Antonio Begins New Role Serving Lakewood Citizens
Former city councilwoman begins term as state representative serving the 13th District.
Nickie Antonio doesn’t want to spend too much time talking about how she’s the first openly gay state lawmaker in Ohio history.
The former Lakewood at-large city councilwoman would rather talk about the legislation she helped pass in the city. The self-described former soccer mom likes to share the importance of being an active and engaged resident.
Antonio, 55, also likes to discuss some of her goals as the 13th District representative in the Ohio House. She recently settled into her new seat — second row in the front, near the aisle.
“I am going (to Columbus) with a real sense of optimism,” she said. “It’s important to me that I come up with public policies that work for people.”
The former teacher and adjunct professor at Cleveland State University got into politics in the first place because she wanted to make a difference, even toying with the idea of social work.
Antonio later worked as the director of a non-profit organization before accepting a post in Lakewood’s community relations department during the last year that Madeline Cain was mayor.
Elected to an at-large council seat in 2005, Antonio was one of three area lawmakers elected to local office that year who were openly gay.
She is believed to be the first openly gay person to hold a statewide office. Antonio said that while being a gay lawmaker doesn’t define who she is, it is also a reality.
“It’s a real interesting thing because there have been other people, most likely, from the gay community who have served, but they weren’t open,” she said. “That’s a tribute to the times.
“This is the only way I know how to be. This is who I am.”
One of her early tasks with the city was to create a diversity commission, designed to “celebrate diversity in the community.” And one of her last official acts as a city councilwoman, Antonio co-sponsored legislation that gave Lakewood’s gay community equal rights — making the city one of only a handful in the state with such an ordinance on the books.
“People should not be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” she said. “This is also economic development … People want to live in a community that says everyone is welcome. We put our money where our mouth is.”
There is additional legislation Antonio said she is happy to have her name attached to — including balancing the city’s budget, creating the city’s community relations commission and signing sidewalk dining legislation that she refers to as an “economic engine.”
“I am also the proudest of my work with my constituents,” she said. “It’s the phone calls you get, helping people solve their issues. I love troubleshooting and problem solving and resource-finding.
“I love it when it works.”
Mary Louise Madigan, who served with Antonio on council, said her colleague was very focused and driven during her five years on council.
“We’re all pulling for Nickie’s success,” Madigan said. “Our success in Lakewood is really tied to hers. She’s really the right person for the job. These next few years are going to be all about compromise. Everything that happens in Columbus in the next few years is going to affect every city in Ohio — including Lakewood.”
Her recent swearing-in ceremony at the Beck Center was packed with residents and well-wishers, including Antonio’s partner, Jean Kosmac, and the couple’s two daughters, Ariel and Stacey.
In Columbus, Antonio said she plans to continue the work on a measure (House Bill 176) that would ensure that gay Ohioans — and their companions — have equal rights.
She also hopes to iron out some legislation on health care and education reform. She’d like to push for legislation that gives tax breaks to movie studios, which are now taking Hollywood dollars to other Rust Belt hotspots like Detroit and Pittsburgh. And then there’s the state’s multibillion-dollar budget shortfall that needs to be balanced.
“It’s going to be very challenging,” she said. “I’ve been on West 42nd Street and Lorain talking to people trying to plug into services when there aren’t any. And I know how these laws, that are so removed from the day-to-day, actually play out.
“I really feel called to do this.”