Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sellers is runaway winner in Warrensville mayoral debate

The mayor’s name appears on the sign identifying the premises as the Warrensville Heights Civic & Senior Center but the site for last night’s mayoral debate belonged to Brad Sellers in every other way last night, as the former hometown high school basketball star showed that he has game that transcends hardwood hoops.

When I arrived on the premises a full sixty minutes before the program started, Sellers was roaming the parking lot greeting debate goers as if they were being welcomed to his house. When I got to the entrance, there were five or six members of Team Brad in matching tee shirts and smiles, handing out professionally done campaign literature. Neither of the other candidates had either literature to distribute or a team of supporters in sight. During the course of the evening, with about 115 in attendance, I spotted one button for councilwoman Deborah A. Hill, who along with the incumbent Clinton Hall, seem to face an uphill battle against the seven foot tall Sellers. The mayor arrived only a few minutes before the debate kicked off. There was no evidence that he was running other than his presence.

The debate began on time with each candidate allotted time for an opening introduction. Hall spoke first and spent a good deal of his time talking about his family. He did say that in just under three years as mayor he had eliminated a $2.5 million projected deficit for 2010, absorbed $450 thousand in state budget cuts without laying off any employees, and that he had pushed through a new income tax and delivered on his promise of a new YMCA facility.

Deborah Hill, a member of city council and its past president, used her introduction to talk about the resilience of the city’s citizens. Somewhat defensively, she asserted, correctly, council’s role in the deficit elimination of which the mayor had spoken.

Sellers was the last to speak. He shared moving to the city in 1971, graduating from high school in 1981, and then going away and learning some skills. He said that he had walked every street and knocked on every door in the city since July. Speaking extemporaneously and with ease, he noted the city’s declining service level and failing school system and vowed improvements under his watch, suggesting that the brand new county library and YMCA were a precursor of better days ahead under his watch. He seemed to take credit for the new library and Y without doing so explicitly, undoubtedly because he had served as the city’s economic development director before resigning this summer to run against his former boss and Hill.

The debate, sponsored by the Warrensville Heights Area Chamber of Commerce, focused primarily on issues that most affect business, such as economic development, tax issues including tax abatement, the feasibility of merger with Highland Hills and North Randall, the city’s budget. Other questions referenced the school system, the challenge of the city’s vacant and foreclosed homes, and several stalled residential developments.

Many of these questions seemed to throw the incumbent for a loss, even though several have been longstanding issues during his administration. He clearly lost his train of thought several times, once so grievously that he admitted it after a substantial pause. More than once he cited the city’s inability to apply for certain funding, blaming Sellers for a failure to submit certain reports. Unfortunately for the mayor, since Sellers was employed by the Hall administration, the accusation aspersion cut two ways.

For her part, Hill seemed acerbic for much of the evening. She regularly allowed herself to be flummoxed by the inexperienced moderator, and far too often offered only bromides and platitudes in place of real answers. She spoke repeatedly of her passion for and dedication to the city, but seldom had a specific answer to any question.

By contrast, Sellers had done his homework and spoke forthrightly at every turn. He named problems — too few workers in the service department, the need to find a solution to the drag of Randall Park Mall, vacancies at the former Bass Chevrolet, Ellacott VW, and Corlett Lumber properties, the lack of infrastructure planning for several years. He proposed solutions— finding a real home for the Chamber of Commerce, having a real conversation about the type of school system the community wanted and needed, turning Randall Park into a job center, regional cooperation, being proactive, foreclosing on and then replacing residential developers.

Sellers’ rivals had memorable if somewhat awkward closing moments. Councilwoman Hill tried to claim the mantle of former mayor-turned-Congresswoman Marcia Fudge. Unfortunately for Hill, the Congresswoman has endorsed Sellers. The mayor acknowledged public speaking was his weakness and asserted a current surplus of $1.5 million in city coffers. Unfortunately, he followed that claim by unclear references to municipal debt retirement obligations, making it unclear how large any actual surplus might be.

Warrensville has about 350 businesses, including at least ten of substantial size. At the end of the evening, it was hard to envision very many of those business owners preferring another candidate to in the face of Sellers’ combination of candor, realism, decisiveness, and optimism.

• • •

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Warrensville Heights mayoral debate about to begin

I am in Warrensville Heights Civic & Senior Center to report on this city’s three-way race for mayor. Candidates are the incumbent Clinton Hall, councilwoman Deborah A. Hill and former economic development director, Brad Sellers.

The three candidates are meeting in debate tonight, sponsored by the Warrensville Heights Area Chamber of Commerce. The debate is expected to focus primarily on issues that most affect business.

Unfortunately, the sponsor has banned cameras, and both video and audio devices. Chamber president Steve Petti told me a little while ago that this stance was taken to preclude inventive ‘gotcha’ editing on behalf of either of the campaigns.

The venue is set up for 160 guests. Although the program doesn’t start until 7PM, a good number of folks have already arrived and one can feel a certain anticipation building.

This is the first such public forum offered by the Chamber, according to Russ Friedrich, who chairs the group’s advocacy committee and will moderate tonight’s debate. He said the chamber has grown significantly in recent years. The fact that three candidates are running was a spur to the Chamber’s stepping forward, he said.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rigging the Electoral Game

Chris Redfern, chair of the Ohio Democratic Party, announced today that he would be filing a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn the Congressional redistricting bill passed last week by the Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly. Redfern denounced the legislation, House Bill 319, as “ a blatantly partisan congressional map that dilutes important Democratic constituencies and attacks the very foundation of our political process.”

