Saturday, January 20, 2018

Marcia Fudge sticks nose under local endorsement process tent

It would be hard to imagine a more ill-conceived and ineptly concealed private maneuver than what Cleveland area Congresswoman Marcia Fudge unveiled last night during a telephone conference that was leaked before it was over.

Apparently intent on leaving no rock unturned in a last-ditch effort to secure the endorsement of the county Democratic Party for two judicial candidates whom she has personally endorsed, Fudge personally conducted the telephone meeting with several east side elected officials, party leaders, and political activists.

There were close to 20 people on the conference call, which lasted only about 15 minutes. Fudge was calling from Washington DC, where Congress was in session.

Multiple sources speaking on condition of anonymity said the Congresswoman advanced a scorched earth policy: if the Party’s executive committee refuses to endorse Andrea Nelson Moore and Deborah M. Turner, Fudge wants her allies to push for a no endorsement policy in all 2018 races, including other judicial races as well as county and state legislative contests.

What has people most upset about the meeting is that party chair Shontel Brown took an active part in the strategy session. Brown, who represents District 10 in County Council, is a Fudge protégé. She became party chair last summer amidst whispers that she lacked the sophistication and experience to handle the job, and that the powers behind the throne would be some combination of Fudge, Cleveland City Council president Kevin Kelley, and one or two others.

Brown’s active and open participation in an effort to help Turner and Moore means of course, that the party chair was scheming against their opponents, including Ashley Kilbane, who is running for the nomination in one judicial primary race against Moore; and Karrie Howard, who is vying for nomination to the same open seat as Turner and Mickey Mottl. Howard and Kilbane received the most votes in their respective races at last week’s meeting of city and ward leaders from across the county.

Fudge’s efforts to impose her will on the endorsement process is likely to produce strong and perhaps chaotic pushback at today’s executive committee meeting, where senior party leaders decide on endorsements for the May 8 primary in some two to three dozen judicial, legislative, and state races. The meeting is scheduled to start at 9am at Euclid High School. The first question on the agenda could be whether Brown can conduct the meeting impartially.

Fudge had confided to associates before the conference call that she would attend today’s meeting to personally confront executive committee meetings over their refusal to endorse black judicial candidates. She seems to discount the fact that Karrie Howard, a former federal and state prosecutor who is receiving support from virtually every corner of the county, is unabashedly black. Fudge acknowledged in the meeting that pressure had been placed on Howard to leave the race he is leading to clear space for Turner but that he had declined. The Real Deal Press has learned that Kilbane also refused similar entreaties.

Much of the intrigue appears aimed at saving face for the Congresswoman, who risks the prospect of today’s meeting ending with her favored candidates striking out.

Several political consultants with whom we spoke following the meeting thought Fudge’s strategy was both unworkable and unsound, and that her tactics verged on bullying.

But there was virtually no dissent expressed from those on the call, according to several sources with knowledge of the meeting. State Rep. Kent Smith, who is Euclid city leader, did say that Howard had considerable support among his members who could not be counted on to support the Fudge plan.

Besides the clear impropriety of Brown’s active involvement in the scheming, what amazes most people who have spoken with RDP about the meeting was its gross indiscretion. Little attempt was made to vet the invited conferees, and no attempt was apparently made to exclude others who joined the call anonymously, ensuring that details of the call would become known even before Fudge could rejoin her colleagues in the Capitol.

In addition to Fudge, Brown, and Smith, the following people are known to have to been on the call, as confirmed by multiple sources or the individuals themselves:
Cleveland city councilmen Joe Jones [Ward 1], Blaine Griffin [6], Kevin Conwell [9], Anthony Hairston [10]; county councilwoman Yvonne Conwell [District 7]; Shaker Heights city leader Lisa Payne Jones; former Cleveland councilman Zack Reed; former Richmond Hts. mayor Miesha Headen; political activists Willie Britt, Kenn Johnson, Kent Whitley, and Angela Shute Woodson. Also on the call was Fudge political adviser Ken Dowell, who reportedly arranged the call.

