Is Armond Budish Running Scared from a Former Sex Offender?

Armond Budish has won endorsements from numerous highly elected officials including Senator Sherrod Brown, Mayor Frank Jackson, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge. You wouldn't think that a man with those kinds of connections and a resounding lead in fundraising would be afraid of some healthy debates.

I thought what I was attending today would turn out to be a debate of some sorts. Billed as a public forum for the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party to see who would earn the party's nomination in the primary election, it looked from the onset as some type of campaign event from the Budish team. His support was widely seen as soon as you walked through the doors with dozens of supporters wearing stickers to promote the front runner in the campaign. Missing from the event were questions from the public. Instead, questions were filtered through county ward leaders who would later vote to recommend Budish to earn the parties nomination. That measure will be taken up next weekend by the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party in another vote.

Another thing missing was a certain candidate. Tim Russo has some interesting credentials. He possesses a sharp tongue and quick wit that has helped him produce a number of viral videos. The graduate of Case Law School also has a gigantic scarlet letter that tarnishes a resume that had been centered around a career in politics. Russo is a convicted sex offender. Russo thought he was talking to 13 year old boy online for a sexual encounter of some kind which turned out to be a be part of an FBI undercover operation. His career in politics, which included working on Bill Clinton's successful Presidential campaigns and Tony Blair's win with the Labour Party in 1997, was in shambles.

While Russo may be damaged goods in political circles who used to his expertise in their campaigns, he is a dangerous candidate. Well spoken with populist ideas that will likely work well in the Cuyahoga County voting demographic he has seen a "freeze out" by what seems to be the string pullers that are running the show. It first started with the declaration that he was not invited to the forum that was held today. Party organizers, upon Russo's appeal, told him he simply wasn't a democrat. Kind of a strange excuse to give to someone who has spent a lifetime working in the party and once yielded 2,000,000 hits to a video portraying McCain-Palin voters as uninformed racists. That video, shot in Strongsville, was widely shown on nightly news broadcasts on CNN and MSNBC in the heat of the 2008 election season.

The avoidance of giving Russo a platform to express his views got even stranger regarding NAACP event that was scheduled for Monday night. Just moments before today's event which included Budish, Bob Reid and Shirley Smith the NAACP cancelled the event due to "weather". This morning at Antioch Baptist Church, where the debate was suppose to take place, the congregation was told that the event was still being held.

Russo had been invited to participate last week only to have the offer rescinded a day later by event organizer Kent Whitley. At the time this was all going down, reported "Budish's team is "very optimistic" Budish will be able to attend" the NAACP event. Budish never fully committed to attending but it would be a political nightmare if he did not show up to try to win the hearts of the highly democratic African American vote in the city of Cleveland. Russo was quick to appeal to be included in the bi-partisan event, which was to include Jack Schron a republican whose campaign is also being pushed by the city's king makers, and the church came to the defense of Russo by saying they would refund the NAACP if all interested parties weren't allowed to take the stage.

The NAACP, when we contacted them about the situation, informed us rescinding the invitation was a "misunderstanding" and that it would be against the principals of their mission to be biased against someone with a criminal record.

So that begs the question - was it Mother Nature that cancelled the event tomorrow or was it Armond Budish's campaign team? Russo has already made waves calling him out to the FCC about a weekly infomercial that airs on WKYC that the Russo camp says masquerades as a news show. That Budish still airs the show in the middle of a campaign does seem like a conflict of interest.

Russo was outraged by the cancellation and endorsement process.

"This was the biggest stitch up of an illegitimate process I've seen since working in Armenia in 1997," Russo said in an email exchange earlier this evening.

It seems to many observers that Budish has been avoiding public debates for sometime in the process to win the endorsement of his party. A question was posed to the three candidates on stage if they would be willing to have debates in the future. Budish answered "absolutely". An ironic response considering he has been playing hard to get in the last few weeks when asked to debate and will once again be a no show on Thursday night when democratic challengers meet in Garfield Heights to debate topics.

Bob Reid and Shirley Smith both alluded to Budish's availability during the forum. They both will be in Garfield Heights to square off with Russo who also will be in attendance.

"The NAACP debate was tomorrow night and from what I understood is that Budish choose not to attend that," Reid told me in an interview following the event. "Now he says otherwise. But I was told by them he had not confirmed. Now it is very definitive that he is not going to be in Garfield Heights to debate this coming Thursday. I reach out to the people and say they need to know the difference in the candidates and maybe we need to go at each other and see how we are different and that happens in the debate arena."

We were unable to catch Smith after the forum but could tell that she was displeased that the NAACP debate, where she would have the distinction as the only African-American candidate, had been abruptly cancelled.

The whole forum seemed to be a charade and nothing more than a vehicle to earn Budish's endorsement from the party which will likely be delivered to him on Saturday. It will be interesting to see if Budish makes good on his promise to hold debates up until the May primary and if he starts to ask the other democrats to tow the party line to withdrawal in the coming weeks.

Here is video of the opening statements by the candidates and Bob Reid's interview with us following the forum.