Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chandra the best choice for County Prosecutor

This year’s election of a new county prosecutor is almost certain to result in positive change in the office of the county’s most important law enforcement position. The challenge is to figure out which of the five candidates vying for the office is most likely to be successful in bringing about the necessary improvements in what has for generations been a troubled office.

In 2010, county voters were faced with a unique fresh choice, courtesy of the new county charter passed the year before: electing the first-ever county executive. We very early noticed a pattern as we attended many of the campaign events, including numerous debates among the eight or nine candidates. The election was being staged against a backdrop of failure: the system of county government was broken. It was corrupt, outmoded, and inefficient. Things were done in a certain way because that’s the way they had been done for decades.

Not one of the candidates disagreed with this assessment. All promised they were the best prepared to fix it. But what most of them actually focused on was “fixing the problems”. For me, one candidate stood out, Ed FitzGerald, the eventual winner. He was head and shoulders above the other candidates for several reasons: he best understood the opportunity to seize the moment to create a new culture in an affirmative fashion. He talked not just about transparency and integrity — they all did, out of necessity. FitzGerald talked about making Cuyahoga County government excellent. Fixing the problems was but a starting point. He was clearly not going to settle for making the county average, or merely functional, by solving the most dire problems, even though doing only that would have represented a huge step forward. He wanted us to be first-rate and he demonstrated the vision and the energy to take us there. And so far, so good.

That 2010 race is for me, eerily similar to this year’s campaign for prosecutor. Lots of qualified candidates with good ideas about how to “fix” the problems in the prosecutor’s office. And they pretty much agree on what those problems are: misuse of the grand jury, an ugly propensity to over-indict, an unhealthy culture of partisan politics and cronyism permeating the office, an institutional bias in hiring, promotion, and plea bargaining, gross inefficiencies in the management of professional resources.

All five candidates have ideas about fixing these problems but only one has consistently talked about a higher standard, about excellence, about giving the County as fine a system of prosecutorial justice as exists in this country. That candidate is Subodh Chandra.

What is important as his vision is that he has a track record to back it up. He has been a federal prosecutor. He has been Cleveland’s law director. He earned high marks in both those positions.

We wondered for a time whether Chandra’s demanding professionalism would engender resistance both from within the office by assistant prosecutors and from outside the office among the ranks of Cleveland and suburban police departments. Our conclusion is that only such a demanding professionalism can force the necessary changes in the county prosecutorial culture. All of the candidates promise change. To the extent that any of them try, there will be resistance, even massive , if passive, resistance.

To us, Chandra stands out as the candidate with the vision, the commitment, the character, the will and the determination to see the necessary changes through.

Subodh Chandra should be Cuyahoga County’s next prosecutor.

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