Friday, October 04, 2013

Is Bowing to Shutdown Boehner's way of being Biblical?

Negos[1] Fiddle while DC is frozen: no health care for Jesus

I came across the following political cartoon shortly after a colleague recently solicited my views regarding the current government shutdown. It succinctly expresses my assessment of who is responsible for the present impasse.

A fuller answer would address the question how and why this shutdown came to be. Here goes.

Tea Partiers comprise about a tenth of the House of Representatives and roughly 20% of the Republican House majority. The political cowardice of the GOP leadership to confront its most reactionary wing time and again leads Speaker Boehner’s team to abdicate control of the People’s House to this tiny minority of Congressmen. Rather than marginalize these bullies through an act of leadership and statesmanship, the Speaker chooses capitulation time and again so as to avoid provoking primary challenges. He apparently does not apprehend that virtually all of the Tea Party representatives come from heavily gerrymandered districts that have been largely scrubbed of nonwhite voters. It would be hard for most states to create more of such districts in the next redistricting go-around, and increasingly impossible to maintain such districts in view of the country’s present demographic trends. But short-term expediency is breeding big-time, long-term adverse consequences for both the nation [certainly] and the GOP [probably].

While I have mentioned the racial composition of the districts of which the Tea Party has secured present political control, I have not spoken of the racial animus of its members and its policies. To do so usually provokes irrational and cynical nonsense about “playing the race card”.  But let us consider these few facts drawn from the historical record.

1.    Affirmative action has always been a part of America’s history. Until the Civil Rights Movement the primary benefits of affirmative action were white men. This is incontrovertible before the New Deal of the 1930s. But even New Deal legislation reinforced favoritism based on race. One example of many: Social Security legislation was drawn to exclude those occupations to which most black people, especially black women, were relegated. This was a political compromise by the Franklin Roosevelt administration to achieve the greater good. Black people paid the lion’s share of the cost at the time and still do. [Not unlike that 3/5 of a person compromise that made possible the birth of a nation. Who benefited from that? Who paid the price of that ticket?].

2.   The primary beneficiaries of modern civil rights legislation have been white women. Not begrudging them. I’m just saying. Tens of millions of black people have benefited from the legislation. Over a hundred million white women have benefited from it. Of course, the real beneficiary has been the entire nation.

3.   A higher percentage of black people has been uninsured than white people. The black community needs the Affordable Care Act. But, just as in the preceding paragraph, more white Americans will benefit from the ACA than black folk. No problem. The whole nation benefits.
And while we’re on this point, I would venture that Tea Partiers are among the most vociferous defenders of the claim that the USA is the greatest nation on earth, [with the best health care system, the purest foreign policy, the most valorous military, etc.] But how do they explain that the US lags virtually the industrial world in enacting universal health care? Or that our pre-ACA system has led to the world’s most expensive system while simultaneously being one of the world’s most inequitable? [Check out this eight-minute video on health care costs in America.]

So why this excursion into talk of race? I personally lost interest long ago in calling people racist for their actions or beliefs. I think we need a new way of talking about issues of race that permits us to address causes and conditions and remedies without making accusations or assigning individual blame. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to point out that certain people consistently adopt positions that have disproportionately negative consequences for people of color. And when the Speaker of the House, a la Pontius Pilate, throws up his hands and lets the mad crowd have its blood, he can’t claim clean hands.

[1] When I was in prep school,  “nego” was a term applied to people who were consistent naysayers, for whom opposition seemed a natural reflex.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Nonprofit Thursday Ruminations: A Sense of Place

University Circle Legacies and Opportunity Corridors

My deep affinity for University Circle predates my understanding its status as one of the world’s unique repositories of knowledge, beauty, and culture.

It began when I was a child and none of that world-class stuff mattered. The Circle was simply a mystical and fun place, a natural center of learning and adventure. My elementary school classes took trips to the art museum, touring the Armor Court and the Egyptian galleries. There was the occasional school excursion to Severance Hall for a weekday morning concert featuring Haydn and other more accessible classical composers.

There were also a couple of summers where I spent three hours a day for six weeks taking French classes with students from all over the county. By the time I was ten or twelve I had become used to wandering all around the Circle neighborhood, most often alone, wholly ignorant of my privileged position as a vested civic co-owner of such grand treasures.

Wade Oval Wednesday, August 2013
I didn’t know at the time how rare my status was. University Circle then and now was a cultural oasis. Today its movers and shapers have learned that the survival of their institutions depends upon attracting newer, younger, and more diverse audiences and patrons, not from the old time sense of noblesse oblige, but out of self-interest. They know conceptually that this no longer their parents’ Cleveland. So the more enlightened among them are looking to build bridges to the surrounding neighborhoods.

That’s a far cry from how their predecessor caretakers managed the oasis. Instead of establishing an open and welcoming environment, the Circle impresarios equipped their domains with invisible moats designed to maintain separation from the new immigrants that had slowly overtaken the surrounding neighborhoods of Glenville, Hough and Fairfax in the fifties and sixties. When East Cleveland all of a sudden became a black enclave around 1970, the Circle was itself virtually encircled, save for a narrow southern path uphill to the Heights through Little Italy.

How do you dismantle the invisible?
The catalyst for these remembrances was my attendance this past Monday at the premiere of a documentary designed to be a legacy film capturing the history, art and architecture of University Circle. The film was screened in the Iris S. and Bert L. Wolstein Research Building on the campus of Case Western Reserve University.

