Friday, December 16, 2011

Obama may be beneficiary of Turner-Fudge Contest

I seldom agree with commentator John McWhorter, a conservative commentator who often seems insulated from an understanding of how race actually works in this country.  But his piece in the current issue of The New Republic, “Why Eric Holder’s Effort to Help Minority Voters Could Backfire”, raises some solid questions that relate both to the ugly compromise* reached by Ohio state legislators this week [* if it weren’t the holiday season, I would substitute "Democratic Party capitulation”] and to the distressed arguments raised by those who condemn out-of-hand the challenge to Congresswoman Marcia Fudge D-11 in the Democratic primary, now certain to occur March 6.

McWhorter denounces the concerted national drive by Republicans to suppress black and brown votes in the name of reducing voter fraud for exactly what it is: a “brutally cynical effort … to instinctively seize political advantage by … trying to suppress [black and brown] Americans’ right to vote in a fashion that is not only utterly disgusting but revoltingly reminiscent of ” Jim Crow days.

McWhorter finds pernicious the way that the Voting Rights Act has been used to encourage the development of majority-minority districts. Such districts, he argues, “discourage young black politicians from learning how to build cross-racial or cross-class coalitions.” He goes on to note how most of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus owe their success to the sort of black districts that the Act has been used to support, and that such districts, in which mostly black people are led decade after decade by the same black person are ripe for voter apathy.

As noted, we are often troubled by McWhorter’s alternate-world analysis but he has put his finger on a couple of significant issues here.

Regardless of the outcome of state senator Nina Turner’s challenge to the Hon. Marcia Fudge, if it results in energizing the dormant electorate of the 11th District, Turner will have enhanced President Obama’s reelection chances by increasing the likelihood that he carries Ohio.

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We have been asked to encourage our readers to attend today’s Young Professional Town Hall with County Executive FitzGerald at Cleveland State University's Student Center Ballroom.  

The event starts at 6:00 p.m. and will feature remarks to the young professional community in Cuyahoga County, as well as the opportunity for young professionals to answer questions directly to County Executive FitzGerald at the event, or prior to the event on Twitter via the hashtag #AskFitz.
There is more info available here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Different Kind of "Giant Sucking Sound"

Note: Nonprofit Thursdays will resume in January.

I attended the Cleveland Realtists Association’s holiday party this past Tuesday at The Opus, an MBE restaurant on Chagrin Boulevard. Spirits were high and the place was packed.

The Realtists’ history date to a time when black real estate agents and brokers were barred from membership in the larger professional organization now known as the Cleveland Area Board of Realtors. If memory serves, the segregation was once so thorough that blacks in real estate couldn’t even call themselves realtors because the dominant group copyrighted the term.

This kind of history rests at the bottom of so much of what we see today in our non-post-racial society. The black community is full of organizations that shadow those larger professional organizations that excluded black members as a matter of course. The use of “American” in the titles of these majority organizations as a matter of course is why so many black organizations chose “National” as part of their identity: National Bar Association, National Medical Association, National Association of Real Estate Brokers, etc.

While this kind of in-your-face exclusion is no longer the norm, many African Americans still support these mirror groups. When I asked my agent friend “J” if she were a dues-paying Realtist member, she stressed that while she belonged to all the major agent groups, her Realtist ties “keep me grounded”.

J is an agent at one of the area’s major brokerages but I knew exactly what she meant. One of the key ingredients in Cleveland’s historic standing as one of the country’s most-segregated cities has been the structure, operation and practice of real estate professionals. The patterns and practices of the big firms have both contributed to and reflected the wealth disparity between the races in our community.

My key takeaway from my conversation with J was only indirectly related to race, however. It was her intriguing response to my asking how business was going.

J said that 2011 had been much better than 2010 [“Thank Goodness!”] and that one of the best aspects of that improvement was how sales had improved in the inner city. She believes that a strong central city real estate market is critical to the recovery and health of county property values in general. She cited San Francisco and New York as examples.

Of course, those areas are net attractors of people, something that hasn’t been true in decades around these parts. Still, it makes sense that inner city reinvestment is essential to Cuyahoga revival.

It is unarguable is that the meltdown of property values in areas targeted by subprime vultures — Slavic Village, East Cleveland, Maple Heights to name a few — harmed the entire county at least twofold: not only did pretty much everybody’s property values decrease, but lost revenues from abandoned homes has caused city and county revenues to decline even as demand for public services has increased.

As conservatives continue to espouse discredited ‘trickle-down” theories, perhaps they ought to school themselves on the effects of “economic contagion” that are a predictable result of robber baron economics.

If a rising tide lifts all boats, doesn’t a fierce undertow jeopardize at least 99% of them?

As one of my Asian correspondents asked me this morning in a phone conversation: why isn’t Jon Corzine in jail related to his inability to account for $1.2 billion in missing client funds [video]? And if you think that's where the former Governor-Senator-Wall Street funds trader should be, then why shouldn't the principals of the giant financial institutions who stole far more from the rest of us?

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?

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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.