Strolling into Ben & Jerry’s with his young son, Owen, Mark Zetzer hardly resembled a U.S. congressional candidate. Although his meeting was to discuss his current campaign with a reporter, Zetzer’s primary focus was undoubtedly his son. Whether trying to get Owen to decide on a the flavor of ice cream he wanted (Owen settled on chocolate chip after much deliberation) or wiping the melted ice cream from his son’s face and hands, Zetzer was at heart a typical father, juggling the stresses of his work life and his family. Luckily for him, that is exactly who Zetzer aims to be.
Zetzer is running to be elected as a Representative for U.S. Congress in the 11th District. He described himself as a Republican with libertarian views, and he is challenging the incumbent Marcia Fudge, a Democrat.
Zetzer stated that the biggest strength of his candidacy is his ability to relate to the common, everyday people of both Ohio’s 11th District and in the United States as a whole. This candidate is not shy about stating that part of the reason he is compelled to run is his belief that Fudge is an “elitist” who is not in touch with her constituents.
Interestingly, Zetzer said that he has never held public office. Zetzer’s political involvement has to date been limited to fighting a Shaker Heights tax increase through an organization he founded, Grow Shaker, and a subsequent campaign for Shaker Heights City Council. During both campaigns, Zetzer was on the losing side of the ballot. However, Zetzer explained there was progress made with his campaign for City Council saying, “The two incumbents who voted for the tax increase on City Council are gone, and that was my victory.”
It is the small victories like this, along with the support of the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County, that give Zetzer the confidence and energy to run for U.S. Congress. According to Zetzer, shortly after his campaign for City Council, the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County reached out to him and offered support going forward. By doing things like mailing out slate cards to every Republican and independent in the county and inviting him to GOP events, the Republican Party helped Zetzer gain some much-needed political traction. It was at a meeting with the party in December, in which Zetzer was told that “[the Republican Party] doesn’t run anyone against Marcia Fudge,” that Zetzer said he was stunned, and immediately volunteered to run against Fudge in the upcoming election.
His decision to run against Fudge, as well as his past experiences in politics, evidences a desire to lead. Zetzer says he first saw signs of this ability in himself when his peers looked to him in their fight against the tax increases in Shaker Heights. He quickly rose to the challenge and formed Grow Shaker. Though many citizens in the town held more prestigious jobs, they looked to Zetzer for help. Fairly quickly, Zetzer realized, he said, that “anyone can be a leader,” and he did not allow his lack of experience or wealth impair his confidence.
In fact, Zetzer thinks it is his average socio-economic standing that makes him a viable and attractive candidate. Zetzer fought the hike in income taxes in the district because he feels the financial burden, he said, adding that he is intent on reducing student debt, as his two oldest children will be entering college in the near future.
Zetzer said he also recognizes that cities across America, including Cleveland, have historically had strong economies and a thriving population, but now the wealthiest part of the country is Washington D.C. Though Zetzer admits the comparison is extreme, he says the country currently reminds him of The Hunger Games – a fictional story in which the “Capital” has all the wealth and controls and rules over all of the “districts.”
Zetzer elaborated by saying the elected people of D.C. aren’t subject to the same taxes and laws as their constituents back home, and believes that the result is that people like Marcia Fudge are out of touch. Zetzer believes he is the opposite of Fudge in this regard, and this more than anything makes him a strong choice for Congress.
The Republican Party of Cuyahoga County certainly agrees that Zetzer is an ideal alternative to Fudge. When reached for comment on Zetzer, Rob S. Frost, the chairman of the Cuyahoga County GOP, said, “Mark Zetzer provides an important choice for voters in the 11th District, the opportunity to choose individual liberty and personal responsibility over paternalistic, intrusive government control.”
Frost continued to highlight Zetzer’s ability to connect with the people while taking a slight dig at Fudge for declining to debate with Zetzer. “Mark is influencing voters throughout the district the right way, by getting out and talking to voters directly at their doors and in public forums, while the incumbent has refused to debate him.”
The fact that Zetzer can walk into a Ben & Jerry’s and look like an average citizen taking his son for ice cream is not by design, or part of his campaign. Zetzer is an average citizen, which sometimes means putting his family and work ahead of his campaign on his priorities list. While his lack of experience and his libertarian platform might keep him from winning any major election in the district in the near future, Zetzer still managed, in his interview with this reporter and in other aspects of his campaign, to make the statement he intended: The public needs and deserves an alternative to Marcia Fudge.