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.

• • •

BULLETIN: Site of prosecutor campaign debate becomes homicide scene only hours later


Site of prosecutor campaign debate becomes homicide scene only hours later

An epochal event in Cleveland political history — an inner-city debate sponsored by community activists that featured four of the six contestants for Cuyahoga County’s top law enforcement job — became a crime scene only a few hours after the event closed.

Preliminary information obtained by The Real Deal indicate that a disgruntled patron had an angry confrontation with owner Mike Nelson over his take-out chicken order at the Kitchen Restaurant, 6816 Superior Ave.

The customer, reported to be a 32-year old Cleveland man, returned about midnight as the restaurant was closing. Nelson grabbed his shotgun as he saw the man approach with a gun in each hand. After or during a further angry exchange, Nelson shot and killed the intruder.

The rear of the storefront restaurant is home to the Lil Africa Party Center, where only a few hours earlier, community activists and candidates for county prosecutor — including former city law directors Subodh Chandra and Robert Triozzi, former suburban prosecutor James McDonnell, and attorney and police officer Stephanie Hall — engaged in a remarkable discussion about law enforcement.

As we have come to expect, The Plain Dealer has early coverage of the crime but did not deign the community-organized debate newsworthy. Only when they read this will they learn the significance of the crime scene.
Our report on the debate itself will appear here this afternoon.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Today's Politics: President visits; Turner looks at independent run

Magnetic President Returns to Charge Faithful Base

President Obama came to Cleveland today to deliver what was billed as a major speech on the economy. What he delivered was substantially less, but it mattered not to the adoring capacity crowd that filled every nook and cranny of the Shaker Heights High School gym for a chance to be in his presence.

The president’s key announcement was his recess appointment of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray as Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The president had nominated Cordray last July to head the new agency but Senate Republicans have refused to allow the nomination to come to the floor for an up or down vote.

That nomination had already been leaked to national media before the president arrived, so the real impact of the president’s visit was the unofficial launch of his reelection campaign. Judging by the lines of folk who snaked three or four abreast around the Shaker Board of Education headquarters last night in bitter cold, enthusiasm remains strong in this neck of the woods for a second Obama term.

Not only did a crowd arrive early last night to stand outside school administration headquarters for tickets for the president's appearance, they were back this morning at 10:30, almost three hours in advance of the President’s talk. It was a festive atmosphere both for the hundreds of students, perhaps forty percent of an estimated 1400 attendees, as well as the nearly thousand adults. And almost all stayed patiently in place for longer than the President spoke, as he worked the crowd and departed the scene.

We will try and post video of the event on Thursday.*

* Update [Jan. 6]: Technical difficulties prevented me from posting my video. Here is the C-Span broadcast.

• • •

Turner weighs independent run against Fudge
Yesterday’s post contained the following paragraph, which may require me to swallow some crow:

“And for those of you who read [State Senator Nina] Turner’s statement declining to re-file against [US Rep. Marcia] Fudge as holding open the possibility that she might run as an independent, don’t hold your breath.”

Today, we heard from multiple sources that Turner is circulating petitions to run as for Congress as an independent. If Turner files sufficient petitions by March 5, it will set up a head-to-head ballot contest in November.

Turner’s statement last week that she would not challenge Fudge in the March 6 Democratic primary referred to the difficulty of mounting a viable challenge in a short primary season. An independent campaign would bypass that issue, though it would present other challenges.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Fudge-Turner: Leadership & Opportunity

Fudge-Turner: Leadership & Opportunity

We were disappointed but not surprised when State Senator Nina Turner announced last week that she was dropping her bid to take on Rep. Marcia Fudge for the Democratic nomination for the 11th District Congressional seat.

The handwriting was on the wall when Turner had no response to the back-to-back images of pretty much the entire Democratic Party establishment, first in Cuyahoga County and then in Akron, standing shoulder to shoulder with the incumbent. It was clear at that point that Turner is not yet quite ready for prime time. She hadn’t raised the money or put together the organization to wage a competitive race. And as she correctly noted, the redistricting agreement reached last month by the Ohio General Assembly aided most political incumbents, including Fudge, even though it was unhealthy for Ohio voters.

