Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saturday Roundup and Parental Pride

 I am supposed to be off today but but I wanted to share the news with those who may be unaware that late yesterday the Ohio Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Republican drawn congressional maps can be put to a voter referendum. The GOP had tried to end run state law by attaching an appropriations measure to the redistricting bill [House Bill 319] to prevent an attack by referendum. Even our too-partisan state Supreme Court could not swallow that stew.

On Monday the state Democratic Party is expected to ask the Court to restart the 90-day window for collecting signatures to but a repeal referendum of the ballot. This reasonable request is likely to be granted; otherwise the Court’s action yesterday would have been mostly for show and without substance.
• • •

I’m off for the day to go see an international belly dancer, the world-renowned Lara Adrienne. Real Deal readers and parents of every stripe will forgive the mild hyperbole. Lara is my youngest daughter and a professional belly dancer. She is based in the Washington DC area and in Turkey, where she has spent most of this year.

I have been relegated to seeing her in videos on her website and YouTube. Tonight I get to see her live for the first time [apart from a 2010 wedding, this is her Midwest debut!] when she takes the stage at the Bohemian National Hall, 4939 Broadway Ave, in Slavic Village.  Call 216.883-0675 or visit for more information.

Lara Adrienne is Shaker Heights High School ‘00 and Howard University ’05. See her dance here and check out her writing here and here. With respect to the last website, I am personally amazed that one who can be so talkative would adopt a medium so spare.

• • •

Stories we are working on for next week include the latest maneuvers from the Gang-That-Couldn’t-Shoot-Straight, aka the Richmond Heights Board of Education majority, and a certain news organization that has perverted the endorsement process in ways that seem inconceivable.

Remember, that since we publish daily, Sunday through Friday, we are sending fewer email reminders of publication. Become a follower to ensure prompt notice of publication of new material and to make us feel better.

Go Browns!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Black Political Leadership in Cleveland and Civil Rights, Part III

What are the characteristics we should be looking for in our leaders?

Imagine how things might have been different if, instead of Messrs. Forbes and Pinkney signing off on reapportionment and redistricting plans for NE Ohio drawn up in Columbus back rooms, these gentlemen had advised House Speaker Batchelder,  “Bill, you really should be discussing this with House and Senate members from this district. They are the currently elected representatives of the areas you propose to affect. We would be delighted to arrange that session for you if you would like.”

What if, instead of a closed circle of elders whose process enervates rather than energizes community action, state senators Shirley Smith and Nina Turner, or state representatives Barbara Boyd, Sandra Williams, Bill Patmon, and John Barnes had pre-empted  Batchelder's end-run and called for community input, or a metropolitan wide teach-in?

What if PolicyBridge or United Pastors in Mission had convened a gathering of community experts or representatives to initiate a discussion about the shape of a new Congressional district or the imminent new state legislative districts?

What if one or more of those legislators or community citizens had stood up and questioned whether the concerns that animated us in 1968 were, or should be, still the most pressing considerations in 2012?

What if our political players focused on fostering a kind of leadership that looks at the big picture instead of scrambling for crumbs, that doesn’t marginalize black representation but recruits and nurtures black candidates who could confidently seek votes across all kinds of ethnic or religious lines?

Italian, Irish, Jewish, Slavic candidates repeatedly come into our communities and ask for our support. And when we find them worthy, we give it to them. These candidates are usually accompanied by elected black officials whose stance and rhetoric and inaction tell us that they are afraid to go into Italian, Irish, Jewish, and Slavic communities and ask for support.

The masses of black people loved Carl Stokes and Stephanie Tubbs Jones and love Barack Obama because they earned our trust to the point that they could campaign in any community and remain authentically themselves.

That is one reason that it was so distressing in 2008 when former Congressman Louis Stokes, put the kibosh on a new county charter because, he said, a black candidate could never win the office of county executive. He said this at the very moment that presidential candidate Barack Obama was eradicating barriers right and left, north and south. [1]

Insofar as we accept that African Americans can only win in jurisdictions that are heavily black, we limit our horizons and our prospects. We handicap our candidates and our best leaders. We marginalize ourselves. And we tell the world that we have no confidence in our leaders or ourselves.

