Former Browns player seeks votes

Joe Milicia and Joe Milicia

Judge Dick Ambrose wants his name to stand out on the November ballot like an orange Browns helmet in a sea of Steeler black and gold.

That’s why the former linebacker, who earned the nickname “Bam Bam” by cracking his shoulder pads in practice, is using his glory days with the Browns in his campaign to be a county judge.

A political rookie, Ambrose already knows name recognition is key to victory.

“Unfortunately, it is important in a judicial race, just because a lot of people don’t have experience with judges,” Ambrose said. “They don’t know who they are.”

He acknowledges his high profile was a factor in him getting the Republican party’s nomination and the appointment by Gov. Bob Taft as a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge four months ago.

“They were looking not only to qualifications … but also somebody who has the ability to get elected,” he said.

Ambrose faced Hall of Fame running backs Earl Campbell and Franco Harris as a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns from 1975-85. He said his new job, combined with the pressure of campaigning, is even more difficult.

“It’s like two-a-days,” he said.

His campaign literature ties into the football theme. He distributes 4-by-6-inch cards with a photo of him in his Browns uniform wearing No. 52 on one side, and on the reverse the 2004 Browns schedule and a smaller photo of him in his judge’s robes.

“I thought that, that was obviously something that would be an attention getter,” Ambrose said. “It was set up like a football card.”

Ambrose, 51, faces an opponent, John J. Russo, who also has some name recognition going for him. There are five Russos on the bench in Cuyahoga County and his cousin Frank Russo is the county auditor.

Some attribute the political power of the Russo name to inspection stickers on gas pumps and cash registers throughout the county that bear Frank Russo’s smiling mug.

“That is some form of advertising. It’s probably better than being a former Browns player,” Ambrose said.

John Russo, 39, a criminal defense attorney, said he doesn’t deny his name has political power. He also doesn’t fault Ambrose for using his Browns career to promote himself.

But with eight contested common pleas court races on the Nov. 2 ballot in Cuyahoga County, Russo hopes voters will take the time to look at judicial ratings by various bar associations and not just vote on name recognition.

“I’d like to think that voters are educating themselves,” he said.

Ambrose started law school during the NFL strike in 1982. At 6 feet, 230 pounds in his playing days, Ambrose got some amused looks when he first walked into class.

He finished his degree in 1987, two years after injuries ended his football career, and practiced business litigation at a law firm.

Even though the Browns have struggled recently, he said people respond warmly to him because of his days as a member of the “Kardiac Kids,” known for their last minute victories and a heartbreaking playoff loss in 1980.

Ambrose said voters should look to his leadership on the team.