My disappointment at Turner’s decision is because it postpones what has already been delayed for far too long: community dialogue about what kind of leadership is needed to move us forward. Many black people decry the one leader at a time syndrome — the Messiah model in its worst incarnation — but we seem to default to it time and again. Marcia Fudge has been in Congress barely three years but many people seemed to think it a crime that someone would step forward to challenge her.

As a community we need to get to a place where we hold our elected officials accountable, where they understand that their job is not merely to hold place, but to advocate and advance our interests, which includes developing talent and opportunities across the board.

Has there ever been a time when status quo was good enough? Marcia Fudge demonstrated in response to the whiff of a challenge that she could assemble a throng to defend her seat. Perhaps that will be impetus for her to claim the seat independently as opposed to having merely been its inheritor.

Lou Stokes held that seat long enough to establish and perpetuate a godfather model of black politics. He served as arbiter of political turf battles within the district and on occasion as spokesman for the black community. He hasn’t been in office for over a decade, he no longer even lives here, and it’s not clear that his perceptions and judgments are in tune with the community [consider for example his outmoded views on county reorganization, his top-down leadership model, and his aversion to transparency].

The departure of Stokes, the unexpected and unhappy demise of Stephanie Tubbs Jones, and the destruction of the inefficient and corrupt county Democratic Party regime [inefficient and corrupt = the worst of all possible combinations] have led to a vacuum in local black politics. The old guard leadership of Stokes and George Forbes is clearly inadequate. Their insistence on retaining power as personal privilege thwarted the development of next-generation political and community leaders.

Our most accomplished and competent civic leaders these days probably reside in the judiciary. They are elected through the political process but are barred by their offices from overt political activity. Carl Stokes was running an electrifying and organic mayoral campaign in his mid-thirties. Today, potential leaders of similar vintage like county councilmen Julian Rogers and Pernel Jones Jr. are still getting their feet wet as public officials. We now have a bevy of suburban city mayors and council people but not a one who steps up on any issue beyond his or her municipality.

Turner’s inability to mount a credible campaign need not mean that critical community questions of leadership, education, economics, equity, housing, development, etc., continue to go unaddressed. The unopposed Fudge now has a golden opportunity to claim her office by setting forth a new model of local community empowerment. She seemed momentarily on that path when she tinkered a few years ago with revitalizing the moribund Congressional District Caucus apparatus, switching it from an effete political arm to a nonprofit organization. But after a promising start, she either lost interest or got too busy.

The recent redistricting that incorporates parts of Akron and Summit County offer her a new chance at reorganizing the caucus as an effective tool for community building, community education, and leadership development. An intelligent recasting of a once-valuable brand would be part of a Fudge political legacy that would demonstrate her worthy of continued active support and not reification by default of opposition.

• • •

For the record, we noted in a previous post that three candidates filed have filed to run in the primary. None have the potential to engage the community as a Fudge-Turner race might have.

And for those of you who read Turner’s statement declining to re-file against Fudge as holding open the possibility that she might run as an independent, don’t hold your breath.

 • • •
We commend to you this post by George Packer in The New Yorker dealing with the hopefully-soon-to-be-forgotten Rick Santorum, political reporting, and the routine right-wing demonization of President Obama.

Two excerpts:

… gutter rhetoric is so routine in the Republican campaign that it’s not worth a political journalist’s time to point it out. In 2008, when Michele Bachmann suggested that Barack Obama and an unknown number of her colleagues in Congress were anti-American, there was a flurry of criticism; three years later, when a surging Presidential candidate states it flatly about a sitting President, there’s no response at all. Certain forms of deterioration … become acceptable by attrition, because critics lose the energy to call them out. Eventually, people even stop remembering that they’re wrong. …

The great puzzle of the Republican campaign is that, in an era of unprecedented ideological fervor, the party will almost certainly nominate the candidate who is the blandest, least ideological, and least trusted by conservatives … Romney, forever stuck at twenty-five per cent, understands his situation acutely, … like an actor who normally does investment commercials and is improbably cast in an ad for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He’s doing a credible job playing an intellectual thug, because that’s the only way to win the nomination.
It would be a mistake, though, to believe that, long after Iowa, once the horse race is over, and if he’s elected, Romney could suddenly flip a switch, clear the air of the toxicity left behind by the Republican field, and return to being a cautious centrist whose most reassuring quality is his lack of principles. His party wouldn’t let him; and, after all, how a candidate runs shapes how a President governs. In politics, once a sellout, always a sellout; once a thug, always a thug.
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