Monday, November 09, 2009

Lingering Images from the Campaign Trail

While the Board of Elections tells us the bottom line winners and losers in an election, it helps to be out on the hustings to get a sense of what really happened. Newspapers once served to give us a flavor of the political battles and the contestants, but in today’s era of contracted resources and decreasing institutional memory, campaign vignettes are a rare sighting. As we begin the adjustment to the new political realities in Cuyahoga County, it seems appropriate to step back and share some of our lasting impressions of the campaign trail.

Peter Lawson Jones established himself as both an indefatigable campaigner and the most knowledgeable official around about the workings of county government. He showed up late to practically every event but unlike most of his fellow Democratic office holders, who opposed Issue 6, Jones actually campaigned against it. In the process he revealed a depth of knowledge about county operations and responsibilities that could serve him well if he decides to seek the new chief executive position.

George Forbes was the most predictable person we saw on the campaign trail. Appearing alongside Arnold Pinkney at a debate organized by the Black Women’s Political Action Committee to provide historical perspective on county reform efforts, Forbes allowed Pinkney to do the heavy lifting as to the history. Forbes simply enumerated all the white politicians who came beseeching his support of Issue 6 [implied testimony to his continued self-professed status as defender of all things black] and scowled that “Issue 6 was bad for black people.” This act needs a curtain call.

Lillian Greene was the most aggrieved campaigner. After resigning a Common Pleas judgeship to accept the position of county recorder, she set about reforming and streamlining the recorder’s office, successfully standing for election to the post in November 2008. Feeling tarred by the broad brush of corruption allegations against Public Officials 1 & 2, she defends both her own honor and that of the overwhelming majority of her fellow county employees, elected and hired. No shrinking violet, she castigated those who would condemn county employees as mostly a bunch of incompetent and or crooked bumblers, and repeatedly trumpeted her belief that the reforms that Issue 6 will usher in will lead to unimaginable problems for Cuyahoga County residents and government.

Harriet Applegate made the most memorable declaration we heard during the campaign. Alluding to organized labor’s often sordid history in blackballing black workers, she vowed that labor would never desert the black community so long as she was AFL-CIO secretary. Made us wonder if her labor troops would have her back if push came to shove.

Ronald V. Johnson Jr. of South Euclid was the most impressive candidate we interviewed during the campaign. A lawyer with KeyBank, Johnson was the lone Republican on the Issue 5 slate. He thoroughly studied the Issue 6 proposal, along with existing state law, concluded that its shortcomings outweighed its merits, and actively spoke out against it.
It was a mark of the shortsightedness of local Democratic Party leadership that Johnson was the only member of the Issue 5 slate not to receive party endorsement. Bright, articulate, and conscientious, Johnson is the kind of candidate both parties should be recruiting for the new county council.

Nina Turner was the most courageous figure on the campaign tour. The state senator was virtually alone among black political leaders in endorsing Issue 6. Her refusal to kowtow to the old guard and to stand on political convictions earned her this observer’s respect even though we disagreed with her. Reports are that she will face a tough fight in that labor and black leaders have vowed to defeat her should she choose to try and retain her seat. But she should not be underestimated.