. I’m proud of my role in opening that door back in 2009.