Our political model is seriously outmoded. There was a time not long ago in this community where African Americans simultaneously headed Cleveland City Hall, the Cleveland Foundation, the Growth Association, and a host of other major institutions and agencies. Who can argue that we don’t have the talent to lead this community?

We have a broken political structure in our community based on obsolete tapes of decades gone by. It discourages many of our most potentially able leaders from even considering political office. It casts a pall on our polity and our economy, locally and regionally. It reduces our regional strength and diminishes our statewide impact. And, I believe, it is a major reason why so many black voters stay away from the polls on Election Day.

What do you think?  How can we move forward?

[1] It was the esteemed former Congressman’s solitary and non-community processed veto that resulted in the overwhelming adoption the following year that was inferior to a more reasoned and equitable plan developed by a bi-partisan study group that included community-wide input and a more transparent process.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mini-pieces: Reflections on Cleveland black leadership, etc.

This is a day for Real Deal mini-pieces.

1.   Blogging daily Sunday through Friday is more than a notion. Phone calls, reading, research, getting out & about, piecing things together — in short, doing the work of reporting before the actual writing, can skew your senses. Which is why in Wednesday’s column, when I meant to say that I would be talking about state house redistricting the day after tomorrow, i.e. Friday, I wrote "Thursday".  I realized my error a couple of hours after I published Part II. With blog technology, I could have just changed Thursday to Friday but I knew that some of you would come back today expecting what isn’t here, go back and double-check Wednesday’s promise and say, "hmmm." So you have this long-winded apologia in the name of, all together now: transparency.

2.   Our discussion of black political leadership has obviously touched a sore spot with many of our readers. We know this from the volume of off-line emails and the phone calls we are receiving.  This public conversation would certainly be more invigorating if more of the comments were placed on site instead of emailed to me. Just so you know, I will never quote an email writer by name, but I am growing more inclined to post some of your comments. My takeaway from many of the comments is that many people resent the notion that any three unelected persons could be posited as speaking for such a widely diverse community. People are glad that The Real Deal is willing to call out the PD and Brent Larkin for a horrible piece — somebody has to do it, you say — but unwilling or unable themselves to get down and dirty about it.

3.  One thing I can say about Messrs. Stokes, Forbes, and Pinkney is that they understand power and are not afraid to use it when it suits their purposes. The mostly private debates center on how often, how well, how wisely they have exercised power on the community’s behalf.

4.  With respect to former Cleveland City Council president [1974-1989], current satrap of the Call & Post and current NAACP president Forbes [1992-way too long], much of the discussion centers on the abuse of that power. I went off to college in 1963, the year Forbes was first elected to public office, so he has been a constant presence on the Cleveland scene my entire adult life. He has become a fixture on the local landscape much like one of the obsolete manufacturing plants that dot many Cleveland neighborhoods. You remember when they belched smoke and soot during your childhood. Today they remain as monuments to a different era, their windows boarded, the doors rotting, the premises littered with broken bottles and mountains of trash, amid the weeds. They will not go away by themselves and many cannot be retrofitted.

5.  In my Cleveland, George and Arnold and Lou are as much one-name icons as the player who took his talents to South Beach. They are actually quite personable and charming when they want to be. But charming is not what is needed these days. As one of my correspondents wrote me at 0430 today, “Keep in mind what is really important. Not this notion of who is the leader but what can we do [to] address the sorry socioeconomic state of affairs and hopelessness of many everyday black folks.”

Another reader asked rhetorically why the triumvirate would want to proclaim their leadership over the black community, given its current socioeconomic and cultural state. Either they weren’t leaders or they failed, he said.

6.  During my travels around the community over the years I have had several informal encounters with George Forbes. He has said things that are real windows into his worldview. For example, simple arithmetic led to his accumulation of power at City Hall. He knew as long as held eastside black councilmen together he needed only one white vote to hold the reins of power. A primitive and cold calculus to be sure, but realpolitik in late-twentieth century Cleveland.

7.   Many black people are very fond of quoting the Frederick Douglass, perhaps the first and certainly one of the most exemplary national African American leaders. In an 1857 speech, Douglass said:

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

    The Douglass quote was obviously pre-Civil War and applicable to the struggles for emancipation. During the civil rights era it was a rallying cry for collective action against the tyranny of Jim Crow, de facto segregation, and all sorts of invidious discrimination, much of which continues to this day.

