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 www.judge4yourself.com.

# # #


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.

# # #