WOOSTER — There’s hardly an area Democratic candidate for office who doesn’t owe something of a debt to Sallie Cook.
And after more than four decades, Cook is still at it, brainstorming with tablemates at Friday’s 161st consecutive annual Jackson Day Dinner over possible recruits for local races coming up in the not too distant future even as her good friend Linda Houston introduced Cook as the party’s recipient of the 2016 Old Hickory Award.
A long-time correspondent for The (Akron) Beacon Journal and a member of the League of Women Voters, Cook said, “all those times I was working for The Beacon Journal and the League of Women Voters, I really couldn’t do a lot for Democrats, but I always came running back to them” when she had the chance and the issue or candidate was an important one.
Houston pointed out that Cook’s sole foray into local politics was only partially successful. She sought an at-large seat on Wooster City Council, winning the primary but losing in the general election by 39 votes.
An early supporter of then-candidate Barack Obama, Cook has participated in phone banks and canvassing activities, worked the party’s booth at the Wayne County Fair, hosted house parties for candidates, “and she helped me run in my last campaign for Fourth Ward council,” said Houston, a veteran representative of the Ward 3 who lost a Ward 4 race after the city went through a redistricting.
But even if Cook had done none of those things, she could have gotten the award for something else. “She’s married to a man I dearly love,” Houston quipped, “but who is a staunch Republican.” Still, she said, of Roger and Sallie Cook’s three sons, “only one of them follows Roger,” she said.
In looking back over the years, Cook told the crowd that filled Kittredge Hall on The College of Wooster campus, “It’s fun to be a Democrat. I know. / It was fun, always, to be at Dan and Linda Houston’s parties when they’d have arguments in the kitchen / fun when you’re working with (Wayne County Municipal Court Judge) Carol White Millhoan and she’s driving all those ponies all over Wayne County …”
It was even fun, she said, to go nose-to-nose with former county party chair Gene Grande, unwavering and causing fellow Democrat Betty Whitmore to cry out, “Gene, Gene, don’t hit her. Don’t hit her.”
Cook said she thought the sense of fun was coming back to the party and she planned to continue to be a part of it. Looking to guest speaker John Boccieri, a former 16th District congressmen and current Ohio House District 59 representative, Cook said she was determined to make him a statewide office holder. “John, get ready,” she said, “because we’re behind you and you’re going to be a big winner for us.”
Boccieri, who was defeated by current Congressman Jim Renacci in the 2010 election, shared the podium Friday evening with former Ohio First Lady Frances Strickland, who entertained the crowd with acoustic guitar and some songs she’d written about her husband, former governor and current U.S. Senate candidate Ted Strickland, who will face incumbent Rob Portman in the general election.
Among some of the lines drawing applause from the audience were a few digs at Republican frontrunner Donald Trump — “But just like Samson, he’ll get nowhere, when I get my scissors and do that hair” — and an observation about Portman — “he has big money, but money don’t vote.”
Boccieri pointed out that Portman has spent $10 million in his campaign against Strickland “but Ted’s hanging in there, because Ted’s a fighter.”
The representative also updated the local Democrats on what he is doing since his appointment to the Ohio House seat last year, replacing Rep. Ron Gerberry. After losing to Renacci, Boccieri said, he went back to flying C-130s for the U.S. Air Force and made airdrops of supplies to Christian forces up Mount Sinjar during an Islamic State attack on the Iraqi city of the same name.
With 23 years of military service behind him, Boccieri also started working as a commercial pilot, serving as a first officer on United Airlines’ 737s based at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
The House seat “is what I can handle right now,” Boccieri said.
He also pointed out he is one of only 10,500 Americans to have been elected to Congress and still has his pin, engraved with “384” — his seniority ranking at the time.
“How many have lost their seats because they did what they thought was right?” Boccieri asked, a reference to his 2010 “yes” vote on the Affordable Care Act. He also applauded the efforts of Strickland and Ohio senior U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. “They run for office,” he said, not because they want to keep getting re-elected, but “because they want to get things done.”
Boccieri also singled out Cook, noting “she’s recruited me for every office there is in the state of Ohio,” and praising her, Houston and the late Julia Fishelson for their help with his political career, including “pulling me by my ear when I needed to be pulled by the ear.”
Reporter Tami Mosser can be reached at 330-287-1655 or firstname.lastname@example.org.