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.