Saturday, April 02, 2011

Cuyhaoga Dems & Repubs: Confluence and Contrast

  This week found me attending the annual dinners of both the Cuyahoga Democratic Party and the County Republican Party. I’m not sure if they typically fall in a four day-period but the contrast was instructive.
  It had been some time since I had witnessed a GOP function in the flesh, and as it was my first-ever Lincoln Day shindig, I was uncertain what to expect. 
  I was struck immediately by subliminal markers as I entered the GOP turf and moved towards the Grand Ballroom of the downtown Renaissance Hotel. First, all I saw were white people. A lot of them old. Thin. Wealthy in appearance. No identifiable Hispanics, or even Asians. There was a smattering of young professionals. 
  Whether I moved around or stood near a central vantage, I seemed invisible to most attendees. I was looking for either familiar or friendly faces but found only a few. One belonged to Bruce Akers, the ever-gracious mayor of Pepper Pike, a consummate political insider who is always ready to listen and engage in reasoned exchange. 
  Another friendly face belonged to Skip Claypool, an affably dogmatic Tea Partier from Geauga County.
  Once I received my media pass [the volunteer handling that chore was, to my delight, a regular reader of the irregular Real Deal] I moved around with a little more verve, confident that I would not be unmasked and expelled.
  I stationed myself at the ballroom entrance, the better to observe  the entering celebrants. Like the Democrats three days earlier, the main event was preceded by a VIP reception. The GOP crowd was more subdued, notwithstanding their  November victories that have them feeling entitled to remake Ohio. ["Give them an inch, they'll make it a mandate."] 
  There was a cash bar and a silent auction display that seemed to feature mostly Reagan adorabilia. Laura Bush seemed more popular than her husband, and there was a heavily discounted offering of books by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi donated by “a former Democrat”.
  There were about 750 people in attendance, about the same number as attended the Democrats’ bash. The room was much bigger, however, so the evening seemed less intimate and the attendees were in the main less gregarious. The evening’s loudest roar came when final passage of Senate Bill 5 was announced.
  New Ohio Treasurer and hometown boy Josh Mandel was given a prime opportunity to speak. There seems little doubt that he will challenge Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown next year, as Mandel went out of his way to address standard GOP hot buttons like abortion that have little to do with state finances.
  The evening’s featured speaker was former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who recently kicked off his campaign to be the Republican nominee in next year’s presidential campaign. While he was blunt, harsh, and direct in his assault on President Obama’s leadership, Pawlenty still managed to appear more reasonable and thoughtful than just about all of his rivals for the GOP nomination.
  Pawlenty denounced President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for not understanding that America is exceptional, and that “our place is to lead the world in everything”.
  I counted perhaps fifteen black faces in the crowd, exclusive of hotel staff, or about 2% of the nominal heirs to the party of the proclaimed "Great Emancipator".

• • •

  The foregoing account may fuel perceptions that I am race-obsessed. Rest assured that I did no racial counting at the Democrats’ bash last Sunday at the Intercontinental Hotel. The gathering was too integrated for that. In fact, by most demographic measure — race, gender, religion, geography — the Democrats were so thoroughly integrated as to render such considerations moot.
  A relaxed tone for the evening was set during the invocation by a priest who delightfully, naturally, enthusiastically and reverentially channeled his inner Father Guido Sarducci. Of course the mood of the Party was enhanced by numerous surprising touches initiated by new county party chair, Stuart Garson. There was  — gasp — an open bar [!], which adroitly shut down before relaxation could turn to mischief, and then reopened when the dinner ended exactly on schedule, as an inducement for attendees to continue mingling.
  The evening clearly reflected from beginning to end chairman Garson’s desire to obliterate any connection with the Party’s slovenly past, dominated by the hail-fellow-well-met atmosphere fostered by its disgraced former officials, Jimmy Dimora and Frank Russo.
  On this evening the effort was a complete success. Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson was characteristically brief, but several members of Congress spoke, and all were on and off the podium in record time. There was a professional video that radiated pride in Democratic core values, and a total orderliness to the entire proceedings at the Inter-Continental Hotel. The impression fostered was that of a party focused on its mission.
  The dinner was a pricey $175, in contrast to the GOP’s $50 affair, but the Democrats need operating cash.
  Keynote speaker for the evening was Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who is the face of the new, leaner, inclusive, and effective party that Garson is intent on building. His demeanor — humble, professional, earnest, compassionate, and policy-oriented to serve county residents — seems to make him ideal for the role.


