Saturday, November 18, 2017

Mt. Pleasant NOW selects Nicholas Perry as new director

Community Report

Agency looking to lead neighborhood's renaissance

New director takes helm, says re-boot already underway

Todd Michney’s wonderful book, Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900-1980 [2017], describes a once-idyllic mid-2oth century Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. Today, Mt. Pleasant has fallen so far its name seems an oxymoron, a cruel joke for those residents without knowledge of the time when the area was solidly middle class, its atmosphere so benevolent that white people were slower to flee than most of their cross town cousins.

Last night, the community’s eponymously named community development corporation [CDC], Mt. Pleasant NOW, held a reception to introduce its new executive director, Nicholas “Nick” Perry, and herald a sorely needed new day.
Nicholas Perry

Perry, 46, stepped down as board president six weeks ago to become director. In one of his first acts, he said he has extended the hours of its community center, located at 13815 Kinsman near the once-vibrant Kinsman Ave-Union Rd-East 140 St. intersection. It now remains open weekday evenings for the use of community groups and others until 8:30pm.

Perry also said the agency has redefined its role as a brick-and-mortar CDC and plans to roll out an array of social services over the next 18 months. Citing what he said was his favorite Bible verse, Matthew 5:16, Perry concluded his brief remarks by saying “The Light is on in Mt. Pleasant.”

As part of the program, Mt. Pleasant NOW’s board presented several awards for achievement. Its Humanitarian Award went to Ella Thomas, executive director of Thea Bowman Center, one of the community’s nonprofit anchors.

The business-oriented award went to Akil Affrica, who is putting finishing touches on a new business, the Mt. Pleasant Café that is scheduled to open shortly. Mr. Affrica owns several other eateries, including Zanzibar on Shaker Square.

The Community Involvement Award went to M. Anita Gardner, a housing advocate and executive director of the Concerned Citizens Community Council.

The final award, for public service, went to Ward 4 city councilman, Ken Johnson. In rambling and somewhat unctuous remarks, Johnson, 71, noted that he had been born nearby at the corner East 144 St. and Glendale Ave. He has been on council since 1980 and was re-elected last week.

One interesting tidbit to emerge from the event was how the Mt. Pleasant community has been parceled out among four wards — 1, 2, 4 and 6 — and is served by three CDCs. Three of the council seats have turned over in the past several months, Wards 1 and 2 by election and Ward 6 by appointment. It seems apparent that collaboration and communication if not consolidation will be important if restorative efforts are to have any lasting effect.
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Friday, November 17, 2017

Local Democrats gather to swear in new officers

Cuyahoga Politics Today

Is it a new reality or just a new look?

Cuyahoga County Councilwoman
Shontel Brown is also now chair
of the County Democratic Party.
[Photo Credit: Eli Gibson] 
It was a smart decision by incoming County Democratic Party chair Shontel Brown to present and swear in her new cabinet at the party’s relatively new headquarters this past Tuesday night. More than 200 party regulars assembled for the event, surpassing its organizers’ expectations. The crowd was swelled by several newly elected officials like Michael D. Brennan, who will become University Heights mayor in January; Michael Nelson and Jazmin Torres-Lugo, victorious in their bids to become Cleveland Municipal Court judges; and Joe Jones, hoping that his narrow Election Day margin over Terrell Pruitt for Cleveland City Council survives an official recount.

Their supporters joined many others, most of whom were likely visiting Dem HQ for the first time ever. The event was typical of many Dem affairs: lots of hugging, plenty of back slapping. For those who like to track such things, we estimate attendance was probably about a 55-45 ratio between white and black attendees. Truth is, we saw a healthy mix, but the crowd dwarfed the space, and the festive mood encouraged such a crowd flow that a close estimate was hard to come by.

County Democrats gather Nov. 14 at party HQ at 3615 Superior Ave. for installation of their new officers.
[Photo Credit: Eli Gibson] 
There wasn’t much formality to the proceedings. Chairman Brown acknowledged her parents, and was sworn in by her pastor, Rev. Larry Harris of Mt. Olive Baptist Church. She then swore in each of her cabinet members successively.

