Friday, January 06, 2012

First County Prosecutor Debate: Herald of a New Era?

First County Prosecutor Debate: Herald of a New Era?

Longtime county prosecutor John T. Corrigan, who held the position from 1956 to 1991, surely turned over in his grave last night.

In a remarkable scene that would have been unimaginable two decades ago, four candidates seeking election to the powerful position showed up in the inner city to present their credentials to rank and file county residents, and probably of greater importance, to hear from those most affected by the justice system exactly what needs to be fixed.

The scene was set in motion by the decision last year of outgoing prosecutor Bill Mason not to stand for reelection, even though he had used his political muscle to preserve the office as an elected position in the new county government that debuted this year.

The November 2009 county election approved a new county charter that had been stitched together in a thoroughly non-transparent process by a small group of largely unaccountable politicians. 

All of that helped set the stage for last night’s spectacle in which a historically fractured community of activists staged a campaign event at a rundown and deservedly little-known facility euphemistically called Lil Africa Party Center.

Into the heart of Cleveland’s eastside black community last night eagerly came graduates of such illustrious universities as Yale, Cornell, and Stanford, to be cross-examined on the record by alumni of assorted federal penitentiaries and state prisons, who were prominent on the select and well-chosen panel and in the audience, which itself was a surprising and peculiarly diverse admixture of professions, geography, and ethnicity.

 Well more than a hundred county residents paid close attention to the debate. Their numbers included state and county elected officials, formerly incarcerated persons [aka “felons”], grandmothers, and advocates for justice and a new day for citizens, victims and defendants alike.

No Clear Debate Winner

While no candidate delivered a knockout blow to rivals or self-destructed, this first joint appearance of a compressed primary election campaign did afford each participant opportunity to test individual strengths and probe opponent weaknesses. And each candidate perforce put on display aspects of personality and temperament that could factor in voter assessments of how he/she would be likely to handle the enormous discretionary power and manifold daily challenges that will confront the next prosecutor.

Candidates McDonnell and Chandra were easily the most assertive, though in different ways. McDonnell is a bear of a man, gregarious, forthright and practically in your face with his insistence on being the most experienced trial attorney from either the defense or prosecutorial side. Chandra’s apparently boundless confidence in his superior fitness for the office appears to emanate from a sense of intellectual excellence. He seems to have thought about every issue the next prosecutor will encounter, and to have worked out a three or five point program to address it.

Triozzi and Hall are much less assertive in their presentation, evoking instead a more nuanced approach. This seemed especially true of Triozzi, the only candidate on stage with judicial experience. In what may have been only Hall’s second public appearance ever as a candidate for any race — she appeared at the endorsement meeting of the Democratic executive committee at Music Hall last month — she is still becoming comfortable with public speaking. Hall brings a unique resume to the race as both lawyer and police officer. She is also the only woman and the only African American in the race.

Many Public Concerns

After one turn from each panelist, moderator T. J. Dow, the Cleveland Ward 7 councilman, opened the floor to audience questions. A long and diverse line quickly formed. They had well-formed questions and by and large presented them succinctly.

The questions dealt with an abundance of concerns: public corruption, excessive use of police force, the grand jury process, bias, fairness, diversity, truancy, police perjury, over-indictments, jury selection, prosecutorial misconduct, children and family services, domestic violence.

The depth and breadth of the questioners’ concerns was eloquent testimony to how in need of repair is the county judicial system.

More debates scheduled

At least two other debates have been scheduled for the six candidates participating in the Democratic primary. No Republican has filed for the office so the March 6 primary winner will be the presumptive county prosecutor-elect.

The Cleveland Heights Democrats will host the candidates in debate next Thursday, January 12, 7 PM at the Heights Community Center, One Monticello Blvd. [corner of Mayfield Rd.].

On Saturday, February 4, the East Cleveland Coalition will sponsor a candidate debate from noon to 2:30 PM at the East Cleveland Library, 14101 Euclid Ave.

Early voting starts in 26 days.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Richard, Good post, but could you go back and put in the full names of the candidates? I think that would make the post more helpful to people who don't already know them.

And truer words were never written: "The November 2009 county election approved a new county charter that had been stitched together in a thoroughly non-transparent process by a small group of largely unaccountable politicians. "

we should definitely be demanding accountability in the future.

Richard said...

Thanks for weighing in with such kind words! See today's post for the first of what will hopefully be five video segments [I have to break it up due to blogspot limitations.]

MinCleveland said...

Excellent coverage of the debate. The more people that are made aware of the issue, the more people who will actually vote for the right cause!