Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fudge-Turner: What’s Really at Stake?

I start this post fresh from my unannounced but necessary pre-holiday hiatus with renewed energy and a heightened sense of urgency. Real Deal readers should rest assured that even when output slows, inputs continue unabated. It is my hope that occasional time off heralds a sharper perspective upon my return. But you, Real Deal followers, are the ultimate judge of that.

I began blogging in earnest back in November 2009. I had become by turns disheartened, perplexed and finally aroused by the failure of the county Democratic Party to act with swift resolve to denounce and remove Jimmy Dimora and Frank Russo from party positions which made the whole party a convenient piñata for pundits and Republicans.

So I got off my proverbial couch and started going to various Democratic Party functions, asking questions and looking for answers. I visited offices of various elected officials, county and city of Cleveland. And I tracked down and got involved in with a random group of party activists who eventually evolved into an effective but short-lived caucus under the banner Cuyahoga Democrats for Principled Leadership.

[Column interlude: last week evidence of reform was on public display at the county Democrats’ Executive Committee meeting at Music Hall. Not every incumbent was unchallenged, one — Juvenile Court Judge Joseph F. Russo saw his opponent endorsed — and party chair Stuart Garson suffered with good humor when the will of the body contradicted his own preference for an measured and orderly process.]

Looking at Cuyahoga County politics of course requires an examination of black politics, unless you restrict yourself to local Republicans, all of whose significant black players could fit inside a nice-sized powder room.

And when you look at local black politics, you see problems. Big-time problems. Disorganization. Disunity. Disconnectedness. Ineffectiveness. Perpetual Reaction Mode. All of this forms the backdrop for the most exciting political development in the black community in twenty years [Mike White-George Forbes face-off in Cleveland’s 1989 mayoral election.]

By exciting political development I refer of course to Nina Turner’s Democratic primary challenge to Marcia Fudge’s bid for a third Congressional term.

Let me state clearly on the record that if the election were held today, I am uncertain which of these public servants would get my vote. I am neither anti- one or pro- the other. I am pro-Cleveland, pro-Cuyahoga County, and pro-African American community. I am anti-entitlement and anti-establishment where either means the status quo.

My esteemed friend Dick Peery articulated a view in this forum early this month in a comment to my post on Fudge’s then-pending reelection announcement. I don’t know the habits of Real Deal readers with respect to reading comments. [I do know that I love them, read every one, answer virtually all of them, and wish there were more! I know that not everyone has the time or energy to state a reasoned view; I do know that we need a space for intelligent exchange of community views, and that remains for me a constant goal.]

Dick’s thoughts always merit consideration and response. I didn’t answer them in a comment to his comment because I was concerned that the exchange would be out of eyesight for too many readers. In essence he said that an incumbent’s challenger needs to articulate why she would do a better job and why change is necessary.

Lou Stokes became the most important black elected official in Ohio once his brother left Cleveland City Hall in 1971. He established an enviable record in Congress thanks to his skill, his seniority, his party’s majority status, and his place on the Appropriations Committee. He brought bacon home to a community in dire need of it. All of Cleveland respects him, and pretty much all of black Cleveland loves him.

As a pioneer Congressman from a unique urban area, Stokes achieved practically without effort a sort of godfather political status. He didn’t really have a political machine, so to speak, but then he didn’t need one, since he had practically no serious local challenger once he got in office. Some might say the 21st [now 11th] District Caucus that he and his brother established functioned as his political machine. Truth is, the Caucus had already reached its political apex by Stokes’ second term, thereafter coasting on its reputation for decades as its power and relevance steadily declined.

Lou Stokes, George Forbes and Arnold Pinkney today stand as rusty ornaments of a time when Cleveland’s black political power was respected for its ability to deliver. But a Lou Stokes-George Forbes power struggle in 1972 was precursor to the eventual departure of Forbes and Pinkney from the Caucus, leaving the Congressman in control of what was increasingly only a symbol of black political power.

