More than four decades ago a bushy-haired young man walked up to my desk at the Beacon Journal and introduced himself. He wanted me to know that he was running for the Fifth Ward council seat in downtown Akron. When he told me he was a Republican challenging a rough-cut drawling Democrat, Cliff Nicholson, I replied that he had no chance.
“That’s a Democratic Ward,” I said in disbelief of his brash mission, “where they don’t even bother to count the Republican votes.”
“I know,” Alex Arshinkoff said without a hint of discouragement. “But you’ll see.” He then went on to lose. Pure Alexology that was to mark a number of his other ill-considered political forays that erupted from high emotional reactions rather than political skill. And he would admit later that he was his own worst enemy.
It was the formal beginning of a long and tortuous roller-coaster ride for Arshinkoff, and for those of us who were paid to report political realities and fancies. For him, his chosen career rose and plunged from blustering combat and erratic choices to the undertow of the insecurity of a hot-headed Macedonian striving to be safely accepted in the proper Republican Party loop.
As he said more than once – only half jokingly – “they let me into Portage Country Club through the back door.” Ha! Ha!
It’s not that he didn’t spare any effort to reach his elusive goal of becoming Republican state chairman by his round-the-clock devotion to raising campaign money for George Voinovich’s gubernatorial campaign. But when Bob Bennett, who was in tight with the statewide GOP, got the job, Alex tearfully conceded that his impossible dream was really a nightmare now.
Back in Summit Country, Alex – as he was commonly known to many with no further extension of his name – soldiered on, ruling by fear, a self-effacing wit, and the dependance of supplicants who relied on his grace for an appointment to a judiciary seat, where he was most successful. He also was the poster child for raising the kind of money from the corporate world to send locals off to ambassadorships, federal judgeships, and whatever else with the approval of Republican governors who allowed him that access to the party so long as he kept raising money.
Still, he was in constant combat from his role as chairman and member of the elections board, ready to pick a fight with anyone who may have chipped his power. Much of it was the magnetism of public attention which he craved. He attacked the County Board of Mental Retardation, accusing it of partisan politics over a silly matter; called for a boycott of United Way, for equally silly reasons; and fought the Republican Hudson village council for banning a big Bush yard sign in the yard of his Hudson home.
There were ongoing attempts within the party to unseat him but all died of their own amateurish ways against a tireless professional politician.
He enjoyed the tussles, more than he would ever let on.
The tragedy of his life is that he might have achieved still more if he could control his political outbursts that led him into so many gang fights, and his whispering rumors against his opponents.
It was so unlike his idol, Ray Bliss, a quiet, unassuming man who ushered in the Arshinkoff Era because he believed the lifeless county Republican party needed a heavy dose of vigor if it was going to survive.
“The young man will work,” Bliss told me. “We need more people in our party like him.”
Surely no one was more disappointed than Bliss, a silent partner, for whom it didn’t work out so well.
But Alex did succeed in sustaining his dream since he became party chairman in 1978.
“Ever since I was a kid,” he once told the Akron Beacon Journal, “there was nothing else I ever wanted to do. I wanted to be in politics.”
Until his final days, he was.
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