      Forbes understands the first sentence of the Douglass quote. But insofar as Greater Cleveland’s black community, however defined, resents the implications of Larkin’s statement about their leadership, they should consider themselves the subject of Douglass’s third and fourth sentences, and respond appropriately.
• • •
The entire Douglass speech is worth a read. Find it here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Black Political Leadership in Cleveland & Civil Rights, Pt. II

A few weeks after last year’s November elections, a gaggle of black elected officials and political operatives met at the Harvard Community Center in Cleveland’s Ward 1 to assess the aftermath of the statewide Republican sweep and the uncertain landscape of local politics following the election of Cuyahoga County’s first-ever county executive and county council.

The meeting was the bright idea of State Senator Nina Turner and State Representative Sandra Williams, two of the area’s more diligent state legislators. They invited virtually every local black elected official they could identify, including every black Democratic precinct committee they knew about. 

The meeting drew plenty of suburban council people, as well as old political heads-without-portfolio like Lang Dunbar, and Bill Crockett; up-and-comers like Ward 11 Dem leader Anthony Hairston and Euclid councilman David Gilliham, and seasoned operatives such as Lynnie Powell, Kenn Dowell, Michael Taylor, and Bob Render.

The stated agenda was to analyze the 2010 election returns, to try and divine the reasons behind low and unenthusiastic voter turnout in black communities, and to craft a forward-looking strategy.

The approach was thoughtful. There was promise in the air when the meeting began with perhaps sixty-five attendees arranged in a semi-circle. People were initially respectful as Turner called the meeting to order, stated the agenda and offered the podium to Arnold Pinkney, dean of local black politics.

That was the high point of the meeting.

Mr. Pinkney’s account of the election was distressingly feeble, astonishingly devoid of insight, and absurdly self-serving in its assessment of the strategic and tactical errors of the Ted Strickland/Ohio Democratic Party-led statewide campaign. The essential takeaway from his presentation was that the state party should have hired him to get out the vote instead of some out-of-state crew.

No one challenged his eminence regarding this assessment so Sen. Turner then attempted to move to the agenda’s next item: abysmal turnout by black voters.

It serves no point to offer a blow-by-blow account of how the meeting quickly degenerated into a verbal free-for-all. Suffice it to say there were destructive efforts to derail if not highjack the agenda. These efforts had been primed if not planned and led to silly and distressing assertions of political primacy and potency. The leading protagonists were eventually restrained and the shouting match ended with desultory attempts to restore a semblance of stability.

This was such a depressing turn of events that I have been reluctant if not unable to write about it.
• • •
There was an elephant in the room that day whose gigantic shadow caused many of the attending elected officials to become discombobulated. They behaved as if they were playing musical chairs on quicksand. The music was cacophonous, and nobody knew which of the too few chairs were safe to sit in.

The cause of this erratic and discomfiting behavior was a radical realignment of political forces on many levels. New networks were being empowered and you couldn’t tell the players even with a scorecard.

On the state level — Democrats had been thoroughly ousted. Republicans were in, led by a combative governor who would soon demonstrate that black people had no rights the GOP was bound to respect.

On the county level, there reigned a new county executive, an Irish former G-man, Ed FitzGerald. He owed much of his electoral victory to support rounded up by newer black political leaders who were not in attendance: East Cleveland mayor Gary Norton Jr., Cleveland councilmen T. J. Dow and Kevin Conwell, and suburban leaders like Joe Fouche of Oakwood Village.

There appeared to be not a single person in the room with an inkling of how FitzGerald would deal with the black community and its established political leadership.

Moreover, the uprooting of the corrupted county government structure had facilitated the emergence of new leadership for the county Democratic Party. New party chairman Stuart Garson had been selected, courted, and ratified by Congresswoman Marcia Fudge as new party chair six months earlier, but his connections to the rank-and-file were even more a mystery than FitzGerald’s.

To cap it off, in two years on the job Fudge had yet to consolidate the mantle of leadership that had flowed so long from the 11th District Congressional seat, first from the dynastic authority and political skill of Lou Stokes, and then from the dynamism and infectious indefatigability of Stephanie Tubbs Jones.

So, with every traditional political lighthouse either adrift or under uncertain or foreign control, there should have been no surprise when the captain-less crew engaged in unseemly jousting for control of the helm, shouted mutual accusations of mutiny, and wanted to throw shipmates overboard.