It’s good to see the Democrats show some spunk. The Republican playbook seems to contain an injunction that if they gain an inch, they should transform it into two miles. I guess that’s what the party of corporate interests does in a capitalist society.

Ohio has long been regarded as a bellwether state in national elections, a barometer of political winds, if you will, that both forecasts and reflects short-term changes in the weather. The GOP is working to transform both Congressional and statehouse districts into cold-weather thermostats that will permanently freeze the range of choices available to voters. In the process, they have displayed ruthless zeal in carving up communities [examples: four different Congress people would represent a part of Cuyahoga County; Toledo would be split into three districts.].

The Republican message to Ohio voters of all parties or no party, of whatever county or color, is a paraphrase of Moe Greene's remark to Michael Corleone upon the latter's arrival in Las Vegas to buy controlling interest in the casino: " You think you can come to the polls and decide who you want to represent you? No! You don't elect me: I choose you."

• • •
GOP zeal in district distortion does not diminish the continued cunning use of racial elements in non-post racial America. While new Congressional districts increase chances for a Columbus-area African American congressional representative to be elected, the state district guidelines create ten majority-minority districts.

This is called having your cake and eating it too. The net effect of all this extensive gerrymandering may be to produce more black elected officials who will be consigned to irrelevance within the confines of a permanent minority party. The GOP is thus tempting black political officials with the opportunity to become bigger fish in the junior pond. 
What would C. J. McLin do?[1]

These black state reps would be further weakened if HB 194 — the ballot access-restriction measure— takes effect this week. Opponents of the measure must file 231,000 valid signatures with the Ohio Secretary of State by Thursday to delay its immediate implementation of that law and give Ohio voters a chance to ratify or reject it next year.

Careful readers will note that I wrote the “net effect of gerrymandering may produce more black elected officials who would be functionally irrelevant. Rendering impotent a core Democratic constituency is undoubtedly the GOP aim. For them only thing better is the possibility that some of these black officials would switch parties to enhance their effectiveness. The diabolical aspect of this possibility is that Republicans, who have been unable to win the hearts and minds of the black electorate by policy advocacy, would gain inroads into the black community by underhandedness.

While I denounce their tactics, the blame would belong elsewhere if they succeeded.

[1] C. J. McLin Jr. (1921 - 1988) was elected an Ohio State Representative in 1966 and quickly became one of the most influential leaders in the history of Ohio. The Dayton area politician was a formidable legislator who achieved numerous victories during his 22 years in office. He was a founder of what is today known as the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus and is enshrined in Ohio’s Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing Off Readers

Plain Dealer Circulation Continues Decline
Today’s Plain Dealer carries the legally mandated annual statement of ownership, management and circulation. Total paid and or requested average daily circulation for the period ending September 15, 2011 fell last year below 260,000 to 259,993, or barely half of what it once boasted. This year’s figure represents almost an 11% decline in circulation since March 2009 when its reported circulation was 291,630.
Daily newspaper circulation is of course declining across the country, but as in other arenas, the implications for Greater Cleveland have special impact. Newspapers have traditionally served as a common denominator for the reporting and discussion of community news. The Plain Dealer has had this role almost exclusively since the demise of The Cleveland Press in 1982. Although it often performs the task abysmally, typically by what it fails to report — either fairly or at all — its continued decline as a common springboard for discussion is not healthy for northeast Ohio.
Editorial and publishing decisions made by the Plain Dealer’s parent company, Advance Publications Inc., which also owns the Sun Newspapers suburban area chain, have compounded this misfortune. Advance has effected the virtual journalistic redlining of every municipality in Cuyahoga County where the African Americans comprise forty percent or more.
The only literal exception to this redlining may be Richmond Heights, where, incredibly, this little blog has arguably done more independent, and accurate, reporting of key issues there in the past six months than either the Plain Dealer or the Sun Messenger.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Past, Present & Future

Struggling to find time today to finish one of the best books I've read in a long time. It's on racial politics and the Obama presidency. I hope to review it here soon. But my first order of business is getting ready for a visit from one of my oldest and best friends. With military timing, Charlie will be stopping by this afternoon at 1330 with his bride of six months.

Charlie and I go back to 1953 when he, his parents and his five siblings moved right across the street from the parsonage I called home. Almost every day after that, it seems, we played together, went to school and church and Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts together, shared jokes, triumphs, quandaries together, of which there none more undecipherable than junior high school girls.

I haven't seen much of Charlie in the last twenty or so years. He moved to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands where, he never tires of telling me, it's 84° F. every day.

A few years ago we took in an Indians game at Progressive Field. I wanted to absorb the August sun so we sat in the bleachers, idling time away like we were still kids at cavernous Municipal Stadium. The day was one of Cleveland's brightest, so I asked Charlie why he wasn't wearing sunglasses or a hat.

Almost apologetically, he explained that in the purer atmospheric conditions of the islands, the bright sun I was enjoying would have been an unusually hazy day back in St. Christianstad.

I really do have to travel more.