Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cavaliers Win: LeBron Leaves or Stays; Cavaliers Lose: LeBron Stays or Leaves; Cleveland: We Have Problems

I take a back seat to no one in my detestation of all Boston sports teams. I went away to high school within shouting distance of Boston, and I learned to detest the smug arrogance of the Celtics as personified by their radio announcer, Johnny Most. As a young black person coming of age, I resented how Celtic success was undergirded by Bill Russell, Satch Sanders, and the Jones boys,Sam & K.C., -- all of whom were black -- but Bostonians’ love of their team was centered on Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Frank Ramsey, and Tommy Heinsohn – all white. I also couldn’t help but notice that the Red Sox were all white, the last Major League baseball team to integrate. They stunk, so that was o.k.

Cleveland’s major teams, on the other hand, were both uniformly good and thoroughly integrated during the time my attachments were formed. Marion Motley, Bill Willis and Dave Pope lived in my neighborhood. Our little league teams were named for Luke Easter, Larry Doby. Life would have been heavenly but for those damn Yankees. Elston Howard couldn’t even redeem them.

Don’t misunderstand, it wasn’t all about color: in fact, it was mostly about excellence. I loved Bob Lemon, Al Rosen, Vic Wertz, Otto Graham, Dante Lavelli, Lou the Toe, the whole lot of them. But those Cleveland teams were inclusive, and that was an essential ingredient of their excellence.

Away from the field or diamond we are far from a post-racial society, and not likely to get there for a long time. In the arena, however, is where we are perhaps closest: we all pretty much like winners and admire talent. There is no Cavs fan of any stripe or hue who wouldn’t want Nowitzki the German Maverick, Gasol the Spanish Laker, or Parker, the French Spur. And we all appreciate our own Lithuanian Z, even as we in the moment denounce the Mississippian Williams and Brown the peripatetic coach [army brat].

But back to Boston and the matter at hand: the Cavs, surprisingly, face elimination tonight against the Celtics. More incredibly, even given our history of sports disappointments, Greater Cleveland is already resigned to both defeat and departure, the latter of course a reference to the impending free agent loss of the world’s best player, LeBron James.

Losing to the Celtics would be terrible for me personally. I have two stepsons who live in Boston. Neal -- the handsome, generous, bright, lovable one -- is a staunch Cavs fan; his favorite player is Delonte West. Neal’s brother? Well, I love him too, but he has a really annoying habit of calling me up and gloating whenever his Bosox, Patriots, or Celts vanquish our local heroes. And their mother, my wife — a casual observer of sport but an acute observer of life — will always pontificate after the fact on the cruel psychological burden Cleveland sports teams carry for the entire region’s inferiority complex.

In 1964 I shivered in youthful joy in the upper deck of Memorial Stadium with my father and brother on that gloriously frigid day when the Browns shut out the Baltimore Colts, the last time a Cleveland team was world-best in a major sport. There was no shortage of heroes that day: Gary Collins, Jim Brown, Frank Ryan, the offensive line, the entire defense.

Cleveland was a major American city in 1964. We aren’t anymore, though we remain lead dog in a major region. Since then, our educational production has declined along with our population, our industrial output and our political muscle. Yet in the midst of our reversible decline, our biggest civic fear seems to be LeBron’s inevitable, imminent departure.

I want the Cavs to win, for personal and civic reasons, including enormous bragging rights. But if they lose, tonight, or Sunday, or to Orlando, or to Phoenix [more relatives] or Los Angeles, and Lebron leaves, it won’t be nearly as catastrophic as if we can’t find a way to get the Cleveland school administration and the union to collaborate on how best to educate our children, or if the world’s best medical institutions can’t find ways to arrest our third-world infant mortality rates, or if we can’t find ways to overcome our regional parochialism, or weave all of our citizens into a plan to restore our economy.

One Lap Down, Three to Go in Race to November

Last week’s primary election marked the quarter-pole of the critical 2010 political season. The major political parties settled on their statewide tickets, while on the county level, several candidates for county executive popped through the starting gate and began running. Also, nearly a hundred people — an intriguing mix political novices, veterans, and perennial also-rans — have pulled and in some cases have filed petitions for the new eleven member county council to be elected this fall.

The second quarter — the next six weeks until the June 24 filing deadline to run in the September partisan primaries for county executive and county council — would be a fairly quiet time of candidate maneuvering and alliance building were it not for the end of the Jimmy Dimora reign as Democratic Party chair. The party’s central committee is scheduled to elect a new chair on June 5. Dimora, who has been under the cloud of a federal investigation for nearly two years, long ago made clear that he would not seek to retain the post he has held since 1993.

Intra-party politics in the past have usually resulted in a closed-door selection process of the party chair. A small but influential group of party faithful, calling themselves Cuyahoga Democrats for Principled Leadership* [CD4PL] is making plans for two forums on May 25 [Cleveland Heights] and May 27 [Rocky River] for candidates for party chair to state the case for their election.

The names most commonly bandied about include longtime party insiders Tom Day, clerk of the Bedford Heights Municipal Court, and Rudy Stralka, currently serving as party treasurer. But it appears that senior party officials, including Rep. Marcia Fudge, county prosecutor Bill Mason, and Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson have decided to support attorney Stuart Garson and commission him to restore integrity to party process, rebuild infrastructure, and unify Democrats for what will be a challenging election season. Assuming Garson becomes chair, he will face stern early tests: a county primary in September and the general election in November.

One key to watch: whether Garson steps forward to attend the CDPL forums later this month.

Grits ain't Gravy [Miscellaneous Political Notes]

Last week also offered a possible preview of what may be a new future for the county Democratic Party, which is sorely need of a new young leadership cadre. We refer to the kick-off party for Phil Robinson’s campaign for the District 11 county council seat. Robinson is a bright, young, articulate aspiring public servant who in his first try for public office just missed winning a seat on the University Heights City Council last year. These sorts of events are usually attended by one’s oldest and closest friends, so the ethnic, religious and geographic diversity — to name but a few measures — of his kickoff crowd was notable insofar as it suggests his appeal might carry across municipal boundaries stretching from Euclid to Beachwood.

Speaking just before the candidate was State Senator Nina Turner, who encouraged Robinson for the new county council. Turner was the leading black public official to support the change in county government. Also in attendance was Julian Rogers, like Robinson a progressive political activist and African American male seeking a county council seat and enjoying Turner’s support. Rogers is running for the District 10 seat that covers Cleveland wards 10 & 11, Cleveland Heights, East Cleveland, and Bratenahl.

Two candidates for the county council District 2 seat — State Senator Dale Miller and independent Stephanie Morales — also found their way east to be at the kickoff.

*Disclosure: I am an active member of this group, whose statement of principles may be found on their website: (