This sorry state of affairs has continued for much of the last year, as evidenced by infighting among the leaders of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus over state legislative redistricting.

We will look at that on Thursday.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Black Political Leadership in Cleveland and Civil Rights, Part I

The trio of deaths we noted here last week continue to trigger a number of thoughts. Unsurprisingly, most of the media coverage has centered on Steve Jobs, a contemporary whose impact was obvious and whose accomplishments were tangible: millions of us are daily users of the products he envisioned and developed.

Still, for other millions, the accelerating passage of senior civil rights leaders is cause for pause on how American public and private lives were changed by the service and sacrifice those leaders rendered our nation.

It’s not important to compare whose impact mattered more. But last week’s passing of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and attorney Derrick Bell does underscore two separate but related topics that have been on the northeast Ohio horizon this month: civil rights and black leadership.

Two days ago, Plain Dealer columnist Brent Larkin penned one of his patented “insider” columns purporting to show that a trio of old black men — Lou Stokes, George Forbes, and Arnold Pinkney — still run black politics in Cleveland.

The piece repulsed the senses on so many levels that it is difficult to know how to begin to dismantle its nasty influence. Larkin argued that the men who were the go-to guys in the black political community forty years ago are still the same go-to guys today. But the column omitted salient details and provided no context to those who don't have a thorough understanding of Cleveland political history.

It is misleading to write about Cleveland’s black community and its alleged rigid and unyielding political structure without ever noting their place in the larger community’s hierarchical rigidity. The history of twentieth century Cleveland is the history of a top-down community run by an interlocking directorate of corporate bosses and white-shoe lawyers who worked hand-in-glove with whatever ethnic politicians happened to be in charge. Then and now, a principal responsibility of the Plain Dealer was to support this closed circle of dominance and control.

Column Intermission: A few years ago I attended an annual meeting of The Roundtable, one of a string of establishment organizations ostensibly designed to promote noteworthy civic objectives like economic inclusion, corporate diversity and the like. [1] On stage were three key figures: Danny Williams, the group’s president; Jane Campbell, the city’s mayor, and uber-lawyer and grey eminence Dick Pogue. The mayor had just cracked one of her characteristically bad jokes, attempting to make light of Pogue’s longevity at the seat of power; when Pogue ad-libbed aloud to the effect that he was still running the show, Campbell quickly beat a sheepish retreat. In Cleveland, the dominance of commercial interests over public welfare has been virtually unending. 

But this is America, so when color enters the picture, stuff happens. People lose their critical faculties. They pontificate about politics in the black community as if all black folks were still stuffed in eastside ghettos. They make no mention of the fact that there are more than 80 elected black officials in Greater Cleveland, most of whom live outside the city limits where new and in some cases more sophisticated manifestations of black power are developing. Most of these 80 elected officials seldom if ever consult with Stokes, Forbes or Pinkney.

The day is long gone when a small group of black politicians could say they spoke for the black community. In fact, it is debatable whether a solidly black electorate even exists, and whether that is a good or bad thing either way. But that’s grist for another mill.

Consider this about current black leadership: the black political establishment did march almost in lockstep in opposition to Issue 6 in 2009. Their counsel was overwhelmingly rejected in every ward and jurisdiction with one exception: Ward 1, the political base of state senator Nina Turner. She was a flag-bearer for Issue 6. But Issue 6 lost in Ward 1. This means that black leadership counsel was universally rejected on the most important local issue in 40 years.

That Stokes, Forbes and Pinkney remain active so active in local political discussion is largely due to indolence, inertia, and lack of imagination. Pundits such as Larkin, public officials like Speaker Batchelder call upon Forbes and Pinkney because they always have. Their primary concern is to not be accused of failing to check in with the black community. Forbes and Pinkney profit from the fiction of their continued political ascendancy.

The world has changed. The county has changed. The black community, however defined, has changed. The model of black political leadership that the Plain Dealer and perpetuates is obsolete and does a disservice to us all.  It has been withering for decades. Tomorrow I will describe its disintegration.

• • •

[1] A predecessor group was called BICCA [Businessmen’s Interracial Committee on Community Affairs]; the current incarnation is the Commission on Economic Inclusion housed at the Greater Cleveland Partnership.