Monday, November 01, 2010

Election Day 2010

I am a traditionalist when it comes to voting. I like walking to my neighborhood precinct — usually the library or the elementary school — and physically casting my ballot in our increasingly virtual world.

[Actually, I’m a deep procrastinator, so I wait until the last day, telling myself you never know what may happen during the campaign to change my assessment. [Only yesterday I read that a Seattle newspaper withdrew its endorsement of a judge who made public statements betraying his deep bias and limited understanding.

I also confess that, from the vantage of one who writes about politics and public affairs, I am less and less impressed with newspaper endorsements. They seem so after the fact. The paper’s decision makers favor this candidate, and then they set out to find reasons to convince voters who are undecided, wavering, harried, uninformed, preoccupied or lazy, why they should vote the paper’s way. Editorialists argue in a Mt. Olympus tenor that suggests they know best. Even if you know nothing about the candidates, it often comes across as so much b.s.

Much of the time it seems candidates are asked the wrong questions. Candidates talk about policies and what they intend to do. Their commercials bash their opponents. Too many exaggerate their virtues and demonize their opponents. When 80% of the electorate tunes out, the politicians get louder and more strident. This season, as the television blasted four, five, even six consecutive political ads in a single commercial break, I resorted to an old tack. I turned off the sound and observed their faces and body language, and looked for character clues.

Why is this candidate really running? Do they appear to have a real dedication to public service? Is their opposition to existing policy based on genuine analysis or the financial interests of their backers? Can they be counted upon to stay true to conviction when the discussions are private and compromises [“deals?”] are on the table? Are they special interest captives, reflexively parroting a party line? Depending on the nature of the office they seek, what evidence suggests they have the requisite components of executive, legislative, or judicial skills and temperament to be honest and effective public servants?

Seldom do I find my local papers giving me real help in discovering answers to these questions. And history tells us these questions mean more than platforms and promises, because the issues that arise during the term of service are often unforeseen. Bush 41 was elected president with presumed foreign policy expertise and was undone by domestic issues. Bush 43 had an intense domestic agenda that took a deep back seat to post-911 global issues. Lyndon Johnson had immense legislative skills that proved useless in charting a course in Southeast Asia. Neither Ike nor JFK was prepared to deal with civil rights.

The same considerations apply locally. Every current candidate for county executive proclaims that his administration will be honest, open, and efficient. I bet they all love their grandmothers too. Who among them, however, has the political and life experience to revamp effectively a huge public bureaucracy with requisite degrees of wisdom, tenacity, and fairness? Who is least likely to make critical errors that will erode the public support and confidence necessary for effective leadership? The “best” policies mean nothing without the ability to implement them. So who can work best with a new county council whose dynamics are totally unknown?

These are the kinds of questions I have been asking since the new county charter was approved. [I have been asking similar questions about state and federal races as well.] To answer them I have, like many of you, watched and listened to the candidates, read campaign literature, visited websites, reviewed platforms, talked with supporters and opponents.

So, for those of you are either undecided, wavering, harried, uninformed, preoccupied, lazy, or just curious, here is who I plan to vote for county exec when I go to Noble Elementary School Tuesday, November 2.

I think independent Don Scipione and Green Party nominee David Ellington are the "smartest" candidates. They are reasonable men who if elected, would serve in a true spirit of public service. If either were elected they would find themselves as unprepared as was Dennis Kucinich the day he was sworn in as mayor of Cleveland. This would only be slightly less true of independent Ken Lanci. His frustration would come as soon as he discovered that you can’t fire everybody who doesn’t want to do things your way, and that there are vast differences between running a company you own and having to pretty much negotiate everything you do with independently-based council members, civil servants, interest groups, media, and several score municipalities.

I respected Tim McCormack as county auditor and county commissioner and thought he got a political raw deal when business interests conspired to oust him in favor of pseudo-liberal Tim Hagan several years ago. He was an uncompromising commissioner in healthy ways. But his strong self-righteousness and thin-skinned persona would likely endanger the kind of coalition-building necessary to get our new charter experiment off to a successful start. I also have a sense that he is now a stealth candidate for some of the same business interests that consistently roam local corridors of power.

Republican Matt Dolan impressed me when he appeared this past April at an early nonpartisan forum sponsored by the Eleventh District Congressional Caucus. He was direct and surprisingly at ease in a gathering that was mostly black and Democratic. I am disappointed that he did not continue along the same path of positive engagement countywide. Instead, he seemed to retreat to his comfort zone in the mostly white, mostly wealthy corners of the county, from where he lobbed grenades attacking his Democratic opponent as a foe of charter reform and scurrilous attacks linking him to the county corruption.

I had never heard of Lakewood mayor Ed FitzGerald, the Democratic Party nominee, until after last year’s charter vote, even though he was mayor of one of the county’s largest and best run cities. I was initially cautious about him, especially because of presumed ties to the Bill Mason faction of his party. In twelve months of watching and investigating, I have found nothing to be concerned with on that score, even absent the mounting evidence that county prosecutor Mason’s political career is moving to a dead end with all deliberate speed.

FitgGerald’s charter opposition, rooted in a belief that a different process would have led to an improved charter, is not a reason to disqualify him from serving as County Executive, any more than it would be a reason to disqualify the more than half a million registered County voters who did not vote for the charter from voting for the new positions the charter created.

But I have found several positive reasons to vote for Ed FitzGerald. First, he has real leadership skills. He is a grounded individual, based upon his family, church, and community values. He has regularly articulated the clearest, most comprehensive, and positive vision of what Cuyahoga County can become, and he has done it consistently all across the county, with voters of every ethnic and class background. And no matter where he has been, or who he has been in front of, he has been himself, seeking to connect with people where there are, suggesting that a common journey to a better place is possible. He has done so earnestly, his message appropriately leavened by a deft sense of humor that the new county executive will surely need.

I think Ed FitzGerald is clearly the best choice to be our first County Executive.

If you haven’t voted, I hope you find the discussion useful. If you weren’t planning to vote, perhaps you will be persuaded to go to the polls and exercise your right and duty. And if you don’t vote, then in the words of a longtime friend, a true Republican, a retired judge who is still a feisty and active civic leader, “Nobody gives a damn what you think if you don’t vote.”


geokwill said...

Thanks Richard.....appreciate the perspective even though I voted early...!

George Williams

Richard said...

Thanks, George. Your feedback is always appreciated!