Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Fudge-Turner: Leadership & Opportunity

Fudge-Turner: Leadership & Opportunity

We were disappointed but not surprised when State Senator Nina Turner announced last week that she was dropping her bid to take on Rep. Marcia Fudge for the Democratic nomination for the 11th District Congressional seat.

The handwriting was on the wall when Turner had no response to the back-to-back images of pretty much the entire Democratic Party establishment, first in Cuyahoga County and then in Akron, standing shoulder to shoulder with the incumbent. It was clear at that point that Turner is not yet quite ready for prime time. She hadn’t raised the money or put together the organization to wage a competitive race. And as she correctly noted, the redistricting agreement reached last month by the Ohio General Assembly aided most political incumbents, including Fudge, even though it was unhealthy for Ohio voters.

My disappointment at Turner’s decision is because it postpones what has already been delayed for far too long: community dialogue about what kind of leadership is needed to move us forward. Many black people decry the one leader at a time syndrome — the Messiah model in its worst incarnation — but we seem to default to it time and again. Marcia Fudge has been in Congress barely three years but many people seemed to think it a crime that someone would step forward to challenge her.

As a community we need to get to a place where we hold our elected officials accountable, where they understand that their job is not merely to hold place, but to advocate and advance our interests, which includes developing talent and opportunities across the board.

Has there ever been a time when status quo was good enough? Marcia Fudge demonstrated in response to the whiff of a challenge that she could assemble a throng to defend her seat. Perhaps that will be impetus for her to claim the seat independently as opposed to having merely been its inheritor.

Lou Stokes held that seat long enough to establish and perpetuate a godfather model of black politics. He served as arbiter of political turf battles within the district and on occasion as spokesman for the black community. He hasn’t been in office for over a decade, he no longer even lives here, and it’s not clear that his perceptions and judgments are in tune with the community [consider for example his outmoded views on county reorganization, his top-down leadership model, and his aversion to transparency].

The departure of Stokes, the unexpected and unhappy demise of Stephanie Tubbs Jones, and the destruction of the inefficient and corrupt county Democratic Party regime [inefficient and corrupt = the worst of all possible combinations] have led to a vacuum in local black politics. The old guard leadership of Stokes and George Forbes is clearly inadequate. Their insistence on retaining power as personal privilege thwarted the development of next-generation political and community leaders.

Our most accomplished and competent civic leaders these days probably reside in the judiciary. They are elected through the political process but are barred by their offices from overt political activity. Carl Stokes was running an electrifying and organic mayoral campaign in his mid-thirties. Today, potential leaders of similar vintage like county councilmen Julian Rogers and Pernel Jones Jr. are still getting their feet wet as public officials. We now have a bevy of suburban city mayors and council people but not a one who steps up on any issue beyond his or her municipality.

Turner’s inability to mount a credible campaign need not mean that critical community questions of leadership, education, economics, equity, housing, development, etc., continue to go unaddressed. The unopposed Fudge now has a golden opportunity to claim her office by setting forth a new model of local community empowerment. She seemed momentarily on that path when she tinkered a few years ago with revitalizing the moribund Congressional District Caucus apparatus, switching it from an effete political arm to a nonprofit organization. But after a promising start, she either lost interest or got too busy.

The recent redistricting that incorporates parts of Akron and Summit County offer her a new chance at reorganizing the caucus as an effective tool for community building, community education, and leadership development. An intelligent recasting of a once-valuable brand would be part of a Fudge political legacy that would demonstrate her worthy of continued active support and not reification by default of opposition.

• • •

For the record, we noted in a previous post that three candidates filed have filed to run in the primary. None have the potential to engage the community as a Fudge-Turner race might have.

And for those of you who read Turner’s statement declining to re-file against Fudge as holding open the possibility that she might run as an independent, don’t hold your breath.

 • • •
We commend to you this post by George Packer in The New Yorker dealing with the hopefully-soon-to-be-forgotten Rick Santorum, political reporting, and the routine right-wing demonization of President Obama.

Two excerpts:

… gutter rhetoric is so routine in the Republican campaign that it’s not worth a political journalist’s time to point it out. In 2008, when Michele Bachmann suggested that Barack Obama and an unknown number of her colleagues in Congress were anti-American, there was a flurry of criticism; three years later, when a surging Presidential candidate states it flatly about a sitting President, there’s no response at all. Certain forms of deterioration … become acceptable by attrition, because critics lose the energy to call them out. Eventually, people even stop remembering that they’re wrong. …

The great puzzle of the Republican campaign is that, in an era of unprecedented ideological fervor, the party will almost certainly nominate the candidate who is the blandest, least ideological, and least trusted by conservatives … Romney, forever stuck at twenty-five per cent, understands his situation acutely, … like an actor who normally does investment commercials and is improbably cast in an ad for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He’s doing a credible job playing an intellectual thug, because that’s the only way to win the nomination.
It would be a mistake, though, to believe that, long after Iowa, once the horse race is over, and if he’s elected, Romney could suddenly flip a switch, clear the air of the toxicity left behind by the Republican field, and return to being a cautious centrist whose most reassuring quality is his lack of principles. His party wouldn’t let him; and, after all, how a candidate runs shapes how a President governs. In politics, once a sellout, always a sellout; once a thug, always a thug.
• • •


Anonymous said...

