BROOKLYN, Ohio - When Republicans in the Ohio legislature passed Senate Bill 5, designed to wipe out public workers' pensions, in 2011, it was personal for young Marc Bukszar in Brooklyn, a working class suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Marc's dad had reached retirement age and planned to retire after working three decades at Metro Health, Cleveland's largest public hospital. SB 5 would've taken that from him and his family.
Mark got involved, along with his father and thousands of other Ohioans, in the massive campaign to save workers' pensions and repeal SB 5. Getting active in politics for the first time, Mark gathered signatures, wrote and spoke to legislators, attended rallies. The hard work that Mark and those thousands of Ohioans put in paid off when SB 5 was repealed and public workers' pensions were saved, at least for now. That hard work was special for Mark, but he saw wealthy special interests continuing the push to take away pensions and other gains that ordinary Ohioans had worked so hard to earn.
"When I saw what they were trying to do to ordinary people," Mark said, "I knew I had to get involved in some way, to stand up with regular people to protect what they've worked their whole lives for."
For Mark Bukszar, that meant, for the first time, filing and running for City Council in Brooklyn. Mark is one of eight candidates running for four open seats in Brooklyn.
"I'm not running against anyone," he said, "but felt I had to run because I've had the experience of being hit hard, like most of the people here, and when issues come up I'll be able to know what really affects ordinary people and how we can work together to solve our problems."
It is a nonpartisan race, but Mark Bukszar said he knows from real experience how the entire economy is affected when outside interests come in to take away wages, benefits and pensions, and blame ordinary people for problems with our economy.
"It isn't just workers, but businesses, especially small businesses that are hurt when that happens," he said. "I plan to fight for all of Brooklyn's residents."
Bukszar spoke about Chesterfield Steel, the company he works for, going through an asset sale in 2008, and how it affected him and the other folks he worked with and their families.
"Everyone was devastated, people lost all they'd worked their whole lives to earn. They took our hard-earned pensions and turned them over, into 401k's. They said that it was the same thing, but we knew that wasn't the truth. 401k's are all dependent on the stock market. We earned our pensions, but now we have to fight big special interests to try get them back. One of my friends had planned to retire, had everything lined up. Instead, he had a heart attack and died after they stole our pensions. We need to stop that from happening to anyone else. That was one of the main reasons I decided to run for council."
The main issue for Mark Bukszar in the City Council race, he said, was to restore city services to Brooklyn residents. These services, including transportation, trash removal, food aid, grass cutting, snow removal and others, have been cut, hurting everyone, especially seniors and the disabled.
American Greetings, employing hundreds, is Brooklyn's largest employer. Assuring that major employers keep work in the area is a major issue.
"We need to keep work here and make sure that the workers, retirees, their families and our community keep what we have worked so hard for," he said. "We all know our cities are hurting, but we need to find ways to restore our finances that don't hurt our most vulnerable citizens. I'm not special, but I am someone whose been through these things and knows how to stand up for regular people."
Mark is also vice president of United Steelworkers Local 1-243 at Chesterfield Steel, and he doesn't hide his union affiliation.
"I'll work for all Brooklyn residents," he said, "but being a union rep has given me years of experience in helping people out. I want to bring that experience to the table when issues come up in Brooklyn so that there is someone in the room that knows what it's like to earn benefits with hard work and have to defend them. I do have experience helping regular people defend their rights."
Mark Bukszar said this is his first run for office, but he plans to stay in the "helping people out" business for a long time to come.
He says he would welcome volunteers to help in his campaign. He can be reached at 216-406-2458 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Council candidate Mark Bukszar with his two young sons. Courtesy Mark Bukszar