Richmond Heights city council president Eloise Henry was also identified as having been on the call, but we have been unable to confirm her attendance as of publication.

And there were others.

Fudge is reported to have expressed the need to get Turner and Moore nominated as a sign of support for chairman Brown. But, as one listener said, “Shontel’s job is to do what Marcia needs done.”

In fairness to Brown, it is generally considered part of the chair’s duty to clear the field for preferred candidates in appropriate circumstances. But usual considerations of timing, manner, and nuance were disregarded in this instance.

There were some other intriguing comments attributed to the Congresswoman. One was a claim of entitlement for the black community, which provided substantial support to county executive Armond Budish in 2014. Fudge was also reported to have said that if west side Democrats would not support black candidates, they would be denied access to black pulpits.

Why Fudge and Brown would burden Howard and Kilbane with the responsibility to pay back support to Budish, or what power Fudge has over black clergy, was not detailed.

Friday, January 19, 2018

CPT • Black Political Unrest playing out in Cuyahoga Democratic Party

 Cuyahoga Politics Today
Cuyahoga Democrats: Change is Blowing in the Wind
Endorsement process is tip of iceberg of roiling black political energy

​It’s impossible to talk about politics in Greater Cleveland without talking about black politics.

That fact makes some folk uncomfortable for different reasons. People want to believe in the Kumbaya stick image that our homogenizing culture has made of Martin King. They like to cite his Dream while omitting the realities he gave his last full measure of devotion trying to change: a dominant military-capitalist system that crushed poor people and people of color.

Fifty years later society celebrates a sanitized version of King’s legacy that omits how he was cursed, vilified, asaulted, spied upon by his own government, and thrown in jail with regularity, just for trying to make this country a more just and humane place to live and work. When King came to Cleveland to support the 1967 Stokes campaign, Democratic Party chairman and county engineer Albert Porter sent out letters saying that a Stokes victory meant turning the city over to Martin King, the tone of his message implying that rape and pillage would soon follow.

King was one of a trio of now celebrated black men hated for their fearless and sacrificial stance on behalf of their community and thereby on behalf of the larger society. Muhammad Ali was another towering black figure who came to prominence in the civil rights era. His livelihood was taken away and all manner of hatred hurled at him for his humble, courageous and principled stand for his religious beliefs. He died in 2016 as perhaps the most recognized and beloved global citizen of his time.

Last year in Cleveland, establishment institutions went all in on the golden anniversary of Carl Stokes’ election as the first black mayor of a major US city. It seems little time was spent on how far we have and have not come in addressing our community’s continuing racial and class inequities. Carl and his widely respected brother Lou — the beloved Congressman aka “the Distinguished Gentleman” are today remembered for their accomplishments, as if the demons they wrestled against were vanquished.

The reality is quite different. Echoes of their struggles resound nationally in the rollback of voting rights; the outright perfidy of gerrymandering in North Carolina, Ohio and elsewhere; the open racism, crudity and unchristian behavior of this ersatz evangelical Administration bent on destroying the fundamentals of our democracy. Echoes of Ali’s struggles can be scene in the honest protest of Colin Kaepernick, who is reviled and unemployed for daring to speak out against police brutality and injustice.

Here in Cleveland, an examination of Stokes’ legacy would include fighting his own Democratic Party for respect and a fair deal. It would involve remembering how and why the Twenty-First Congressional District Caucus was formed, and how it became a transcendant force for empowerment.

When I remember Carl Stokes I like to recall his love for black people, his self-confidence, his willingness to go into hostile territory and stand on his qualifications to serve. I remember the respect he had for the profession of politics and the disdain he had for political pretenders. I loved that he always kept his eyes on the prize of fair and equitable power distribution.

I wish that today we had more African American professional politicians in our community who were, like the Stokes boys, rooted in our community and focused on their role as public servants. They understood that the leadership followed the service.

