Monday, November 02, 2009

Cuyahoga County: What Change Do We Want?

In less than 24 hours Cuyahoga County voters will head to the polls to cast the most consequential ballots this community has seen since Carl Stokes was elected Cleveland mayor in 1967. Voters’ decisions on county Issues 5 and 6, along with results of Statewide Issue 3, are likely to bring profound change to the area’s political landscape. Some of that change has already begun to occur.

Cuyahoga’s landscape has been bleak for a long time. While a lot of manure has been spread over bald spots in the name of economic development, the establishment preference for quick and dirty fixes instead of labor-intensive work to rebuild the community’s barren polity almost guarantees that we will get the stench of economic b.s. [“34,000 jobs”] in the guise of fake economic development and imitation political reform.

The previous sentence may presage my vote, but my opinions are based on having talked to numerous municipal and county elected officials across the County, including those whose jobs will be directly eliminated if Issue 6 passes, and many who will remain in place however 5 and 6 turn out. I also have attended more debates than the select few the Plain Dealer chose to report, and they absent at some important ones. These would include newsworthy programs sponsored by the Black Women’s Political Action Committee at Cleveland State University and last week’s informative presentation at Case Western Reserve University, organized by State Senator Shirley Smith.

The Case presentation was especially notable because its Allen Auditorium stage not only included key Issue 6 proponents Parma Heights mayor, Martin Zanotti and State Senator Nina Turner on one side, and the fiercely-against 6 County Recorder Lillian Greene, but literally in between her and them were Issue 5 supporters, County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones and North Olmsted councilwoman Ann Marie Donegan, as well as two out-of-state experts on local and county government imported to lend perspective on what is happening here and what ought to happen here. Presiding over the program was Case Professor David Miller, also a South Euclid councilman, and surely the only public official in these parts who packs both a PhD and an impressive set of dreadlocks.

Finally, I also have talked with close to a dozen of the impressive citizens who will be appearing in alphabetical order on the ballot as candidates for the charter review commission that will be established if Issue 5 passes. If the Plain Dealer talked to any of these people and reported on them as other than Issue 5 pawns or mostly-Republican Issue 6 supporters, that day’s paper wasn’t delivered to my home.

In support of the claim that the political landscape will change irrespective of tomorrow’s voting results, consider this: two local dinosaurs are dying. With respect to Issues 3, 5 and 6, the Plain Dealer has shown itself to be the FoxNews of Cuyahoga County, only with less imagination, energy, and imagination. The dumbed-down discussion promoted by a one-newspaper town was stultifying in its simplicity. In failing even to provide comprehensive analysis of the issues — not to be confused with relentless repetition of the flattest aspects of the debate — the paper has pretty much unmasked itself as being on sale to the highest bidder.

But a word of praise: retired PD writer Thomas Suddes wrote a piece that appeared in the October 18 Sunday edition of the paper that was remarkable for the plain and simple way it ripped the covers off the casino issue, exposing its sordid money plays, its assault upon the State Constitution, and its likely consequences for the already overburdened citizens of this county. If you voted early for Issue 3, you probably called the Board of Elections the next day and tried to get your ballot back.

A second major dinosaur about to fall is the black political leadership infrastructure. Little observed among the huge forest of demographic trends that both contribute to and document the community’s declining resources has been the emergence of positive black political leadership in many of Cleveland’s suburbs. If Issue 6 passes, this leadership will become more important in countywide discussions, Even if Issue 6 fails, the political domination of Stokes-Forbes-Pinkney will soon be retired, both by time and an inability to adapt its carnivorous ways. The issue here will be whether the new leadership will attempt to replicate the personal style of power accumulation that has retarded both the black community and the region, or whether they will lead the way in emulation of the more transparent, inclusive, and bottom-up style of the current White House occupant.

• • •
As to the Issues, I have almost given up hope, but here goes my Suddes-like evaluation:

Issue 3 is a sucker’s bet. The State’s voters will allow this community to play the lottery, which is to say, we will provide eternal riches to Dan Gilbert via constitutional amendment on the very long shot that casino gambling will revive us to the same extent that winning LeBron James in the NBA lottery revived the Cavaliers. Lightning strikes the whole community! Economic miracle! VOTE NO ON ISSUE 3.

Issue 6 is also a sucker’s bet. Whereas the casino issue is all about money, which buys power, the charter reform plan is all about political power, which when abused is a great way to acquire money. I have many, many good friends who believe in good government, who know that our current system is inefficient, obsolete and corrupt at key spinal joints, and who therefore support this county reform plan as a last gasp life-saving operation. But Issue 6 is like giving the County a blood transfusion with infected blood. It doesn’t address the corruption issues, it won’t improve the quality of our public officials, it puts too much power unchecked into the wrong hands, and it enhances the power of one current public official who either knew about county political corruption and did nothing or should be out of office for not having known. It will also perpetuate and extend the current inequities in our community in the name of economic development.

And the most important reason to vote against Issue 6 is that it is the product of a deeply flawed process. It is top-down reform being sold as our only way out. Those who are not cynically trying to regain the control they lost when they moved to pristine exurbs are totally frustrated by the County’s last-century orientation and believe that this is our last chance to turn the ship around. They have no faith that we can do better so they will gamble that the hungry sharks behind Issue 6 don’t bite.

We do need change. But Issue 6 is not the change we need. Process matters. VOTE NO ON ISSUE 6.

I am excited about Issue 5. I am excited because I believe some of Cuyahoga’s best citizens are members of both slates. I have talked at length with people like Tom Kelly, Ronald V. Johnson, Angela Thi Bennett, and James Brady about how they were selected, why they are running, and what they hope to accomplish. I don’t believe they are puppets for political leaders of any faction.

If Issue 5 passes, the citizens of Cuyahoga County will be empowered. We have been awakened by this political campaign in spite of its atrocious media coverage. We will not relapse into apathy. We will rise and re-take control of our community and craft a charter through a process that is open, inclusive, and transparent. The result will be a much stronger charter and a much better county government. The year spent in this process will not be wasted but will equip us to move forward together. VOTE YES ON ISSUE 5 and vote for at least 5 candidates from your less preferred slate.

P.S. This is an overwhelmingly Democratic county. The best reform we could make would be to reform the Cuyahoga Democratic Party. But that’s for a future post, for which you won’t have to wait as long.


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