Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Election Day in Cuyahoga County: What We're Watching

Here are some of the storylines we are following as Primary Election Day unfolds in Cuyahoga County; what happens today will go a long way towards setting the stage for even more decisive public choices in November. 

U.S. Senate
  • Will turnout in the black community be so miniscule as to persuade the incumbent Sherrod Brown that he must find new ways to strengthen his connection to African Americans?

  • Will the relatively fresh face and true blue conservatism of Lt. Governor Mary Taylor appeal to enough GOP trumpettes to puncture the tired facade of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine?

  • Will lifelong populist and pretend progressive Dennis Kucinich upset the earnest but unexciting Rich Cordray, whose mild manner shades a true dedication to effective public service?

Ohio Attorney General
  • How might the unfolding charter school scandal currently centered on the apparently-criminal-but-in-any-event appalling behavior of ECOT officials affect voter perceptions of State Auditor Dave Yost?

Ohio Treasurer 
  • Cincinnati Attorney Rob Richardson is perhaps the most promising black candidate the Democrats have fielded statewide in a non judicial race in memory. How will he fare in northeast Ohio?

State Senate 
  • The District 21 race is filled with familiar names. Is this the last time voters will see the names of Jeff Johnson (backed by Congresswoman Marcia Fudge) and Bill Patmon (supported by Mrs. Patmon) on the ballot? Will the quiet but competent Sandra Williams cruise to renomination with the endorsement of Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson?
  • Will State Rep. Marty Sweeney get a twofer? The notorious backroom brawler is trying to defeat fellow state Rep. Nickie Antonio for the open 23rd District state senate seat while sliding his daughter, Bride Sweeney, into office as his successor. Two Sweeney successes would confirm that old boy politics remains dishearteningly alive on the westside. 
  • State Rep. John Barnes seems to do enough behind the scenes to keep him in the good graces of local municipal officials such that he has their endorsement at election time, notwithstanding his thoroughly uninspiring record in Columbus. Will he win sufficient support in his District 25 primary challenge to Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko to convince him to hang around and try again in 2022, when Yuko will be term limited?

Was there an establishment bias in the PeeDee choice to advance the callow ahead of the competent?

Ohio House
  • District 10 is an open seat with a boatload of candidates vying to succeed the term-limited Bill Patmon. Can community organizer Kyle Earley ride the support of his mentor Nina Turner and the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus to victory? Will former Cleveland city councilman T. J. Dow get his career back on track, abetted by councilpersons Kevin (city) and Yvonne (county) Conwell? Or will city councilman Anthony Hairston be able to install his protege Terence Upchurch?
  • The most interesting candidate in this race is Ivy League-educated Aanand Mehta,  The Jones Day attorney is one of a growing cadre of second-generation Indian Americans entering the political scene. The Ohio Legislature already boasts one Indian American member [a Republican]. Hamilton County clerk of courts Aftab Pureval, now running for Congress, is one of Ohio Democrats' most promising stars. But in a diverse district that is predominantly African American, it is unclear that Mehta has made substantive connections with those he wishes to represent.

  • District 12 is also an open seat. Juanita Brent is the endorsed Democrat and Dimitri McDaniel is a promising newcomer. But we hope voters support Yvonka Hall. We like candidates who educate themselves and the public on  important issues, who work outside politics to serve the community, and who thereby establish their community credentials before declaring their desire to "serve the people". As founder and tireless executive director of the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition, Hall checks all those boxes. She is not a go along to get along person and would take a new spirit to Columbus.

County Council

The Plain Dealer endorsement of Michael Houser for county council was concussive for thinking people. There simply is no way at this time that he measures up to the outstanding record of public service that Cheryl Stephens has compiled over three decades as an elected official (mayor and council member in Cleveland Heights), civil servant (economic development official for City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County) and in the private sector. She is knowledgeable on the issues, well respected in development circles, comes to the table prepared, and is strong willed yet collegial. She is just the sort of thoughtful representative that a mostly meek county council needs around the table.

One might be tempted to think there was an establishment bias in the PD choice to advance the callow ahead of the competent. We hope the voters of County District 10 choose the independent Democrat Stephens over the machine-oriented Houser.

Common Pleas Court

We have written extensively about the highly contested races for the four open seats on the county trial court bench. We have endorsed Michael Rendon and extolled Karrie Howard, who we formally endorse here and whose election to the bench we think is of fundamental importance, both to the community as a whole and the black community in particular. We think both William McGinty and Andrew Santoli are qualified; our choice will be made in the ballot box.

