When it’s all said and done–his life, not the race for Cuyahoga County executive, David Ellison knows where he wants to go. “Wade Chapel is where I would like to begin my journey to the underworld, and, if not, then at Riverside Cemetery on the West Side.”
Ellison points to these final resting places when talking about his favorite sites in Cleveland from an architectural standpoint. “Lakeview Cemetery [where Wade Chapel is located] includes some of the most careful classical design in the area, and its peacefulness is the perfect setting for its fantastic population of trees,” says Ellison, a resident of Ohio City.
The architect and Green Party candidate for Cuyahoga County executive also admires the area’s steel mills, the Cuyahoga County Courthouse and the city of Shaker Heights, which he calls “the most beautiful contiguous suburban development I know.”
Through his architectural eye, Ellison sees a lot of what’s wrong with Cuyahoga County. “I don’t think we pay nearly enough attention to aesthetics,” he says. “Beauty is rarely discussed as a public requirement. I think a part of our malaise and dispiritedness as a community is due to our overexposure to ugliness and desolation, and the lack of inspiration provided by beauty.”
He says that if the citizens of Cuyahoga County understood each other better, the region would have an easier time addressing issues like economic injustice, lack of opportunity, poverty, racial disparities, mental health, environmental contamination and exposure, and, as he calls it, “the big one–public education.”
At the same time, Ellison sees a lot of good as he looks around his adopted northeast Ohio. “There are instances of inspired action taking place: the local food movement, the sustainability movement, small wind power development, bicycle advocacy, community policing, community theater and performing arts, the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, the work to protect and improve the Chagrin River watershed.”
This type of “good” would continue under Green Party government at the county level, Ellison says, although it’s unlikely that he’ll pull off a victory on Nov. 2. Still, the general sensation of disenfranchisement that can be felt in many parts of the country, and Cuyahoga County in particular, has afforded the Green Party a chance to reveal itself a little more clearly to area citizens. “I think people are yearning for real substance in politics,” Ellison says. “The only ones who benefit from an unpopular, ineffective government are the corporations whose interests are short-term and sociopathic.”
Ellison helped to launch the local Green Party in 1989, and he’s not surprised that it’s taken this long for a candidate from that party to be even a mild contender for county office. “It took many attempts to arrive where we are today, and we are certainly not finished by any means. It has taken patience, perseverance, creative strategic planning and a willingness and ability to quickly respond to unexpected circumstances,” Ellison says.
He’s proud to point out the small steps the Green Party has made in the region. “In [the last] 20 years, we have planted gardens and been awarded grants from the EPA; advocated and gotten bike racks on buses; gotten several pieces of legislation passed through city councils and the state legislature; stopped a low-level radioactive waste dump from being built in Ohio; picketed the city, county, state and federal governments; derailed a badly conceived county project at the Ameritrust complex; petitioned on several causes, including a referendum on the one-quarter percent sales tax; and run various candidates, some in collaboration with people from across the United States.”
If he is not the winner on Tuesday, Ellison would consider an offer to assist the new county government, but, he says, “I am not interested in being used in an insincere way to improve the popularity of the winner or to ‘greenwash’ their policies.” He’d be perfectly okay going back to the unglamorous, unpaid role of social activist trying to hold government accountable, which he coveted before becoming a candidate for Cuyahoga County executive.
And then of course, there’s his architecture work to keep him busy. “My favorite projects have to be the ones I have done in collaboration with other architects, inspired clients, talented interior designers and enthusiastic contractors,” he says.
Ellison clearly isn’t ready for his “journey to the underworld” anytime soon, so Wade Chapel is just going to have to hold his spot for awhile.