A good chunk of Cleveland’s civic and philanthropic elite was among the early arrivals to claim places in Wolstein’s 180-seat auditorium. The film did an exceptional job of capturing the history of University Circle, with its unique concentration of cultural, medical and educational institutions that form the city’s intellectual core. Many of these institutions are over a hundred years old, established with the wealth of the industrial titans who amassed incredible riches in late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Cleveland was to manufacturing what Silicon Valley is to information technology today.
The film traces the history of the Circle area from its early farmland status through its role as an Underground Railway station, its development of a millionaire’s row enclave, and its eventual metamorphosis to a unique mélange of public space, institutional might, and civic wealth.

The film gives a nod to the unfortunate decision of most Circle institutions to wall themselves off from their surroundings as area demographics shifted and their neighbors grew more déclassé. The film used the marvelously mellifluous Dee Perry, the elegant Adrienne Lash Jones, and an infectiously energetic class of John Hay High students as implicit reminders of efforts to create a more inclusive University Circle.

But as much as I tip my hat to Nina Freedlander Gibans and Jesse Epstein for their work in conceiving and producing the film [about which you can learn more here], I confess to having a vague discomfort at evening’s end.

Perhaps it was because there was only one black attendee there without a readily discernible role to play. I was there to observe and report, and I discovered that my friend Danny Williams was there as a panelist for the panel discussion that followed the screening. Danny heads The Free Clinic, a Circle outlier near the East Cleveland border [“on the wrong side of the tracks” he joked with serious implications]. I saw only one other black person in attendance, kind of an eerie reminder of the Circle’s formative days.

When Danny spoke during the panel discussion, he referenced the work his agency did with the medically marginalized, and noted the irony of the Free Clinic’s existence within the orbits of two of the country’s largest and best hospital systems and also in an area where medical outcomes show huge disparities when tracked by zip code.

While his remarks seemed to draw sympathetic nods from many in attendance, what added to my discomfort as I sat there was realizing that probably fewer than ten people in the room knew or cared that voters in the adjacent community of East Cleveland would the very next day be charting the course of their city, including its relationship to the Circle we all love.

Where do we go from here?
University Circle has come a long way in shedding its isolationist heritage and impulses. But it has a long way to travel, like so many of our area institutions, before the invisible barriers that keep so many people from feeling able to claim a part of their birthright as Greater Clevelanders are removed.

So I ask you, what will it take to make the Circle’s neighbors feel as comfortable and unselfconscious as that kid who wondered amongst all the imposing edifices and perfectly manicured spaces so long ago?

What would it take to create a Human Opportunity Corridor?

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

With East Cleveland mayoral race over, attention now turns to Council

Eight candidates seeking three seats means major council turnover possible

East Cleveland City Hall will see a substantial makeover even though Mayor Gary Norton’s reelection is a mere formality following his resounding victory in yesterday’s Democratic primary. 

The unofficial count from the County Board of Elections shows Norton garnered 1385 votes, two-thirds of the 2099 ballots cast. City Council president Dr. Joy Jordan won 563 votes, or about 27%, while political novice Vernon Robinson received 151 votes, about seven percent.

Since no Republican or independent candidate filed for mayor, Norton will be the only candidate for mayor on the November ballot.

Jordan’s decision to challenge the mayor means there will be a new council president next term. At least two new council members will be sworn in as first-termer Chantelle C. Lewis did not file for reelection from Ward 3. Lewis has been council vice president since last year.

There are eight candidates running for three seats on city council. Five candidates – Brandon L. King, Nathaniel Martin, Genevieve Mitchell, Ryan Ross, and Gloria B. Smith Morgan — are running citywide for one of council’s two at large seats. Martin is an incumbent.

In addition, three candidates — Vidah Saaed, Ernest L. Smith, and Thomas Wheeler — are running in Ward 3 to succeed Lewis.

With new top council leadership guaranteed, and a new council majority possible, East Cleveland residents may see an end to the mayor-council hostility that has existed for much of the past eight years, spanning the first Norton administration and that of his predecessor, Eric Brewer.

Candidate forums scheduled
All council candidates have been invited to participate in two candidate events. The first event, sponsored by the Ohio 8th House District Black Caucus, will be this Saturday, Oct. 5 at the East Cleveland Public Library, 14101 Euclid Avenue. The Ward 3 candidates are scheduled to appear in debate from 1-3PM; the five Council at Large candidates are scheduled to appear from 3:30-5:30PM.

Council candidates have also been invited to a forum co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Northeast Ohio Alliance for Hope [NOAH], a grassroots community organization. That event is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 26 at 12:30PM at New Covenant Lutheran Church, 1424 Hayden Ave, East Cleveland OH 44112.

NOAH and the LWV are also co-sponsoring a candidate forum for East Cleveland School Board candidates. That event is scheduled for Monday, October 21, at 6PM, also at New Covenant Lutheran Church.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Norton defeats Jordan by landslide proportion in Democratic mayoral primary

9:02PM: All votes counted: Norton 1385, Jordan 563, Robinson 151

Norton holding commanding lead in East Cleveland mayoral reelection bid
With 2/3 of precincts reporting, Council president Joy Jordan trails more than 2 to 1

East Cleveland mayor Gary Norton appears comfortably ahead of his challengers in the only race on the ballot today in Cuyahoga County.

Several factors pointed to this Democratic primary battle being especially tense, including longstanding animosity between the Norton administration, under which the city has once again returned to fiscal emergency, and a combative council led by Jordan that cut the mayor’s pay, filed suit against him, and has generally been obstructionist at every turn.

With twelve of the city’s precincts reporting, Norton leads Jordan by 1047 votes to 426. A third candidate, Vernon Robinson, has tallied 88 votes.

The results of early voting gave Norton a 304 to 80-vote cushion over Jordan, which he has increased as a result of today’s vote.

Given a projected turnout of around 15%, there would not appear to be enough votes left for Jordan to overtake Norton’s commanding lead.

Should Norton hold on, he can turn his attention fully towards a second term, as no Republican filed for the general election in November.