Friday, May 28, 2010

PART II: New Day [not the Bedford Court clerk] on Horizon for Dems as Election of New Party Chair Nears

I promised a follow up to yesterday’s report on the efforts by Cuyahoga Democrats for Principled Leadership to encourage/support/nudge/shove/drag the county Democratic Party towards a 21st century, Obama-era stance of openness, modernity, and inclusiveness.

Specifically, I indicated I would be reporting on the westside CDPL forum held last night. I am going to do so succinctly, because an analysis of where the Party sits suggests a situation so explosive that more time is demanded. I will endeavor to do that over the weekend. So if you come back Monday I promise something for you to think about around the Memorial Day grill or the muni fireworks, assuming money woes haven’t caused your community to cancel them.

So, without my notes, and thus apologies to any community omitted, here goes: About 65 Democrats showed up at Rocky River Civic Center. No city had a large contingent, but almost every westside municipality was represented, including Rocky River, Parma, Bay Village, Westlake, Old Brooklyn, Cleveland Ward 16, Strongsville, North Olmsted, and Broadview Heights. East Cleveland and Shaker Heights were also in the house. Most attendees raised their hands when asked how many were newly elected precinct committee people.

All likely candidates for Party Chair were invited to attend and offer remarks. Only Mark Griffin accepted. A letter from John Ryan, a senior aide to Senator Sherrod Brown, D-OH to co-convener Jan Roller was read, indicating that Ryan could not attend, and was deferring any interest in becoming party chair and endorsing Stuart Garson for the position.

Griffin declined to say specifically, “I want to be Party Chair.” Instead he repeated his remarks from the previous evening, saying that he was “a candidate for change,” that Stuart Garson was a fine fellow who had the votes, that the Party needed major changes, and that he wanted to play a significant role in bringing about that change.

Griffin did say that he was interested in being a vice chair or some other major position of leadership. He emphasized that he did not want to be divisive candidate in any way that would hinder the Party in the critically important fall county and statewide elections.

Translation: Griffin wants the job but sees that the Party hierarchy prefers Garson. So he is willing to support and work with Garson for the good of the Party.

This wasn’t good enough for those in attendance. Some were clearly ready to throw their support behind Griffin’s reserved candidacy, but most wanted the standard “I’m running and I’m here to ask for your support.”

But disenchantment for Griffin’s nuanced non-declarative statement of readiness was mild compared to the anger directed towards party brass and presumed designee Garson. Few in the meeting had ever heard of him, almost everyone who spoke expressed concern about the high-handed manner of his anointment as preferred candidate, and the feeling was virtually unanimous that the Party has performed abysmally in failing to communicate with the newly elected committeepersons about process, scheduling, responsibilities, or anything else.

When Chuck Germana of Parma rose to put in a kind word for Garson, he began by acknowledging that he too, was “disappointed that he is not here”. But when he tried to suggest that Garson would be a concerned and effective party chair, Germana was practically hooted into silence, one woman angrily proclaiming that “if Garson gave a damn about what we thought, his butt would be here tonight!”

Long story short, the precinct committee members present wanted answers that no one present could provide, and by the end of the evening people were talking about strategies that could be employed to make their displeasure known, and perhaps to change what some may have only recently thought would be a pre-ordained conclusion.

Come back Monday! Have a great weekend!!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

New Day [not the Bedford Court clerk] on Horizon for Dems as Election of New Party Chair Nears

The sun doesn’t rise in the east but it dawned there last night. In Cleveland Heights. That’s where a surprisingly large and energetic rainbow of party regulars gathered publicly for the first time to envision a new era for the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party. A spirited crowd of more than 125 came together on the initiative of a small band of concerned party members who refer to themselves as CDPL, short for Cuyahoga Democrats for Principled Leadership. They have been quietly meeting around the county for several months — mostly in midtown, Lakewood, or Euclid — talking, analyzing, organizing, and acting for several months with the goal of achieving what came into view last night: the potential for not just a new party chairman, but a rejuvenated, holistic, more effective political organization.

