Saturday, November 18, 2017

Mt. Pleasant NOW selects Nicholas Perry as new director

Community Report

Agency looking to lead neighborhood's renaissance

New director takes helm, says re-boot already underway

Todd Michney’s wonderful book, Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900-1980 [2017], describes a once-idyllic mid-2oth century Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. Today, Mt. Pleasant has fallen so far its name seems an oxymoron, a cruel joke for those residents without knowledge of the time when the area was solidly middle class, its atmosphere so benevolent that white people were slower to flee than most of their cross town cousins.

Last night, the community’s eponymously named community development corporation [CDC], Mt. Pleasant NOW, held a reception to introduce its new executive director, Nicholas “Nick” Perry, and herald a sorely needed new day.
Nicholas Perry

Perry, 46, stepped down as board president six weeks ago to become director. In one of his first acts, he said he has extended the hours of its community center, located at 13815 Kinsman near the once-vibrant Kinsman Ave-Union Rd-East 140 St. intersection. It now remains open weekday evenings for the use of community groups and others until 8:30pm.

Perry also said the agency has redefined its role as a brick-and-mortar CDC and plans to roll out an array of social services over the next 18 months. Citing what he said was his favorite Bible verse, Matthew 5:16, Perry concluded his brief remarks by saying “The Light is on in Mt. Pleasant.”

As part of the program, Mt. Pleasant NOW’s board presented several awards for achievement. Its Humanitarian Award went to Ella Thomas, executive director of Thea Bowman Center, one of the community’s nonprofit anchors.

The business-oriented award went to Akil Affrica, who is putting finishing touches on a new business, the Mt. Pleasant Café that is scheduled to open shortly. Mr. Affrica owns several other eateries, including Zanzibar on Shaker Square.

The Community Involvement Award went to M. Anita Gardner, a housing advocate and executive director of the Concerned Citizens Community Council.

The final award, for public service, went to Ward 4 city councilman, Ken Johnson. In rambling and somewhat unctuous remarks, Johnson, 71, noted that he had been born nearby at the corner East 144 St. and Glendale Ave. He has been on council since 1980 and was re-elected last week.

One interesting tidbit to emerge from the event was how the Mt. Pleasant community has been parceled out among four wards — 1, 2, 4 and 6 — and is served by three CDCs. Three of the council seats have turned over in the past several months, Wards 1 and 2 by election and Ward 6 by appointment. It seems apparent that collaboration and communication if not consolidation will be important if restorative efforts are to have any lasting effect.
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Friday, November 17, 2017

Local Democrats gather to swear in new officers

Cuyahoga Politics Today

Is it a new reality or just a new look?

Cuyahoga County Councilwoman
Shontel Brown is also now chair
of the County Democratic Party.
[Photo Credit: Eli Gibson] 
It was a smart decision by incoming County Democratic Party chair Shontel Brown to present and swear in her new cabinet at the party’s relatively new headquarters this past Tuesday night. More than 200 party regulars assembled for the event, surpassing its organizers’ expectations. The crowd was swelled by several newly elected officials like Michael D. Brennan, who will become University Heights mayor in January; Michael Nelson and Jazmin Torres-Lugo, victorious in their bids to become Cleveland Municipal Court judges; and Joe Jones, hoping that his narrow Election Day margin over Terrell Pruitt for Cleveland City Council survives an official recount.

Their supporters joined many others, most of whom were likely visiting Dem HQ for the first time ever. The event was typical of many Dem affairs: lots of hugging, plenty of back slapping. For those who like to track such things, we estimate attendance was probably about a 55-45 ratio between white and black attendees. Truth is, we saw a healthy mix, but the crowd dwarfed the space, and the festive mood encouraged such a crowd flow that a close estimate was hard to come by.

County Democrats gather Nov. 14 at party HQ at 3615 Superior Ave. for installation of their new officers.
[Photo Credit: Eli Gibson] 
There wasn’t much formality to the proceedings. Chairman Brown acknowledged her parents, and was sworn in by her pastor, Rev. Larry Harris of Mt. Olive Baptist Church. She then swore in each of her cabinet members successively.

Surely for the first time in history, a majority of the cabinet was both female and black. They likely seemed obscure to the majority of party regulars, with the exception of Cleveland City Council president Kevin Kelley and Warrensville Heights mayor Brad Sellers.