The political scientist William Nelson has observed that the decline of the caucus in the aftermath of [Carl] Stokes’ departure from local politics “changed the fundamental goal of black politics from community uplift to self-aggrandizement.”

Nelson’s observation gets to the crux of the matter. What kind of leadership does the black community seek? Can we move from personalities and personal agendas and political fiefdoms to public policies? Answers to these questions have been wanting for forty years. Indeed, the questions don’t even get asked.

We applaud the upcoming Congressional primary as an opportunity to gain a hearing for these questions.

Let’s stop the bogus talk about dividing and weakening a black community that is already laughably and lamentably weak and divided.

Let’s talk instead about why our schools produce such poor results [and about the miraculous results some of our students produce nonetheless]. Let’s talk about why residents in inner city zip codes have a life expectancy so much shorter than their suburban counterparts just minutes away. Let’s talk about addressing the cyclone effects of predatory lending and how we can rebuild our communities. Let’s talk about the absence of jobs in our community and why with six billion dollars or more in major construction activity in Greater Cleveland, black contractors are still fighting for crumbs.

Congresswoman Fudge, State Senator Turner: what strategies do you have for us? Which of you is better equipped to help us rebuild our community?

• • •

Reminder: your scribe is a guest on The Civic Commons radio show today at 12:30PM on WJCU-FM 88.7. Tune in or catch it online either here or via iTunes.


Anonymous said...

I think Marcia has been displaying her strategy consistently. And if Nina is going to use her ineffectiveness in getting any of it past a Republican dominated House, then she should explain why she has been ineffective in a Republican dominated state senate. I really don't want to decide whether this costly race is worth it until I know what Nina's agenda is and who is behind her. She will need more than vague and unmeasurable promises to provide better constituent services or something like that — she will need a policy agenda and a plan to execute that surpasses what Marcia has stood up for to make this bloody, divisive race worth it. Given the revelations Monday about GOP calculations of saving themselves millions by carving themselves uncompetitive districts, Nina's presentation better staggering to justify the high cost to her party and the majority in this district.

Everett said...

I’m not sure Nina Turner has demonstrated the political skills necessary to confront a fractious congress. I knew her as a councilperson, but not nearly as well as a state senator. I heard her on NPR and gave her points for her reasoned answers, but deeds, not words are what are necessary to impact the national political scene. Nina is a skilled orator. Whether that transfers to a skilled politician remains to be seen.

Everett Prewitt

Richard said...

@ Anonymous. I am having difficulty understanding your repeated references to the "costs" of this primary challenge. For better or worse the 11th District is safely Democratic, which means the primary pretty much functions as the general in determining the District's next representative. Is it your position that the incumbent should have no opposition or be challenged only by those perennial candidates whose names appear like crocuses every political season but who have never won anything? Why are you so ready to credit the incumbent with Lou Stokes-like invulnerability after a mere three years? Is it because it is inconvenient in some way to the Party?

Richard said...

Everett, your questions certainly merit thoughtful responses from the candidates. And for that we should be glad there is a primary campaign, and not just an election.

Anonymous said...

Richard, these questions should have been asked along time ago. Cleveland's story remains the same and no seems to care as long the pie is cut up correctly. People are fed up so they don't vote. People are leaving because of the schools and jobs. So many companies nationally and globally don't see us a viable option. The truth is the power structure knows this too and that is why they so hard to maintain the status quo and discourage change. There is not alot out there.

Richard said...

@ Anon. I agree the community should have asked and obtained answers to these questions a long time ago. There is thus all the more reason to ask them now.

Change is hard. Truth is we are not necessarily that far away from a true remake of our community. Many of the ingredients are here. What we lack is a mindset that understands what needs to be done and a united core of agentic people intent on getting it done.

I think Cleveland's "power structure" has always leaned further right than most, and has been extraordinarily resistant to change.

Anonymous said...

What we lack is a mindset that understands what needs to be done and a united core of agentic people intent on getting it done.

Sad to read that Richard...real sad.