Surely for the first time in history, a majority of the cabinet was both female and black. They likely seemed obscure to the majority of party regulars, with the exception of Cleveland City Council president Kevin Kelley and Warrensville Heights mayor Brad Sellers.

It is Kelley’s new party office as executive vice chair that has many party apparatchiks buzzing, especially those who are reluctant to see Brown as strong enough to handle a difficult job. Brown, a member of Cuyahoga County Council, is the first woman and the first black elected as sole party chair. A short list of the job’s requirements include raising a million dollars annually, recruiting candidates, and turning out large majorities in statewide contests to offset the GOP’s rural and exurban advantages. Not in the job description but critical to success: refereeing spats, fights, and duplicitous behavior in a host of minor fiefdoms.

Brown has no visible education, preparation or training equipping her to perform any of these tasks, which is not to say that she is incapable of discharging them.

The Party’s track record in these areas has not been good for decades, notwithstanding its dominance countywide, in Cleveland, and in many of the principalities that clutter the county with innumerable borders. President Obama’s electoral 2008 and 2012 victories in Ohio were due largely to his decision to build parallel electoral organizations that bypassed the local party structure. [An unfortunate consequence of that choice was his neglect of strengthening the party apparatus essential to long-term success. That was a national omission with dire unforeseen consequences.]

Winning local elections that keep Democrats in office is no measure of success in Cuyahoga County. Republicans often fail to put even token candidates forward in many contests. But the County is not as lopsidedly partisan as appears on the surface. The GOP exercises great influence through an array of establishment entities and individuals, as an examination of the forthcoming campaign finance records of Democrats Frank Jackson and Zack Reed will conclusively illustrate.

Still, it is on a granular level that local party contests are most critical: who sits on your school board and represents you on the local city council? Who understands and cares about your circumstances as they peer down at you in municipal court or deign even to consider you on appeal? Who has your interests in mind in the Ohio General Assembly?

Those elected officials, chosen in so-called “down-ballot” slots, often in so-called “off-year” elections, can impact your life more directly and more often than even the most narcissistic, unhinged, and ignorant President imaginable. And local parties are the launching pads for the candidates who seek and attain those offices.

This is where the rubber meets the road in intra-party politics, in particular where the black community’s voice often gets lost, long before names appear on the ballot in primary or general contests. Too few of us either understand the process or choose to participate in it. Far too few of our best and brightest run for office. Far too few of us make even token contributions to candidates, or lend other essential support. Weak community support participation generates inferior public officials resulting in poor public policies with corresponding consequences for community’s physical, financial and social health, education and welfare.

A look beneath the surface of Kelley’s selection as executive vice chair, for instance, raises several interesting questions. Kelley is a singularly unimpressive public official. Twice in the last couple of years he conspired with the Jackson administration to sacrifice principles of home rule, basic democracy and transparency, to thwart voters and petitioners who sought to make and check polices to raise the minimum wage and decide on the soundness of public expenditures [“the Q deal”]. Running to the state legislature to thwart what may have been an unsound policy initiative was bad enough. Participating in a bogus lawsuit under false pretenses in service to private interests was totally indefensible.

Party chair Shontel Brown swears in Kevin Kelley as
executive vice chair as executive director Lillian Sharpley looks on. 
[Photo Credit: Eli Gibson]
Elevating Kelley to EVC is a queer signal for the supposed party of the people. It suggests a quid pro quo behind Brown’s historic but perhaps largely symbolic role as party chair. Several keen observers see Brown’s elevation as part and parcel of a deal between Congresswoman Marcia Fudge and forces arrayed around the potent political alliance of former county prosecutor Bill Mason and Bedford Clerk of Courts Tom Day, the latter of whom, we are advised, was the recipient of a steady stream of well-wishers almost as long as those who waited on line to share congratulations with Shontel.

If Brown as party chair is the core quid, then Kelley as vice chair is part of the quo.  A second part of the quo remains to be seen, and that is the potential replacement of Lillian Sharpley as party executive director by Paul Marnecheck. Following the swearing in, Marnecheck reaffirmed to this writer in a brief exchange his continuing interest in the position and indicated that some things are in the works. The executive director is the day-to-day manager of party affairs, is a paid position, and reports to the chair.