The one race we have not discussed is the most troubling. Andrea Nelson Moore has been raked over the coals for a minor campaign misstep she made in a prior judicial race. Her convoluted and tin-eared explanation for that misstep earned her a zero rating from local bar associations and the Plain Dealer’s scorn. But the fact is she broke no law and, though suspended pending an inquiry, she was never sanctioned. Our problem is that her opponent, blessed with only a modest record of her own but a popular ballot name and an ample war chest, has blasted Moore as if she were a felon. The attacks have been relentless, pervasive, and in the aggregate, offensive. We prefer Moore in this race. 

# # #

Finally, there are some underlying storylines that we are keen to follow. The Democrats are electing precinct committee representatives today. (The Republicans do it in presidential primary years.) A number of insurgents are on the ballot, though likely not enough to affect the party hierarchy. But there is a battle underway for the soul of the county party, and the precinct committee results may offer some markers as to how that is progressing.

The second underlying storyline has to do with endorsements by Cleveland’s most prominent black officials, Congresswoman Fudge and Mayor Jackson. They have backed competing candidates in several races in this cycle. Fudge’s choices often seemed tactical, that is to say, political, while Jackson’s appear more personal, rooted in his appreciation of loyalty.  What will today’s results say about the relative value of their respective endorsements? What will they say for the future of local black politics, especially among increasing speculation that Cleveland's next mayor will be white?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

How the Cleveland Browns should draft

The Browns have been historically bad the past two seasons. They need help at every level on both offense and defense.
The fastest way to improve the team is by drafting the best player available every time, regardless of position. Even though they hold the first and 4th positions this year, they can likely get the two best players in the draft.
One plays offense, the other plays defense.
The Browns can get them both if they take running back Saquon Barkley of Penn State #1 and defensive lineman Bradley Chubb with their second pick at #4. They will be immensely improved immediately, especially if they continue that approach with their next THREE early picks.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Open Seat Judicial Primaries, Part I

This year's Democrat judicial primary contests carry out-sized importance for Party

Judicial races are often the proverbial red-headed stepchildren of the ballot. They come “down-ballot”, near the end of an often long list of races. Voters who have trudged to the polls often are tired of thinking and trying to remember who their neighbor told them they should vote for. The seven or eight minutes worth of time they’ve already spent making sure their pencil marks were correctly placed has them feeling like impatient schoolchildren, eager to finish up and go outside. So they either skip the last few races or stab at familiar names.

That kind of voter behavior means we often wind up with inferior judges on the bench.

We stirred up a hornet’s nest a few months ago when we pulled the lid off the judicial endorsement process of the County Democratic Party and took a look at the four open seats on the county court, i.e., those races where there is no incumbent on the ballot this year. What often appears a mysterious anointment of a few coveted judicial slots by hands unseen is this year a no-holds barred battle among lawyers eager to cap their careers or launch themselves into public office. And the results of their efforts will likely affect the course of the county party for the next few years.

Each of the four open races carries its own peculiar dynamic. Two of the races are head-to-head battles, one has three candidates, and the other has six contestants.

Voters should be aware that in several of the races there is at least one candidate who appears to be running more on a favorable ballot name than on a solid record of professional accomplishment. In that regard, we are providing a link to each candidate’s judicial questionnaire as submitted to www.judge4yourself.com, an independent, nonpartisan evaluation service operated jointly by four local bar associations. Their process is not perfect, but can serves as a useful aid for the thoughtful voter.

With early voting having started April 10, there are just over three weeks until Primary Election Day, May 8.

Here are some observations voters may find helpful:

William T. McGinty vs. Andrew J. Santoli

Andre J. Santoli
William T. McGinty

This race is a study in contrasts. Santoli, 38, is a career prosecutor who has been running for the better part of two years. He has the backing of the Bill Mason-Marcia Fudge machine, which shouldn’t necessarily be held against him. He has a solid 3.0 ranking [out of a possible 4] from judge4yourself.com.

McGinty, 65, entered the race at the filing deadline. His career has been primarily focused on criminal defense, although he has served as Fairview Park law director for the past two years. He would be limited to one term if elected. He is not related to former county prosecutor Tim McGinty.

McGinty was preferred by judge4yourself.com with a 3.5 rating. Santoli is endorsed by the county party and the Plain Dealer.

