Thursday, May 27, 2010

New Day [not the Bedford Court clerk] on Horizon for Dems as Election of New Party Chair Nears

The sun doesn’t rise in the east but it dawned there last night. In Cleveland Heights. That’s where a surprisingly large and energetic rainbow of party regulars gathered publicly for the first time to envision a new era for the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party. A spirited crowd of more than 125 came together on the initiative of a small band of concerned party members who refer to themselves as CDPL, short for Cuyahoga Democrats for Principled Leadership. They have been quietly meeting around the county for several months — mostly in midtown, Lakewood, or Euclid — talking, analyzing, organizing, and acting for several months with the goal of achieving what came into view last night: the potential for not just a new party chairman, but a rejuvenated, holistic, more effective political organization.

The purpose of this week’s public meetings — a second will be held tonight in Rocky River’s Civic Center — is to foster party revitalization in light of the upcoming meeting to elect the new party chair on June 5th. Ohio law provides that every four years each of the major parties elect members of a central committee by precinct. There are 1068 precincts in the county, which means there were 1068 separate races for committee positions, albeit not all were contested. (A county board of elections spokesman said that to keep the ballot at manageable length, Republicans elect their central committee on a different four-year cycle; their most recent precinct level election was last year.)

Precinct committee people, as they are also known, may be thought of as second lieutenants, an army’s lowest ranking commissioned officers. They are supposed to know their local political terrain, to recruit new party members, to serve as two-way channels between the party brass and the privates, the latter a hopefully informed citizenry of regular party voters. A dynamic and effective precinct leader will organize his or her constituency via neighborhood, street, and block clubs, etc. to pass the word, get out the vote, know the pulse of the man on the street, and just be in the know about all things political in their territory.

It’s a 19th century form of urban political organization by proximity. At its essence it is rooted in personal contact and interaction. In an era of too much to do in too little time, at a time when so many have so much anxiety over having too little money to meet so many responsibilities, this grass-roots system had become too attenuated in the Democratic Party to be any relevance. The party itself had calcified at the top by too large a sense of entitlement, too much parochialism, and with no mechanism and even less desire for self-examination.

That is why, by the way, the Obama campaign essentially bypassed the clogged arteries of the Democratic Party, set up a parallel organization along the same lines outlined two paragraphs above, and delivered victory margins that the bloated party apparatus has not delivered in a generation of election cycles.

Pssst! The President of the United States was once a community organizer.

Some of those folks who came to Cleveland to work the 2008 political campaign, as well as some 2004 Kerry people, found enough to like about our little city with the big lake to put down roots. A few of them were instrumental in finding enough local Democrats with sufficient pulse, conscience, and sense of personal agency to begin planning for a renewed party based on principle and not personal power.

That first meeting was a tentative after-work gathering of nineteen at Café Ah-Roma across from Cleveland State. It was full of bewilderment, idealism, and excessive legalism. Lawyers are lousy at revolution planning. By the time of the next gathering, at 7:30 a.m. on a sunny day in December, a more veteran and politically astute cast of fifty or sixty had been assembled. That meeting birthed the group’s name — CDPL— and began to stitch the core of those who with some sense of constancy would keep the group more or less focused on the task at hand: getting the public Party to clean up after the private party of Public Officials Numbered You Know Who and Him Too.

Fast forward to last night. The Cleveland Heights forum was not a civics class. The invited were the newly elected precinct people, and many showed. They came from Euclid, Pepper Pike, Hough, Collinwood, Shaker, and even from as far as Bay Village. They introduced themselves and then listened to co-convener Jan Roller outline the Party constitution [soon to be online here], and talk about key party process and central committee member duties. Then came highlights and firecrackers.

All six potential candidates who whose names were bruited about as in the mix for party chair were invited by letter to the forum, either to state a case for their candidacy, to say why they had chosen not to compete, and also to share their vision for what the Party should be. Additionally, each was called and if not reached, called again.

Of the six, it appeared only Mark Griffin would show. The trial lawyer came prepared. He didn’t say he was running but he certainly presented himself as the eligible bachelor, capable and ready. He was idealistic, he was earnest, and he was practical. He would be a new face and a strong and clear voice for the Party. He would love to be selected because he relishes both the challenge and the opportunity, though he didn’t say so. Not in words.

Questions and complaints began before Griffin could finish. These are Democrats, and orderly meetings are often but rumor. Most of the complaints had to do with alleged Party rules, excessive favoritism of incumbents, the rejection of new blood and new ideas, and most especially, the failure of rumored frontrunner Stuart Garson to show up.

We skimp on the details here so as not to deprive tonight’s meeting of its anticipated freshness. Suffice to say, the surprise of the evening was the arrival of said Stuart Garson at 8:25 p.m., five minutes before the scheduled closing. He was as blunt as a rifle butt.

Part II of this report will appear tomorrow, after tonight’s meeting in Rocky River. I don't want to spoil the fun for west side Dems who will show up tonight…


Anonymous said...

You captured the meeting's intent, atmosphere, and dynamics perfectly.

If only the party leaders would recognize the benefits that can arise from inclusion of the "second lieutenants."

Elaine said...

Loved your summary, you sound as surprised as I was,
as a first time precinct committee person.

I am getting hopeful again !

Richard said...

Thanks, Anon, for your kind words.
They say if change was easy, everybody would do it!

Elaine, there is hope, esp. if someone from one side of town rounds up some newcomers and they get in touch with some new members who are on the other side of town.

I will be saying more about this by Monday.