What was that smell in the room as Ken Lanci announced his campaign for Cuyahoga County executive Wednesday? We can guess how some political observers would answer that one. But actually, the room smelled of chemicals. Lanci held his kick-off press conference in an industrial printing room inside his Cleveland business, Consolidated Graphics Group Inc.

Dozens of relatives, friends, employees of CGG and reporters listened as Lanci did his best to paint himself as someone "not tied into the old ways or the old politics." Lanci, 59, of Gates Mills, is running as an independent and sent a message that he wants to run the new Cuyahoga County government like a business. Lanci, who also runs a business services company, says his specialty is reviving floundering enterprises. In his campaign literature, he says he has helped to transform local companies in industries as diverse as liquor distribution and paper production over a 40-year career.

"That is my specialty: turning failure into success," says Lanci. "I have the skills and the proven ability to use that know-how and apply it to our county government."

Supporters say that Lanci represents fresh political leadership. But some in blogger-land are taking Lanci to task for his campaign contributions to Republicans (McCain-Palin in 2008 and Ken Blackwell in 2006). Lanci is also taking heat for being a principal in a financial consulting firm called The 363 Group of Ohio, which also involved big-time political donor/restaurateur Tony George and Republican car dealer Jamie Pilla. Lanci stepped down from that endeavor last month to avoid conflicts, according to his campaign people.

Lanci "would have voters believe he's still as independent as the guy in the next office," writes Anthony Fossaceca on OhioDaily blog. "The problem for Lanci is the guys in the offices next to him are big, big names in the Cuyahoga County GOP."

"I'd met the candidates and at the end of the day, they were energetic and hard-working people," Lanci tells Scene when asked why he gave thousands of dollars to Blackwell, McCain and Palin. He noted that he has also given money to Democrats like Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Cleveland Councilman Joe Cimperman.

He chose to run as an independent because "Dems and Republicans are no longer servants of the people," says Lanci. "They are in the service of the party."

When asked if his strong pro-business attitude might scare away voters, Lanci reminds Scene that he once dressed up in pink tutu as part of a charity event. Um … He goes on to tout his involvement in philanthropic endeavors including vision care and teen-empowerment programs and is also promoting the upcoming health and human services levy renewal on May 4.

Everyone at the press conference seemed accostomed to the chemical odor by the end of the event. It'll be Lanci's job in the coming months to wipe out the smell Fossaceca and other critics say they've picked up on. — Damian Guevara

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