Thursday, June 03, 2010

Psst: Wanna Be Party Chair?

Local Democrats have operated for the last 40+ years with a focus on
1970s issues, a 1950s outlook, and a 1930s ideology. The party leadership
has been provincial, ham-handed, and shortsighted. Conceited but
lacking in self-respect or ambition, they have been content to win
electoral victories based on overwhelming numerical advantage.
Essentially they claimed success that was due largely to demographics.
Since their professional horizons stopped at the county line, it
didn’t occur to them to grow or consolidate their enormous potential political power statewide. Had not their leaders run into legal trouble and public disgrace, there is no telling how long the party’s sorry state would have continued.

A changing of the guard is now underway in the Cuyahoga Democratic
Party, driven by that external force known as a U.S. prosecutor. The
federal investigation appears focused on the public misfeasance of
elected officials, but the public is right to make no distinction
between a party chief and a public official. Both are positions of
public trust. In fact, the public officials known as precinct
committee persons elect the party chiefs in Ohio. Leading Democrats
have finally come to grips with the fact that the head of the party
should not simultaneously be an elected official.

So who will be the new party chair? It’s a pretty thankless job,
apparently, because no one is seeking it openly. The job pays zero if
you are honest. No salaries, no perks. Just thousands of demands from
people who want jobs, favors, endorsements, assistance, advice,
direction, encouragement. You have to raise your budget while enduring slurs, assaults, and subversion, usually but not always coming from the other side. You are kind of like the Daddy of a humongous family with
legions of always hungry and perpetually ill behaved children. Your job is to organize this crew around noble political objectives and win victories that make your community a better place to live. Good luck with that!

So who are the candidates? Well in this corner is a brilliant labor
lawyer who fights by any ethical means necessary to achieve justice
for his injured clients. He’s wealthy and he’s earned it. His friends
see him as compassionate. He raises money for political causes and he
donates money to a variety of candidates, some even outside his party
who hold views contrary to his own. He doesn’t suffer foolishness, which means he has little patience for retail politics. He’s sixty but looks older. You wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t kiss his own grandchildren. Don’t expect him to be patient with questions from the party faithful, who may work 12 hours at the polls in November rain. Nuance is not his thing.

In the other corner is another brilliant trial lawyer. He’s expert in election law, has a passion for public policy, is open and refreshing,and is so transparently candid in a 21st century kind of way that in the smoky atmosphere of county politics people can’t figure out that he too says what he means. He’s 46, looks younger and probably rolls in the grass with his kids. He comes from a family of respected and honored public servants; his father and grandfather served roughly half a century between them as county trial judges. He was honored with fellow team members as Ohio Democrat of 2009.

The choice only seems clear. The candidate first described — Stuart Garson — doesn’t want the job but is willing to serve because party leaders have importuned him. He knows strong leadership is needed to avoid disaster in this fall’s elections. He wants to put any talk of openness and transparency and reform and communication and party reorganization aside until after the next election cycle or two. His will be a top-down, command and control administration. That’s the way it’s always been in the Party, so why change? Get busy and grind out victories at the polls.

The second candidate — Mark Griffin — wants the job but won't exactly say so, because he is willing to stand aside because if senior party leaders actually have command of their troops, it would be detrimental to the party to have a division over party leadership. His manner and style would clearly be effective in helping the party distance itself from its scandal-ridden image. And he is clearly more appealing to the scores of newly-elected and energetic precinct committee people, but they have yet to be
consulted, courted, or even welcomed into the leadership in any coherent, healthy or affirming manner. And, without a champion to lead them, they may not be organized in time to have any impact before the party chair vote looming on June 16.

Tonight, both the reluctant candidate and the reticent non-candidate
are expected to be at what promises to be a lively evening at the
Stephanie Tubbs Jones Community Building, 3450 Lee Road in Shaker Heights. The fun will start at 7pm. Come early for a ringside seat. Expect jabs, some crosses, perhaps a few uppercuts, and certainly a few haymakers. But be prepared to duck, because most punches are likely to be thrown from the audience.


Jane G. said...

Yes. Exactly. Thank you, Richard, for getting to the crux of the matter. Are we angry enough to change...ourselves?

Richard said...

Tonight may suggest an answer to that question. I think anger gets diffused when it is not channeled. Is there a individual, cohort or group that will hoist a flag for others to rally around?