In our opinion, either candidate could serve commendably. It may be a matter of personal preference for the voter, with Santoli’s youth, prosecutor’s orientation, and organizational backing vs. McGinty’s end-of-career perspective and broader experience.

Emily Hagan vs. Michael Rendon vs. Retanio A. J. Rucker

Retanio A. J. Rucker
I have known Retanio Rucker’s family since before he was born. I can attest that he was raised by good and loving folk who practiced solid American values. He has served conscientiously as a magistrate in Juvenile Court for eleven years. He has an authoritative, no-nonsense manner on the bench. If elected, he would bring needed diversity to the court as an African American male jurist.

Rucker, 58, laid an egg before judge4yourself.com, earning a dismal 0.5 rating. I suspect the ranking reflects his assertive personality more than anything else. I am confident he could handle the transition from juvenile court magistrate to the Court’s General Division.

Emily Hagan
Emily Hagan, 40, has one of the thinnest resumes imaginable for a judicial candidate. She does not appear ever to have had the kinds of experience one would expect a trial court judicial candidate to have obtained. She enjoys the backing of the old guard, including Mason-Fudge, likely because her uncle is a former county commissioner and one-time head of the party. Judge4yourself.com found her “adequate” with a 2.0 across the board. Still, it was a surprise to many when she failed to win the party’s endorsement, largely because the process had become overtly racialized.

Michael J. Rendon
But Michael Rendon, 60, is far and away the superior candidate in this race. Take a look at his background and you will see a breath and depth to his professional and life experiences that make him ideal as a judicial candidate. I was surprised and delighted to see that he was a U.S. border guard for four years. His military background, Hispanic heritage, and rich experience combine to render him head and shoulders above the field. Judge4yourself.com concurs, giving him a perfect 4.0 rating.

Tomorrow we look at the other two judicial races that have challenged the black political establishment and will likely have far-reaching consequences regardless of who become the nominees.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Dixon's long tenure at GCRTA speaks to Cleveland's sub-par political culture

Our low standards are killing us

The forced resignation of George F Dixon III two weeks ago as board chair of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority at the behest of his fellow trustees comes across as an urgent carbon monoxide detector. He resigned as his fellow board members investigate whether Dixon may have improperly failed to pay his share of premiums for his GCRTA subsidized health insurance.

The situation points once again to a Greater Cleveland political culture that recycles and rewards a collection of undistinguished political insiders — both elected and appointed — whose chief assets seem to be a general affability accompanied by a reluctance to rock the boat.

The administration and management of GCRTA seem at this moment to reflect the same political culture that enabled the Jimmy Dimora-Frank Russo era of just a decade ago.  Blessed with a high school education, Dimora epitomized the archetype of the jovial back slapping, deal-making public official.

Even after the FBI raid on their county administration offices and homes in July 2008 — Dimora was one of three county commissioners and Russo the county treasurer — most local Democratic Party apparatchiks were reluctant to challenge the duo’s leadership of the party. Over and over, when asked how they could tolerate the indicted pair’s continued party leadership, people would recite some favor or kindness rendered to them or a family member by Dimora as a rationale for enduring an unconscionable situation.

Our preference for affability and comfort over a commitment to excellence and service is one of the key hindrances to our community advancement. It is not the kind of cultural attribute one expects would appeal to a corporate giant looking to expand to a new community.

We don’t know George Dixon personally, nor have any facts emerged thus far established that he has broken any laws. People we respect describe him
George Dixon was appointed to GCRTA board
in 1992 and served as chairman from 1994
until he resigned under pressure last month.
warmly as an intelligent guy with an engaging manner. He did enjoy a reputation as the King of GCRTA, however, with an aura reinforced by the fact that board meetings took place in the George F. Dixon III Board Room.

Yet on the face of it, something is wrong when a person serves as chairman of a public agency for nearly a quarter of a century. As former judge and county council president C. Ellen Connally has written, such long uninterrupted tenures are breeding grounds for threats to the public interest.

Dixon’s departure opens the door for a major overhaul of the ten-member GCRTA board. Not only did the terms of Charles P. Lucas and former East Cleveland mayor Gary Norton expire on March 31, but two other trustees continue to serve after their terms have expired. Valerie McCall’s term expired in March 2017 and Leo Serrano’s term expired in March 2016.

Three of Cleveland’s appointees are serving past term and the fourth just resigned. It does not speak well for the appointing authorities — the Jackson and Budish administrations — to be so lackadaisical about making timely appointments to a vital public agency with more than 2000 employees and a $300 million budget.