It is Kelley’s new party office as executive vice chair that has many party apparatchiks buzzing, especially those who are reluctant to see Brown as strong enough to handle a difficult job. Brown, a member of Cuyahoga County Council, is the first woman and the first black elected as sole party chair. A short list of the job’s requirements include raising a million dollars annually, recruiting candidates, and turning out large majorities in statewide contests to offset the GOP’s rural and exurban advantages. Not in the job description but critical to success: refereeing spats, fights, and duplicitous behavior in a host of minor fiefdoms.

Brown has no visible education, preparation or training equipping her to perform any of these tasks, which is not to say that she is incapable of discharging them.

The Party’s track record in these areas has not been good for decades, notwithstanding its dominance countywide, in Cleveland, and in many of the principalities that clutter the county with innumerable borders. President Obama’s electoral 2008 and 2012 victories in Ohio were due largely to his decision to build parallel electoral organizations that bypassed the local party structure. [An unfortunate consequence of that choice was his neglect of strengthening the party apparatus essential to long-term success. That was a national omission with dire unforeseen consequences.]

Winning local elections that keep Democrats in office is no measure of success in Cuyahoga County. Republicans often fail to put even token candidates forward in many contests. But the County is not as lopsidedly partisan as appears on the surface. The GOP exercises great influence through an array of establishment entities and individuals, as an examination of the forthcoming campaign finance records of Democrats Frank Jackson and Zack Reed will conclusively illustrate.

Still, it is on a granular level that local party contests are most critical: who sits on your school board and represents you on the local city council? Who understands and cares about your circumstances as they peer down at you in municipal court or deign even to consider you on appeal? Who has your interests in mind in the Ohio General Assembly?

Those elected officials, chosen in so-called “down-ballot” slots, often in so-called “off-year” elections, can impact your life more directly and more often than even the most narcissistic, unhinged, and ignorant President imaginable. And local parties are the launching pads for the candidates who seek and attain those offices.

This is where the rubber meets the road in intra-party politics, in particular where the black community’s voice often gets lost, long before names appear on the ballot in primary or general contests. Too few of us either understand the process or choose to participate in it. Far too few of our best and brightest run for office. Far too few of us make even token contributions to candidates, or lend other essential support. Weak community support participation generates inferior public officials resulting in poor public policies with corresponding consequences for community’s physical, financial and social health, education and welfare.

A look beneath the surface of Kelley’s selection as executive vice chair, for instance, raises several interesting questions. Kelley is a singularly unimpressive public official. Twice in the last couple of years he conspired with the Jackson administration to sacrifice principles of home rule, basic democracy and transparency, to thwart voters and petitioners who sought to make and check polices to raise the minimum wage and decide on the soundness of public expenditures [“the Q deal”]. Running to the state legislature to thwart what may have been an unsound policy initiative was bad enough. Participating in a bogus lawsuit under false pretenses in service to private interests was totally indefensible.

Party chair Shontel Brown swears in Kevin Kelley as
executive vice chair as executive director Lillian Sharpley looks on. 
[Photo Credit: Eli Gibson]
Elevating Kelley to EVC is a queer signal for the supposed party of the people. It suggests a quid pro quo behind Brown’s historic but perhaps largely symbolic role as party chair. Several keen observers see Brown’s elevation as part and parcel of a deal between Congresswoman Marcia Fudge and forces arrayed around the potent political alliance of former county prosecutor Bill Mason and Bedford Clerk of Courts Tom Day, the latter of whom, we are advised, was the recipient of a steady stream of well-wishers almost as long as those who waited on line to share congratulations with Shontel.

If Brown as party chair is the core quid, then Kelley as vice chair is part of the quo.  A second part of the quo remains to be seen, and that is the potential replacement of Lillian Sharpley as party executive director by Paul Marnecheck. Following the swearing in, Marnecheck reaffirmed to this writer in a brief exchange his continuing interest in the position and indicated that some things are in the works. The executive director is the day-to-day manager of party affairs, is a paid position, and reports to the chair.

Sharpley’s interest in running next year for the state representative seat being vacated by Bill Patmon has long been known. But she has made few if any visible moves towards mounting a campaign. By contrast, Marnecheck is a ward councilman in North Royalton as well as a manager at the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the area’s most influential chamber of commerce.

Of larger consequence for the community is the question whether a Fudge-Mason alliance covers more than agreement over party positions. It seems clear that Mason’s early departure from office has not meant his removal from partisan politics. Indeed, as he is no longer even bound by the proprieties of office, his involvement in county politics may loom larger than ever.
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