Each of these distingushed gentlemen — King, Ali, Carl, Lou — was guided in their professional pursuits by principle, purpose, passion and preparation. These were key elements in their ability to excel in their chosen fields.

Politics Today
For the past couple of days we have been writing to peel back some of the mystery of local politics, to provide some insight into the how and why some names appear on the ballot and some don’t. To give some understanding about the inner workings of the endorsement process.

One of the things we have noticed in our close up look at the local Democratic Party is how much is changing even as so much remains unchanged.

What has changed? Too often, black candidates are reluctant to campaign across their entire jurisdictions. They self-segregate themselves.

I just paused writing this and went searching for a passage in Carl Stokes’ magnificent book, Promises of Power: Then and Now. I re-read Chapter 3, “How to Get Elected by White People”. It’s unbelievable how his account of his campaign for the state legislature in 1960 remains a blueprint for any candidate of color seeking countywide office today. As I look at what’s happening in the local Democratic Party today, I think Karrie Howard may be the only black person running countywide this year whose campaign has internalized that chapter.

Perhaps that’s why Howard pulled the stunning feat of securing the backing of Parma’s rank-and-file political leaders even in the face of the Mason-Fudge alignment.

My political gut tells me that a huge shakeup in county politics may be on the horizon. Lou Stokes and the Congressional District Caucus were part of a strong black political tradition that connected ordinary black men and women to their political representatives. That tradition waned over the years, and when the Hon. Marcia L. Fudge took over from Lou’s successor, — the beloved Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who died suddenly in 2008 — Fudge effectively dissolved the Caucus, almost the last thread connecting the people to the process. In some cases the thread seems to have been replaced by ministerial mercenaries.

Fudge of late has been generously endorsing candidates, including two judicial aspirants — Deborah Monique Turner and Andrea Nelson Moore — who are longshots to garner the financial resources necessary — generally ballparked at $100,000 — to run successfully countywide. She is also backing Jeff Johnson in his campaign against incumbent State Sen. Sandra Williams, which most observers think is payback for Williams’ challenge to Fudge protégé Shontel Brown, to become Party chair. Fudge won that battle — which may be tied to her deal with Bill Mason — but is upset that Williams did not back down.

It is intriguing to consider what, if anything, this would-be Empress of Black Politics will be wearing if she leaves tomorrow’s executive committee meeting with none of her publicized candidates able to secure an endorsement.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

CPT: Local Democrats struggling with inclusion, diversity

 Cuyahoga Politics Today
The Cuyahoga Democratic Party
Inside the judicial endorsement process

​Black people who came of age during the Civil Rights Era of the ‘50s and ‘60s were regularly exhorted by our parents that we had to be twice as good as the white man just to get half a chance.

While African Americans have made great strides in many arena of our society over the past several decades, that progress has been uneven. In  politics, for instance, it remains damnably difficult for a black man to be elected a county judge in Cuyahoga County.

One might say that it should be difficult for anyone to be elected a judge, and we would agree. Integrity, judgment, temperament, experience, intellect, emotional and social intelligence should be a part of the makeup of every member of the bench. Unfortunately, none of these competencies are requirements. Basically you just need to have five years of bar admission and be less than 70 on day one of your term.

This means that just about any lawyer can run. You will be immensely helped if you have a wide circle of friends, a good name, and either your own money or the ability to raise a hunk of it.

And did we say a good name? Here are some names on the county judicial roster as of December 31:

CELEBREEZE [2 judges with this surname] [Frank D. Jr., Leslie Ann]
GALLAGHER [7] [Eileen T., Eileen A., Hollie Lauren; Kelly Ann; Laura J.; Sean C.; Shannon M.]
RUSSO [5] [Anthony J., John J.; Joseph D., Michael J., Nancy Margaret]
CORRIGAN  [3] [Brian J.; Patrick F.; Peter J.]
SUTULA [2] [Kathleen Ann; John D.]
• RYAN [Michael John]

On the municipal court level, perhaps waiting to move up, are such names as O’Leary, Cassidy, Sweeney, Carroll, O’Donnell, Gilligan, Fitzsimmons, and Hagan.

