Friday, June 15, 2012

Change Coming — Slowly — to Local Democratic Party

Executive Committee members of Cuyahoga County’s Democratic Party are meeting tomorrow morning on Cuyahoga Community College’s Metro Campus to pick a candidate to run this November in an election to complete the unexpired term of the late Judge Peter Sikora.

Since Sikora’s died after this year’s primary elections, Ohio law provides that the party may select a candidate to run in the next general election to serve the balance of the unexpired term, which ends December 31, 2016.

Only a few years ago, tomorrow’s meeting would have been pretty much a formality. Party bosses Jimmy Dimora and Bill Mason would have lined up their candidates, and after some horse-trading here and there the result would have been determined before anybody showed up.

Some party regulars rue the new order slowly being installed by new party chair Stuart Garson, who was elected chair by that same process himself when party heavyweights — led by Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, and über-labor friend John Ryan in US Senator Sherrod Brown’s office, bypassed calls for an open process and put in Garson. The new chair was largely unknown among the rank and file. He was known as a prolific fundraiser, having raised campaign funds for a number of candidates, including Fudge.

An attorney whose practice specializes in representing injured workers in workers’ comp cases, Garson had no hands-on experience in the hard core ethnic politics county Democrats have long engaged in. In fact, he despises that sort of horse-trading, preferring the more sedate politics practiced in Cuyahoga’s tonier regions, where meritocracy is at least touted, even if not always observed, as the order of the day.

Over the objections of a number of party regulars, Garson has stood firm on a process that reduces the chaotic railroading prevalent in the Dimora era.

Tomorrow six or seven candidates will appear on a first ballot. If any of them receives 50% plus one of the assembled voters, he or she will be the party’s nominee. If no candidate gets a majority, only those who receive at least 15% of the votes cast will pass to the next round. It will likely take 3 or 4 rounds to determine the winner.

Mason candidate O’Malley has perhaps the most political experience and is the presumed frontrunner, but he is by no means assured to emerge as party nominee. Each candidate was required to answer a series of questions about his or her credentials, fitness for office, record of public service, stance on diversity, and other criteria. While there is no guarantee that executive committee voters read the responses, Garson is clearly working to put in place a process that over time should diminish style cronyism.

Competing for the party’s nomination in tomorrow’s vote:

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