Friday, June 04, 2010

Party Chair a Done Deal

Last night’s meeting in Shaker Heights of assorted eastside Democratic clubs and affinity-based caucuses was designed to ratify the selection by county party brass of Stuart Garson as the next chairman and to offer him a platform to articulate his vision of the future of the party. Mission Accomplished. Mostly.

Stuart Garson will be elected chairman of the party when the newly elected precinct leaders convene as the party’s 800-plus central committee on June 16 at John Carroll University. The party’s new crew chief brings an old-fashioned roll up your sleeves and outwork the other fella attitude to the task of electing Democrats and defeating Republicans. He projects a rough-and-tumble attitude that may be borne of his workers’ comp practice.

Garson will bring a strong array of assets to the party, the most obvious being his strong rapport with soon-to-be senior Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge. Gov. Strickland is very much on board with Garson’s designation, as his spokesperson Anne Hill said at last night’s meeting. Garson’s manner exuded self-confidence without suggesting arrogance, and a glimpse of his sense of humor occasionally broke free of his straight-ahead approach.

Last night Garson offered his view of the party. He said there would be a zero-tolerance policy for self-dealing by party leaders. He wants to find, recruit, elect and support the best Democratic candidates for public office.

Garson deplored the stagnant vista from his 16th floor Rockefeller Building office, which he said for 21 years has offered up only surface parking lots on the Public Square. He sees this as representative of a collective community failure to create opportunities for young people in this region. Acknowledging that he has reached the stage of life where he is planting trees under whose shade he will never sit, he acknowledged a personal resonance to the city’s decline: all three of his daughters have moved so far away that he can see them only by flying cross-country. He decried the cost of this brain drain, observing the investment Clevelanders make in raising and educating our young who then spend their productive energies building other communities.

The analysis, both heartfelt and keen, did not mask the new leader’s potential problems with the “vision thing”. He seems not to appreciate the “soft skills” of communication and cultural sensitivity that make for successful people management in today’s complex society. He seems more a Woody Hayes disciple of the “three yards and a cloud of dust” football approach than to the fluid, evolving triangle offense of basketball’s Phil Jackson. Thus, he wants to defer party reform until some future day, without giving much thought to how the top-down, behind closed methodology contributed to the atmosphere in which malfeasance thrived. During the Q & A that followed his prepared remarks, he suggested without a shred of hubris that the party’s image had changed, because he was now heir apparent.

Voters, along with many rank-and-file, will more likely demand a transplant in operations instead of a makeover before agreeing to renew a courtship that ended in betrayal.

• • •

Mark Griffin made a concise and eloquent plea for the party to take responsibility for its past mistakes and to take ownership of its future by committing to achieving excellence in all endeavors. He played a difficult hand throughout the process with grace and intelligence and loyalty. What place if any Garson finds for the younger and energetic Griffin will send a clear signal about the substance and style of the Garson administration.

• • •

Michael Jackson, president of the Shaker Heights Dems, did a fine job of running the meeting on a timed agenda. He also deserves kudos for his quiet suggestion to Garson at meeting’s close that the party rank and file want reform and that if Garson seeks to extract a commitment from them to work hard through November, he should offer a reciprocal formal commitment to serious reform.

• • •

One of the brightest lights on the local Democratic landscape this past year has been Michael Ruff’s work with local political parties all across the county. Ruff was director of regional field operations for the Cuyahoga region for the state party. Party executive director Doug Kelly seems to have grossly under-appreciated Ruff’s effectiveness in healing much intra-party discord and tamping down simmering turf battles by reminding folks to keep their eyes on the greater good.

Terri Hamilton Brown wasted no time in outracing the competition for Ruff’s services. He debuted as her campaign manager this past Monday. His countywide contacts are sure to be an important boost to Brown’s field operations.

The kickoff itself was a successful affair, as more than 125 people walked through the door at Massima de Milano’s on West 25 Street, many with checks in hand. Brown, who has never run for political office, has assembled a top-drawer political team that has Burges & Burges for political strategy and the veteran Tom Andrzejewski as media adviser and spokesman.

• • •

A tidbit for the loyal reader who has continued to the end:

Shaker mayor Earl Leiken introduced Garson last night and said that Garson had never run for office. Not exactly. Garson was on the countywide ballot only last November. He came in 28th of 29 candidates for one of 15 seats on the charter review commission. Issue 5 did not win passage and thus the commission was not established.

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