Among those who have pulled petitions in advance of this year’s Feb. 7 deadline are these judicial hopefuls: Kilbane [Ashley], O’Malley [Jennifer L], Sheehan [Michelle], Santoli [Andrew J.], and Satola [James W.]. And there will also be some of the aforementioned incumbents — a Donnelly, a Celebreeze Jr., and a Gallagher — seeking higher judicial perches.

Understand that the recitation of these surnames is in no way meant to disparage either our judicial system or the many fine and honorable judges who sit on our local benches.

But I am saying that the only black judge mentioned so far would have had a much tougher electoral row to hoe if his name wasn’t Michael John Ryan.

For the record, there are seven African American women on the county bench, out of a total of 59 judges: Patricia Ann Blackmon, Cassandra Collier-Williams, Alison Nelson Floyd, Tonya R. Jones, Anita Laster Mays, Melody Stewart, and Shirley Strickland Saffold. Besides Judge Ryan at Juvenile Court, appellate court Judge Larry A. Jones is the only other black male currently on the county bench.

Thirty-four of these coveted county judicial seats are in the general division of Common Pleas Court. The general division, which handles both civil and criminal matters, is where felony cases are heard and disposed of, making it the fulcrum of the criminal justice system, and thus where the overwhelming number of criminal defendants are people of color, mostly males, mostly black men.

This is why the absence of even one male judge of color is such a huge issue, not just for the thousands of people who pass through this system every year, but even in the judicial conferences of these 34 judges. Whatever they talk about, there should be at least one black male there to offer some sorely needed perspective, of a sort that even empathic, brilliant and persuasive judges who are not black men cannot fully represent.

The foregoing discussion is a long but necessary predicate to understanding our earlier assertion about how hard it is for a black man to be elected a judge countywide in Cuyahoga County.

Basic Numbers
Some basic arithmetic is in order here. There are 12 Common Pleas judge races on the ballot this year. These are six year terms, and so a third of the 34 total general division seats are up every two years. There is heightened attention in this cycle because only eight incumbents are running for reelection, meaning there are four “open” seats.

Given the built in advantages an incumbent has when running for re-election, it is hardly surprising that as of this writing, only one candidate is challenging any of the eight incumbents seeking re-election.[*]

There are six African American or Hispanic candidates running for Common Pleas judgeships as of now, not counting incumbents running for reelection. Two are black men — Karrie Howard and Retanio Rucker. Two are Hispanic: Pablo Castro and Michael Rendon. And two are African American women: Andrea Nelson Moore and Deborah Turner.

With all six of these minority candidates running for an open seat, along with half a dozen other candidates, clearly there will be some head-butting between some of the candidates of color. Normally, this is where senior party leadership — your party chair and/or other power brokers — step in and urge/convince/cajole/force one or more candidates to shift slots or even drop out “for the good of the party”. We’ve seen this recently on the state level, where on both the GOP and Democrat sides, there has been consolidation among gubernatorial hopefuls, as in DeWine-Husted and Cordray-Sutton.

This has not happened with any effectiveness in these judicial contests. For the better part of a year, there have been disquieting rumors about a developing alliance between east and west side Democratic factions. I say disquieting because the history of the Democratic Party has not been good where the rubber meets the road. Black Democrats often fail to win endorsements against white candidates even when the former meet that “twice as good” standard. And when they do, the endorsement often seems to count for less, as westside Democrats either skip over the black candidate or even cross party lines to vote for the Republican.[†]

Further adding to the discomfort of the cross-county alliance is that one party thereto is former county prosecutor Bill Mason. During his dozen or so years as county prosecutor, Mason seemed to double down on the legacy of the notorious John T. Corrigan, whose thirty plus year run as prosecutor was distinguished by two accomplishments of significance to the black community: his office routinely over-indicted black defendants and he regularly recruited and supported hard-on-crime judicial candidates.

