Tristan Rader began his campaign for Lakewood City Council on the stoop of his home — a place so many conversations start in that city.
It seemed a fitting symbol for the 31-year-old. He is the first new candidate to emerge from a lefty resurgence bringing a lively brand of Democratic politics to Northeast Ohio and embodied by the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus.
“I saw in Lakewood there seemed to be a void,” says Rader. Sen. Bernie Sanders won the city handily in the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primary. But Rader found that result at odds with how the city is being run. “I didn’t see too much in the way of really progressive leadership.”
As a former field director for Sanders, Rader seeks to fix that. He co-founded the Progressive Caucus with two other Sanders organizers and is its operations director. Since the election, the caucus has kept up a drumbeat of opposition to President Donald Trump while trying to fill a gap in local progressive organizing. Too often, Rader says, individual groups pop up around an issue or candidate but don’t last. “They’re starting and ending at the end of campaigns,” he adds.
The caucus’ 2,600 members have had a hand in many of the political firefights of the last year. They collected some of the 20,000 signatures for a referendum on the Quicken Loans Arena deal and protested the closing of Public Square to buses.
The caucus is branching out into electoral politics and will announce endorsements this summer. “[Issues] are where we’d start,” says Rader. “And then we would move into candidates, particularly Cleveland City Council, Cleveland mayor.”
A former outreach staffer for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Rader is the first candidate of that new push. In renter-heavy Lakewood, he wants to help with problematic landlords and connect homeowners with low-interest loans for renovations. Rader is hawkish about preserving parks and opposed closing Lakewood Hospital.
The upcoming election will be a test. He is expecting to face five candidates for three at-large seats, including the incumbents. In May, Cleveland City Council refused to accept the 20,000 signatures the caucus helped gather.
“I hope that people see that I’m a real, living, breathing social and economic progressive,” says Rader. “I hope people believe it when I say it that I intend to bring their voice back into the mix.”