Hailing from opposite sides of the aisle, Democrat John Dietrich and Republican Jennifer Wasilk have served together on Amherst city council the past 18 years — sometimes as allies but periodically checking and balancing each other.
The pair has remained a constant through three mayoral administrations. They’ve been there as 21 other council members have come and gone.
Now that will change. No matter how the votes fall, one of them will be ousted this year, bringing a significant dynamic shift to council chambers.
Dietrich has shaped policy as the body’s president since 1999, only once previously facing a challenger. He was previously an at-large councilman.
In November, he told the News-Times he was unsure whether he’d seek a 10th term as president. The uncertainty vanished in late January when he filed with the Lorain County board of elections to run one more time.
“I’ve had so many people come up to me and want me to run again,” he said. “So I decided to stay on for one more term. This will definitely be my last one if I get elected.
“I enjoy it. I’ve been there a lot of years. I have a lot of background and I can help the administration and council. The city’s been good to me. I was in business for 42 years. It’s been good to me. As long as I’m in good shape and healthy, I feel I can give something back.”
Wasilk said she’s wanted the council president job for years. Now she’s making an all-or-nothing gambit, giving up her seat as the extremely popular representative of Amherst’s fourth ward in a bid to replace Dietrich.
She declared her candidacy in November, saying Dietrich at the time had confided to her that he would not seek reelection — an assertion that Dietrich denies.
Her desire to wield the gavel is perhaps whetted by serving in recent years as council president pro tempore, meaning she runs meetings on the rare occasion Dietrich is unable to attend. Wasilk also told us she is also motivated by a desire to make sure the legislative body’s rules are followed to a T and order is maintained during debates.
“The council president has to be very much aware of the rules and needs to make sure legislation is in the proper format before it gets to council,” she said.
Wasilk did not cite specific instances in which proposed resolutions and ordinances have not been in their proper format. She did say there has been much improvement to such procedures over the years but there is room for more.
Neither candidate is forecasting a down-and-dirty campaign.
“We get along. There’s no adversarial relationship between us,” Wasilk insisted, while Dietrich called their relationship “cordial” and praised his opponent’s work on behalf of the fourth ward.
“I don’t consider any of the Republicans an enemy just because they’re in a different party. I’m not that type,” he said.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Dietrich and Wasilk