Sharpley’s interest in running next year for the state representative seat being vacated by Bill Patmon has long been known. But she has made few if any visible moves towards mounting a campaign. By contrast, Marnecheck is a ward councilman in North Royalton as well as a manager at the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the area’s most influential chamber of commerce.

Of larger consequence for the community is the question whether a Fudge-Mason alliance covers more than agreement over party positions. It seems clear that Mason’s early departure from office has not meant his removal from partisan politics. Indeed, as he is no longer even bound by the proprieties of office, his involvement in county politics may loom larger than ever.
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Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Cuyahoga Politics Today: Election Ruminations

Election Day Watch
We talked in our earlier post today about the power of voters to initiate transformative change in various local and statewide elections in this misnamed "off-year".

In this post we list several races in Cleveland and its suburbs that we will be watching as Election Day unfolds. But first we touch on some ballot issues, foremost of which is Issue 61, the bond issue for Cuyahoga Community College.

Yes on Issue 61
Tri-C is approaching its 55th birthday, which means there are few active adults in these parts who can clearly remember when we had no community college around. Confession: I’m one of them. I remember when the College started, seemingly not much more than a glorified high school in a ramshackle collection of old buildings. Its growth since that inauspicious beginning, guided by strong lay and professional leadership, has been more than remarkable. Tri-C has become an indispensible member of our area’s institutions of higher learning, an economic driver, a business innovator, and so much more. The growth of its physical plant has carried its flag all over the county to such an extent that I was astounded to hear in a presentation on Issue 61 that this was the College’s first-ever capital bond issue. It would be difficult to think of a more worthy YES vote than Issue 61.

Yes on Issue 2
Like most of you, I have been perplexed by the cacophony of nonstop messaging pounding us relentlessly on Issue 2, the proposed statewide ballot measure to tie the cost of prescription drugs. I tried with great difficulty to tune out the incessant commercial messages and to seek out the facts. News articles were inconclusive; experts were all over the map.

To my surprise, I was persuaded by an excellent television news report on WKYC-TV3 last week. The report debunked one of my main concerns — allegations about the State having to pay for private attorneys to fight challenges to the Amendment, which proposes to lower costs of prescription drugs. And the report further informed me that the measure’s chief supporter nationwide uses his company’s revenues to provide low cost medications to third world countries, many of which are in Africa.

Amidst all the conflicting claims, that was good enough for me.

Notable area electoral contests
• Will Beachwood residents finally vote out its incredibly greedy mayor? Will Gail McShepard become the first African American to win a seat on city council, thereby becoming only the second African American ever to hold elective office in Beachwood? [David Whitaker, both a practicing attorney and a licensed psychologist, was elected to the Beachwood Board of Education in the 1990s.]

• Will Lora Thompson become Lyndhurst’s first-ever African American council member?

Garfield Heights features two council races that may impact that first ring suburb’s tortuous adjustment to new demographic realities. There may be an old guard somewhere farsighted enough to embrace change, but it’s not in Garfield.

• We’ll be watching the election returns for Cleveland City Council closely to see the outcome of several hotly contested council seats. The collective outcome of several races could result in drastic change at Cleveland City Hall no matter who wins the mayor’s office. Those races include: Ward 1, where former councilman Joe Jones is expected to oust incumbent Terrell Pruitt; Ward 2, where a newcomer will replace the departing Zack Reed; Ward 4, where all sensible human beings will support a ticker tape parade when double dipping Ken Johnson’s ponytail finally departs council chambers. We will also be watching Ward 5, where Phyllis Cleveland tries to hold off the up and coming Richard Starr; this is the Frank Jackson’s ward, so she and the mayor may rise and fall together.

Then there is Ward 6, where city hall insider and Jackson loyalist Blaine Griffin, appointed to the seat earlier this year, will likely hold off articulate newcomer Josh Perkins McHamm. Ward 6 is of pivotal importance for its location and diversity. It includes the Fairfax, Buckeye, and Little Italy neighborhoods, and is home to University Circle, and corporate behemoth Cleveland Clinic.