Mayor Jackson likes to say Cleveland will not be a great city unless and until all its neighborhoods share in the prosperity of the city’s renaissance. Most of the people who live in those “least of these” neighborhoods don’t have cars and are dependent upon public transit to get to work, to the doctor, and to shop.

It would behoove Mayor Jackson and County Executive Budish to consider appointing some regular bus riders to the board. We see little evidence that the current board members identify with workers who face two hour commutes each way to jobs that pay less than a living wage.

Frank, if you want Cleveland to be great, start by giving us some great board members. Even better, do it with a sense of urgency and transparency. 

Don't keep letting it be "what it is".

 # # #

[Cleveland appoints four members of the RTA board. The County appoints three, and the Cuyahoga Mayors and Managers Association appoints three.]

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Harvard's Kuumba Choir, Morgan State Choir bringing history, joy to the North Coast

Old Sorrow Songs a Source of Modern Comfort
Harvard’s Kuumba Choir here last week; Morgan State Choir in town tonight

I don’t know how it is for white people but if you are black in America, even though you may be relatively privileged, you can often feel isolated in the rarefied atmosphere your good fortune has opened up to you.

Let’s look at the well known sports pioneer Jackie Robinson. He was enormously talented, a confident military vet, happily married, but every day he had to go work in a hostile environment where not only thousands of onlookers and on-the-field opponents were jeering him openly and rooting for him to fall on his face; he had teammates who despised him and wanted him to fail.

We may think those days are behind us but in truth, in this society, they are not. I’ve never met Craig Arnold, chairman and CEO of transnational Eaton Corp., but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if he felt some of that special isolation as the only one on the whole floor.

Thousands of black people of lesser status, if not lesser talent, have felt that sensation of being strangers in a strange land. It’s one of the reasons black men used to acknowledge each other in a certain way when crossing paths in unexpected places. I still recall my experiences in boarding school, far removed from most of what I’d ever experienced back in my Glenville neighborhood, trying to find some balm of Gilead.

So it was no surprise to hear members of Harvard University’s Kuumba Choir share the origins of the group’s birth, founded in 1970 to “create a spiritual and cultural space in which we can feel comfortable”.

The choir was in Greater Cleveland last week, the last stop on a four-city spring break tour that had them also visiting Chicago, Detroit, and Springfield IL.  They appeared in concert at South Euclid United Church of Christ before a crowd of well over 300 enthusiasts, a day after having thrilled an assembly at Cleveland School of the Arts.

The music was a thorough affirmation of faith, a celebration of journeys completed and trials still underway. The song titles did much to tell the story: Amazing Grace, Ride On King Jesus/In that Great Gittin’ Up Morning, We’ve Come a Long Way, Ain’t Gon’ Let Nobody Turn Me Around, Oh Happy Day!

The 40-plus voices were a striking amalgam. At one point, the singers passed a microphone throughout their ranks, with each using a spare ten or twelve words to state their name, hometown, and undergrad major or other identifying characteristic. So the audience learned that the choir included students from across the country, the Islands and from the Continent. The presence of a Caucasian or three in their ranks only amplified the testimony of the music of the universality of the rhythms and melodies and plaints and joys expressed in the Spirituals, or sorrow songs as they were once called.

The group’s repertoire was wide, likely only hinted at by the range of the material they chose to present Friday. It included traditional spirituals, modern gospel, and African freedom songs. They were backed throughout by an excellent small combo on keyboards and percussion. During a brief intermission, the audience heard the outstanding piano talent of the local and superb David Thomas.

It is performances like this that come to mind when we hear the phrase “black culture”, not the popular strains of the moment but the abiding chords that speak to the long history of people of the Diaspora.

The Kuumba Choir has maintained a commendable consistency throughout its 48 years. Current director Sheldon Reid, who has led the ensemble since 1998, is only the third director in Kuumba’s history. The choir maintains a strong alumni network whose current president is Linda Jackson Sowell of Solon. She spoke briefly near the program’s end, and as a charter member, joined in the group’s rendition of the Twenty-Third Psalm.

The spring break tours of collegiate black choirs are one of the early and most pleasant harbingers of a new season. Tonight the renowned Morgan State Choir comes to town. They will appear in concert at 7pm at Mt. Zion United Church of Christ, 10723 Magnolia Dr., in University Circle. All are welcome. Admission is free and there will be a good will offering.

NOTE to HBCU alumni: Let us know when your choir is coming to town.