Mason went Corrigan one better, recruiting precinct committee people, in some cases the wives, brothers, or other relatives of his hundreds of assistant prosecutors, so as to dominate every aspect of the party not directly controlled by the crooked tandem of Jimmy Dimora and Frank Russo, who were both party leaders and high-ranking county public officials, carrying out their criminal enterprises across the street from Mason’s office.

The Russo-Dimora cabal was busted by the Feds; the duo went to prison, convicted along with several dozen others in the huge corruption scandal. The whole affair led to a new form of county government, beginning with the 2010 election, and Mason entered private practice.

After a too short hiatus, Mason has once again become a major player in party politics, perhaps an even more dangerous one since he can operate without the confines of an oath of office and through a network of college buddies and personal allegiances that have remained intact.

His eastside horse-trading partner? Why that would seem to be Marcia Fudge, occupant of the most sacred political perch in the black community: Congressional representative of the 11th District.

We said earlier merit is not what gets your name on the ballot. So we mean no disrespect when we talk here about horse trades. All but the most naïve judicial candidates discover early on the need to make the rounds of those who can help them — people like the Congresswoman and the former prosecutor and typically, the Party chair.

Bargain, then Stand and Deliver?
As the candidates made their rounds in this election cycle, Fudge and Mason struck a bargain on who they would collectively back. Mason’s prime candidates were Andrew Santoli and Emily Hagan. Fudge wanted Deborah Turner and Andrea Nelson Moore. The deal wasn’t intended to remain a secret because it could only be effected by passing the word to city and ward leaders and ultimately the precinct committee people who do the actual voting.

For the judgeships, the endorsement process is two-fold. The first step was last week, when city and ward leaders gathered to make their recommendations to the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee meets this Saturday to act on the recommendations. They can accept or reject any recommendation, and endorse or issue no endorsement in any race. Typically, however, they tend to follow the city and ward leader recommendations.

So what happened to the Fudge favorites? Neither was recommended by the 41 assembled city and ward leaders. Twenty-one votes were required to win a recommendation. Turner got 13 in her slot, coming in second to Karrie Howard, to the great surprise of many. Howard got 17 votes, and another 10 went to Mickey Mottl, a Parma native son. [We’ll write more about Howard soon.]

Moore was likewise unsuccessful, making Fudge zero for two. Mason went two for two, raising the question of whether he was unable to deliver for Fudge or chose not to.

In any event, the result is that with four open seats and six candidates of color who range from fair to outstanding, the most loyal and largest contingent of the Party could not get a single one of its candidates recommended in the first round.

This has heightened tensions considerably for Saturday’s Central Committee meeting. As is always the case, the results will depend on who is best able to turn out their troops. The stakes are high. The entire community needs a diverse bench of highly competent jurists. The black community needs representation. The County Democratic Party needs to demonstrate something more than the back of its hand to qualified black candidates.

The current party chair is County Councilwoman Shontel Brown of Warrensville Heights. The local Congresswoman is Marcia Fudge of Warrensville Heights. Both are black.

What is to be concluded if they are unable to deliver a single endorsement this Saturday?
# # #

[*] Even though judges are nominated through partisan primaries, candidates appear on the ballot without party designation. Since seven of the incumbents seeking re-election are Democrats, it is possible that nine of these 12 judgeships, including two of the four open seats, will be decided in the primary, because as of today, only two Republican candidates have publicly pulled petitions for any of these contests.
[†] This is not just a local phenomenon. In 2006, Democrats swept to victory statewide against the GOP in five of six contests. The sole loss came in the state auditor’s race, where Barbara Sykes, a black woman, lost to Mary Taylor, who is now Lieutenant Governor and a contender for the 2018 GOP gubernatorial nomination.