Wednesday, November 18, 2009

County Charter, Dimora Departure, offer Opportunity for Cuyahoga Democrats to Restructure, Rejuvenate their Party

Jimmy Dimora has literally and figuratively cast a huge and depressing shadow over the county Democratic Party for more than a decade. As the ongoing federal investigation has forced him to step away from his central command post as party chair, small rays of light have begun to expose long-suppressed sores and scabs in the folds of the party’s huge, stagnant and shaken body.

The dominance of the party in sweeping all non-judicial county races since 1992 has been less attributable to Dimora’s political acumen than to simple demographics. Republicans have either fled Cuyahoga for the fresh air of Lake, Summit, Medina or Lorain counties, or have retreated into privileged enclaves along the outskirts.

Dimora can be credited, in a quasi-positive way, for navigating the community’s long unresolved ethnic and class fault lines — lines faithfully recapitulated within the Party — with sufficient fairness and skill to keep the party’s core constituencies from imploding into unmanageable intraparty strife. He did this not with an iron fist but by using a carefully honed affability to disguise constant use of a mental abacus to calculate his political advantage.

Unfortunately for northeast Ohio, Dimora’s lame and dishonest stewardship as county commissioner has been a key element — though by no means the only or even the most important one — in retarding regional adjustment to 21st century realities.

Dimora’s greatest gift to his community, to paraphrase some wag, may be found in the appropriately large wake of his effective departure from his twin posts as government official and party boss. While he still has the titles, his power and influence have been eviscerated as a result of his total loss of public face. While the legal end to the federal investigation is not in sight, nor its outcome guaranteed, county voters overwhelmingly slammed the door on the particular form of government that facilitated his malfeasance.

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Notwithstanding the abrupt and dramatic shift to a new form of county government that will soon be underway, it is the new contours of the local Democratic Party that may have greater impact upon the community’s public life. This is presently uncharted territory.

Will there simply be a repeat of the top-down structure with a new head? That is the dominant model across too many domains in this region. If that model prevails within the Party, there will likely be further erosion of party strength, with especially negative consequences to the state Democratic ticket next year.

Will old-style jockeying to protect county jobs and long-established fiefdoms derail a healthy and open process? Not if a new group calling itself Cuyahoga Democrats for Principled Leadership has anything to do with it.

Yesterday, shortly after sunrise, there appeared signs in Midtown Cleveland of a new coalition of activist Democrats. There were about 40 in attendance. Prominent public officials, even those who likely would support efforts to transform the party into a more open, transparent, democratic organization, were intentionally left off the list of invitees. A few suburban council people, including Lakewood’s Tom Bullock [one of the conveners], Pepper Pike’s Rick Taft and Rob Zimmerman of Shaker Heights did overcome the disability of office-holding. The diverse assembly included a smattering of precinct committee members, some old war-horses, some presumptive office-seekers, and a healthy contingent of new blood.

This latter group included several young people who have come to northeast Ohio from outside the state in recent years for reasons of job, family, or in several cases, to work on national campaigns. This segment seemed particularly appalled at the condition of local party affairs.

The tone of the meeting was crisp, open, organized, realistic, agentic, and hopeful. The focus was on values and practices, not personalities. Consensus was reached early in the ninety-minute meeting that the group would commit to openness, transparency, and inclusiveness.

The group has adopted no formal position statement, has no officers, no membership requirements. As a measure of its openness, the blogger/journalists in attendance [I counted two] were not asked to treat the meeting as confidential.

After the meeting, Tom Bullock, emailed The Real Deal to say the meeting "was the first of what we hope will be a series of meetings that will include a growing circle of participants. The invitation list for this first session did not include major elected officials but rather emphasized rank-and-file Party members, activists, and campaign volunteers to allow for a grassroots discussion. Some attendees hold formal Party positions; many do not. All agreed that future meetings should reach out to an ever-broader circle of Cuyahoga Democrats, including elected officials."

Stay tuned!

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