The purpose of this week’s public meetings — a second will be held tonight in Rocky River’s Civic Center — is to foster party revitalization in light of the upcoming meeting to elect the new party chair on June 5th. Ohio law provides that every four years each of the major parties elect members of a central committee by precinct. There are 1068 precincts in the county, which means there were 1068 separate races for committee positions, albeit not all were contested. (A county board of elections spokesman said that to keep the ballot at manageable length, Republicans elect their central committee on a different four-year cycle; their most recent precinct level election was last year.)

Precinct committee people, as they are also known, may be thought of as second lieutenants, an army’s lowest ranking commissioned officers. They are supposed to know their local political terrain, to recruit new party members, to serve as two-way channels between the party brass and the privates, the latter a hopefully informed citizenry of regular party voters. A dynamic and effective precinct leader will organize his or her constituency via neighborhood, street, and block clubs, etc. to pass the word, get out the vote, know the pulse of the man on the street, and just be in the know about all things political in their territory.

It’s a 19th century form of urban political organization by proximity. At its essence it is rooted in personal contact and interaction. In an era of too much to do in too little time, at a time when so many have so much anxiety over having too little money to meet so many responsibilities, this grass-roots system had become too attenuated in the Democratic Party to be any relevance. The party itself had calcified at the top by too large a sense of entitlement, too much parochialism, and with no mechanism and even less desire for self-examination.

That is why, by the way, the Obama campaign essentially bypassed the clogged arteries of the Democratic Party, set up a parallel organization along the same lines outlined two paragraphs above, and delivered victory margins that the bloated party apparatus has not delivered in a generation of election cycles.

Pssst! The President of the United States was once a community organizer.

Some of those folks who came to Cleveland to work the 2008 political campaign, as well as some 2004 Kerry people, found enough to like about our little city with the big lake to put down roots. A few of them were instrumental in finding enough local Democrats with sufficient pulse, conscience, and sense of personal agency to begin planning for a renewed party based on principle and not personal power.

That first meeting was a tentative after-work gathering of nineteen at CafĂ© Ah-Roma across from Cleveland State. It was full of bewilderment, idealism, and excessive legalism. Lawyers are lousy at revolution planning. By the time of the next gathering, at 7:30 a.m. on a sunny day in December, a more veteran and politically astute cast of fifty or sixty had been assembled. That meeting birthed the group’s name — CDPL— and began to stitch the core of those who with some sense of constancy would keep the group more or less focused on the task at hand: getting the public Party to clean up after the private party of Public Officials Numbered You Know Who and Him Too.

Fast forward to last night. The Cleveland Heights forum was not a civics class. The invited were the newly elected precinct people, and many showed. They came from Euclid, Pepper Pike, Hough, Collinwood, Shaker, and even from as far as Bay Village. They introduced themselves and then listened to co-convener Jan Roller outline the Party constitution [soon to be online here], and talk about key party process and central committee member duties. Then came highlights and firecrackers.

All six potential candidates who whose names were bruited about as in the mix for party chair were invited by letter to the forum, either to state a case for their candidacy, to say why they had chosen not to compete, and also to share their vision for what the Party should be. Additionally, each was called and if not reached, called again.

Of the six, it appeared only Mark Griffin would show. The trial lawyer came prepared. He didn’t say he was running but he certainly presented himself as the eligible bachelor, capable and ready. He was idealistic, he was earnest, and he was practical. He would be a new face and a strong and clear voice for the Party. He would love to be selected because he relishes both the challenge and the opportunity, though he didn’t say so. Not in words.

Questions and complaints began before Griffin could finish. These are Democrats, and orderly meetings are often but rumor. Most of the complaints had to do with alleged Party rules, excessive favoritism of incumbents, the rejection of new blood and new ideas, and most especially, the failure of rumored frontrunner Stuart Garson to show up.

We skimp on the details here so as not to deprive tonight’s meeting of its anticipated freshness. Suffice to say, the surprise of the evening was the arrival of said Stuart Garson at 8:25 p.m., five minutes before the scheduled closing. He was as blunt as a rifle butt.

Part II of this report will appear tomorrow, after tonight’s meeting in Rocky River. I don't want to spoil the fun for west side Dems who will show up tonight…