Friday, April 23, 2010

11th District Caucus forum: Spring Training for County Exec Candidates

Last Saturday the Eleventh Congressional District Caucus held a forum for the declared county executive candidates who will be running in the September 7 primary. The timing was a little out of kilter because of the heated battles going on in several local Democratic primaries, not to mention the heated statewide battle for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring US Senator George Voinovich.

Nonetheless, the forum was a good opportunity for the county executive candidates to try out their campaign themes on a politically sophisticated audience. Nearly 200 people were in attendance at the forum in the new John Adams High School on Cleveland’s east side. The candidates — Opportunity Corridor director Terri Hamilton Brown; former state representative Matt Dolan; Lakewood mayor Ed FitzGerald, and South Euclid mayor Georgine Welo — each offered an opening statement and then answered questions prepared by the moderator, county recorder Lillian Greene, or written down and collected from the audience.

Dolan’s participation must have surprised many in attendance, and was certainly news to some in the party hierarchy. The caucus has come to be widely but inaccurately perceived as being a Democratic Party affiliate. Its leader, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, D-11, has overseen the organization’s transformation from a strictly political organization to a non-profit, nonpartisan corporation. As such, the Republican Dolan was invited on the same basis as the others, and was in fact able to establish a connection with many in the audience.

Dolan told the crowd that the chief executive needed to set the vision for the new county government and council. He touted his bi-partisan bona fides and promised to use the position as a bully pulpit for public education. He came across as somewhat paternalistic when he talked about helping the new county council to see a broader vision.

FitzGerald stressed restoring integrity to county government and spoke of his experience as Lakewood mayor in managing a $100 million budget. He spoke optimistically of establishing a collegial relationship with the new council and indicated that a FitzGerald administration would emphasize human services along with jobs and growth.

Welo, styling herself as “the people’s candidate”, made it clear that a Welo administration would focus on the core issues of health, safety, and welfare. Her manner was direct and unvarnished as she strove to project a straight-ahead, commonsense, can-do approach.

The forum was probably most beneficial to Brown, who likely possesses the best resume as a professional manager but is a political novice as a candidate. She had difficulty in keeping her answers to a manageable length, and also struggled to find a natural, conversational tone. She is clearly more comfortable in a board room than on the stump, and whatever notion she had of making an easy transition to the microphone was quickly dispelled. To her credit, she acknowledged the challenge and her promise to meet it seemed to draw warm sympathy from the crowd. Brown also connected by tracing her Lee-Harvard upbringing.

Dolan likely has a clear path through the September Republican primary to the general election in November. Brown, FitzGerald and Welo will compete in the Democratic primary. The filing deadline for both primaries is June 24. Those who win the party primaries will be facing one and probably two additional major candidates. Conservative businessman Ken Lanci is running already as an independent, and rumors are rife that maverick Democrat and former county commissioner Tim McCormack will also run as an independent.

Four candidates in the general election, each reasonably well-financed and with a well-defined political base, means the first Cuyahoga County chief executive could be elected with as little as 30% of the vote in November.
• • •

Grits ain't Gravy
[Miscellaneous Political Notes]

The caucus meeting offered some interesting side stories:
• Congresswoman Fudge, for instance, unlike many office holders, was content to make some brief remarks and then sit down without trying to dominate the proceedings.
Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, running for the US Senate, arrived with her campaign team, made some concise remarks, and sat attentively throughout the meeting.
• A campaign tracker, said to be an operative of her primary opponent, Lt. General Lee Fisher, kept a camera focused on Brunner the entire time.