I think it is a "unity complex" rather than a Messiah complex. Old black people always talk about how black people need to be unified. Old black folks wring their hands if any black person speaks against a black leader. Old white people (i.e. Brent Larkin) are just simple. They like one, unified Messiah because it makes their reporting easier and fits their monolithic worldview of black people.

Anonymous said...

What exactly would you have black suburban mayors and councilmembers do outside of their province? Seriously. Our Ohio House and Senate Representatives are wrapped up in their own legislative matters in Columbus. Frankly, what happens in Columbus with Democrats has only tangential relevance to what is happening in our towns. In 2011, all Williams, Turner, Smith, and Budish talked about with Senate Bill 5 and the voter restriction laws. It mattered to them but, honestly, it meant nothing to us. We are dealing with uncooperative mortgage companies who will not modify loans for struggling people. We are dealing with an underfunded Ohio EPA would can't remediate contaminated and abandoned gas stations. Our interested don't align with the folks in Columbus and they are tone deaf. So, we don't venture outside of our cities. Richard, no one is listening.

Secondly, black mayors and councilmembers do not venture out because there is no where to go. This feeling of being boxed in relates to the later part of your blog post. The Cuyahoga County Democratic machine is alive and well. It's the culture of wait-your-turn and one black leader at a time. And, the Republicans are toxic. As you mentioned in a previous post, there is a long tradition of black Republicans in the judiciary. But, now, the Republicans are so blatantly and subversively inimical to blacks that is impossible to stomach the idea of joining that party and sitting in a room with those people (even if you agree with them on a few issues).

Richard said...

@ Anon. # 1: It's not an either or proposition, unity vs. Messiah. In fact, there are no doubt many who support both propositions, as in let's all line up behind one leader, or "Let's not criticize the black council president" because he has our best interests at heart."

We must take care about speaking too broadly and generalizing too readily. Chronologically, I likely fit into that group you characterize as "old black folks". Many of my contemporaries join me in decrying what passes for black leadership today and are looking for ways to heighten consciousness and support new leadership.

Similarly, there are older white people who are far more progressive than some younger ones of any color.

I rail against Brent Larkin because his reporting too often is based on a lens cast in the past that does not reflect newer realities. He continues to pay attention to Arnold, George & Lou because they have established relationships over decades, they trust each other, and they all return each other's calls. But Larkin clearly has no interest or incentive to develop younger, more energetic or plugged-in sources. He's as tired as his sources, and not nearly as hard working.

The fault probably lies with his managers, to the extent he has any, that do not seek to balance his old way of looking at things with voices more attuned to the 21st century.

Richard said...

@ Anon. # 2: I could hardly disagree with you more. First, SB 5 aka Issue 2 has a great deal to do with suburban communities wrestling with municipal budget issues or that may be home to large numbers of resident school teachers, public safety personnel and others whose economic well-being was attacked by that overreaching legislation.

Ditto in spades for voter restriction laws that attack the foundation of our democracy by leading us back to an era of poll taxes, literacy tests, and property requirements.

If our state legislators are tone deaf, at least two things are obvious: first, a restricted electorate will likely make the situation worse; and second,we need to get busy either speaking out more effectively or recruiting, developing and supporting new legislators.

As for what suburban officials might do outside of their jurisdictions, there are numerous issues that transcend muni boundaries: how about the privatization of education, support for public transit, regionalization, intracommunity cooperation, overgrown and haphazard retail development for starters?

Black suburban officials do not have to limit their voices to "black" issues or to what takes place only within their boundaries.
Too often we put ourselves into boxes. Black officials who advocate narrowly or not at all build no support outside their domain and consequently have little base upon which to seek expanded roles in the larger community.

Concrete example: Richmond Heights councilwomen Miesha Headen and Eloise Henry last year successfully led citizen opposition to the hasty effort of their city's establishment to pass an inequitable and poorly justified tax increase.
Their public position on this issue reflects an attitude of fiscal prudence and accountability, as well as a commitment to equity and transparency. Those are not merely ethnic or geographically-based issues.

County government has established a $100 million development fund. Would you be surprised if the mayor of Strongsville or the Solon city council president had and expressed opinions on how that money should be spent? Then why not the mayor of East Cleveland of the president of the Warrensville Heights city council?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, virtually NOTHING is more important than repealing HB 194 in November. You want to address mortgage or the environment or any of the other issues facing urban areas? You will never even get them raised in conversation if those who want to keep people from voting are successful. If they do this — what HB 194 is about — these concerns won't matter because the people they impact will struggle to be able to vote in any significant numbers so they won't count. HB 194 is only about a million times more important than gas station remediation — and is an absolutely essential precursor to it and every other issue. No vote, no voice.