CLEVELAND - In 1970, Robert Hagan, a businessman whose distaste for injustice steered him to politics, ran for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket.
That's when his son, Tim, met U.S. Senate candidate Howard Metzenbaum and joined his campaign against Robert Taft, Jr.
Mr. Taft won, but Mr. Metzenbaum ran again in 1976 and he prevailed, with help from Tim Hagan.
He has not forgotten the populist messages he learned from Mr. Metzenbaum.
“The strength of a country is not taking care of the wealthiest and the healthiest. The strength of a good, decent people is taking care of the weak, the poor, the wounded, and the ones who have been left out. That's the strength, that's the final measurement of who we are as a people,” Mr. Hagan said on the campaign trail in Toledo last summer.
Unlike Mr. Taft, who rarely discusses his life or his parents as he campaigns around the state, Mr. Hagan has made his upbringing and his family a core part of why he's running for governor.
A Youngstown native, Mr. Hagan is the fourth of 14 children that Robert Hagan and the former Ada DiLoreto raised in Youngstown and later on a farm in nearby Trumbull County.
Mr. Hagan's maternal grandfather moved to the United States from Italy at the turn of the 20th century.
“He looked funny when he came to the country and he smelled funny. He had strange religious views. Some people thought he really was not an American. What's stirred my soul is my mother telling her 14 children `Don't ever forget how they belittled your grandfather because he couldn't speak the language, because he didn't quite fit in.'
“He worked in the steel mills of Youngstown, helped organize a strike in 1937. He's part of the history of this country. He stood with his men on that picket line when they sent in the National Guard to break the strike,” he said.
Mr. Hagan's paternal grandfather was from Ireland and saw the signs at companies: “Irish need not apply.”
“Think about the greatness of this country. My grandfather came to this country and he had eight children, one my dear mother. Now, here I am - worked in a steel mill, worked as a cement finisher, worked as a baker, went to college on the GI bill, the grandson of Irish and Italian immigrants who were iron workers and steel workers - running against the great-grandson of a president of the United States. Don't tell me this country isn't a great country,” he said.
Mr. Hagan was drafted into the Army while he was attending Youngstown State University and was stationed in Germany during the Vietnam War. He returned and got his undergraduate degree in urban studies at Cleveland State University.
He also protested the Vietnam War.
At a recent campaign stop at Ohio State University, Mr. Hagan asked about 40 students if they supported the U.S. attacking Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. Only one student raised his hand.
“If they reinstituted the draft and you had your butt on the line like I did in the '60s, a lot more people would be focused on what is going on here,” he said.
Mr. Hagan's work on the campaigns of Robert F. Kennedy, Mr. Metzenbaum, John Glenn, and Gov. John Gilligan led him to elected office. In 1980, he was appointed Cuyahoga County recorder and then served four, four-year terms as a county commissioner.
Mr. Hagan has two daughters, 15-year-old Eleanor and 13-year-old Marie from his first marriage that ended in divorce. Through his friendship with the Kennedy family of Massachusetts, he met and in 1999 married actor Kate Mulgrew, who portrayed Capt. Kathyrn Janeway on the television show Star Trek: Voyager .
From an Irish Catholic family of eight in Iowa, Ms. Mulgrew said she had a lot in common with Mr. Hagan.
“We have common values. We have a real loyalty to our families and our friends that really has shaped our whole relationship,” she said.
Mr. Hagan said the Taft campaign's references to the “Hollywood crowd” have been unfair.
“Kate's an unselfish human being. She gives more hours to charitable causes, like Alzheimer's. Taft is to-the-manor-born. His great-grandfather was the president of the United States. For him to talk about privilege and wealth is absolutely hilarious to me,” he said.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Hagan has displayed a sense of humor that is rare to see in Ohio politics today.
Asked if it bothered him that Mr. Taft has held few official campaign events, opting instead to spread his message during his work as governor, Mr. Hagan replied: “If I had $8 million [in campaign funds] and I was running for a second term, I would do the same thing.”
But Mr. Hagan always returns to what he says is the chief reason he's running for governor.
“It's not enough to pledge allegiance to the flag. It's not enough to sing the national anthem. If you believe in democracy, ultimately you have to believe in yourself, and you have to believe that you must be engaged in that process,” he said.
Talk of Democratic politics turned solemn yesterday.
On Friday night, U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy called Mr. Hagan to commiserate about the death of U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, a liberal Democrat from Minnesota who died Friday with his wife and one of his children in a plane crash.
Mr. Hagan said Mr. Wellstone had offered about six months ago to host a fund-raiser in Toledo.
Mr. Hagan said he appreciated the offer, but advised Mr. Wellstone to focus on his tight race against Republican Norm Coleman.
“Politics and what we do are a noble cause to be engaged in, and that's how he lived his life,” Mr. Hagan told Summit County Democrats.