Ward 7 is also of strategic importance for its location in and adjacent to University Circle. Incumbent T. J. Dow is clearly no establishment favorite, owing at least in part to his emphatic embrace of his Hough area residents. Corporate funds appear to have flowed to challenger Basheer Jones, but his embarrassing pre-primary defense of his status as a legal resident of Hough before the Board of Elections seriously dampened any enthusiasm this corner might have had for his promise as a public official.

Finally, there is Ward 14, where Jasmin Santana is hoping to duplicate her primary victory over incumbent Brian Cummins, and bring a new and much needed Hispanic perspective to the council floor.

• Perhaps the most intriguing suburban race is the mayor’s contest in impoverished East Cleveland, where Devin Branch, running as an independent with the support of the Green Party, has an excellent chance to defeat incumbent Brandon King. Branch led the successful recall movement that ousted former mayor East Cleveland, leading to King’s elevation to mayor from city council. In some byzantine dealings, King was subsequently appointed to council but barred from serving due to some alleged charter chicanery.

What interests us most about Branch is his unalloyed love for his town and his vision of how to make it a better place. He is an eloquent apostle for East Cleveland and an unabashed lover of black people. East Cleveland’s political culture is as toxic as the notorious Noble Road dump that the EPA is spending $6 million to dismantle. If anyone can restore a semblance of sanity and fresh air to East Cleveland City Hall, it is likely to be an indefatigable believer like Branch.

There are also numerous judicial races in and around Cleveland. These seats often directly impact the quality of life and the life chances of many area residents. Voters should make sure they go all the way to the end of the ballot, armed with info gleaned from friends, neighbors, and sites such as

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Cleveland's mayor race: when is change gonna come?

Area voters are heading to the polls today to participate in what could be a transformative election both locally and statewide. It is a great misnomer to call this or any other non-presidential year an "off-year" election. Believing that democracy has off years or even off months, is a prescription for its demise. Back in the day when civics was taught in public schools — hell back in the day when there were common public schools — we learned that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

There is no shortage of communities in Cuyahoga County where cities face a key choice: keep on doing the same thing or chart a new course. Of course the biggest local race is Cleveland's mayoral contest between 12-year incumbent Frank Jackson and longtime city councilman Zack Reed. 

It seems clear that Cleveland voters want change from top to bottom. Jackson has accumulated a ton of baggage over his three terms: an abysmal record on lead abatement; virtual silence on matters of public safety, even in the face of outrageous police misconduct; a school system stagnant in too many areas; an unconscionable failure to apportion city resources equitably among city neighborhoods, most conspicuously between downtown and the more traditional residential neighborhoods. 

Throw in his advocacy for a dirt bike track, his coziness with the rich and powerful, his disdain for any real effort to make himself understood, and his general aloofness, not to mention his willingness to deny the people a voice on whether to expand Quicken Loans Arena deal, and it would be an open and shut case for voters to show him the door.

But to open that door and kick Jackson out means to select Zack Reed as his replacement; many voters are uncomfortable with that choice. They perceive Zack to be all churn and no butter, too unreliable and immature, even at age 56, to replace the old man and manage the billion dollar enterprise of city government, even though he seems to have effectively confronted and thereby corralled his acknowledged alcoholism for the last several years.

This race was Zack's to win or lose. For better or worse, the voters are tired of Frank, ready to kick him to the curb. We heard that pre-campaign polling showed a majority of likely voters didn’t even want Jackson to run again. So Reed's task was to demonstrate his capacity to govern and his readiness to lead, to make people understand his passion for public service, to show how he gained the reputation as city council's hardest worker, and to get buy-in for his vision of a better Cleveland.

Whether Reed successfully did enough to define himself and achieve those goals, or was beaten down by the hot tarring of relentless pro-Jackson assassins, is the question of the day.

We say if Reed wins, Cleveland will have a stronger champion for equity and a more attentive voice in City Hall. If he proves unable to close the deal, the cold hands of the Jackson Administration will carry the city's pulse for another long four years.

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