Roldo Bartimole said...

Thanks for this look into the two political parties: one essentially segregated, the other not.

The Other Side said...

I think you just saw what you already knew, especially here in Cuyahoga county. It does not surprise me but what I found to be crazy was the difference in the cost to attend. The Democratic Party from the state to the local level does not need money, they need a change. This party appears to be integrated but it is only on the surface.

Tim Ferris said...

It's always a pleasure to read your material. I'll see if I can Facebook it.

Richard said...

@ Tim Ferris: Thanks Tim! Long time no see.
@The Other Side:I appreciate your response, though I don't know the basis for your assertion that the Democrats state and local do not need $.
I won't speak to the state party but there is no self-renewing money pot to pay for the local party office or infrastructure or training or recruitment. The local GOP has a fulltime professional staff that is highly compensated. The Dem staff is smaller and not nearly as well paid.
The Cuyahoga Dems did need substantial change. The new chair has I believe made great strides in that direction [largely unreported by local print media] so if you are not looking closely I'm uncertain how you might track the progress.
I happen to believe that the local Dem Party is much more integrated than most Cleveland organizations. The integration was formulaic under the prior maladministration but that old structure is being rapidly deconstructed.
Finally, I did not go to either gathering to ratify preconceived notions. I went principally to investigate and report.
@ Roldo: I got a note from a longtime friend and former GOP candidate who is African American. The note commented on the GOP focus on the interests of the rich and the white. The friend is still a Republican because of the values of lean government and fiscal responsibility the GOP espouses. Part of my reply said:
"The GOP doesn't really believe in either leaner government or fiscal conservatism. Those are talking points used to batter social programs championed by Democrats. This is demonstrated nowhere better than in current "debate" in Congress over the budget. The GOP only wants to rip up the soft side of the budget [education, health & welfare, foreign aid, etc.]. Anything they can profit on — defense, less regulation [read Suddes in Forum section, today's PD], privatization, they are gung-ho for. GOP has an intentional disconnect between their rhetoric and their actions: neither Reagan nor either Bush practiced leaner government or fiscal conservatism."

The Other Side said...

If it is all about money, it is not an election but a sale of seats. Republicans had a message, DEMS did not. No one from Cuyahoga County was on the state slate but Josh Mandel; but he was a Republican.

Bottom line a better plan to address issues and defend issues, more inclusion in the decision making process and smarter allocation of resources could make DEMs strong. The Republicans spend a lot of money and they don't always win.

Adie said...

I thought we were supposed to be trying to be a color blind society... let's stick to the ideas.

Richard said...

@ The Other Side: I think the GOP wins more than its share of elections in part because of amount of money spent on behalf of its candidates and issues.

@ Adie: the ideas that are adduced and supported generally depend on who is in the room.

We will not achieve an equitable society by being blind to the structural factors that intentionally or otherwise continue to foster racial and cultural inequities.

The Other Side said...

Richard, we finally found a common area on this. Money is a big issue, but people vote the issues on how they feel or how they "told" to feel. too. Many labor guys (34%) voted for Kasich because they were told Strickland could not create jobs. Kasich forgot to tell them that his "new jobs" plan would cost them their benefits.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Andrews : Has any Republican told you that a person of a particular coloration is not welcome into the GOP ? If you or yours choose not to join our ranks ; that's your choice.

Richard said...

@ Anonymous: Sorry to be so late in responding to your comment. I had penned a lengthy response but lost it on the pc before I could post it. So I will give you the short version, courtesy of Bob Dylan: You don't need a weathervane to know which way the wind blows.

I'd be happy to give you a more complete answer over a cup of coffee.