Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Hill, Sandy & Governor Dean

Phenomenal weekend. Traveled to Washington on Friday, spent the morning on Capitol Hill delivering letters to the Ohio Delegation advocating FOR the City of Toledo and AGAINST the items in the President's just released federal budget that would hurt people back home. Huge cuts in Community Development Block Grants that threaten our neighborhood revitalization work. Cuts to veterans, job training, transportation, and a plea to save our beloved 180th Air National Guard Division (though that's not a budget item but with BRAC Comm) Oh yeah, keep your hands off our Social Security, too. (Even the Speaker of the House, Illinois arch-Republican Dennis Hastert, has told the WH to cool their jets on that one.) Stopped into Congresswoman Kaptur's office. She is a leader on several House Appropriation subcommittees, and her staff is fighting off a move by the GOP "leadership" to eliminate the Veterans and Housing Approps subcommittee.

The rest of the overnight trip was spent at the Washington Hilton, site of the DNC Winter Meeting. Former Governor Howard Dean was unanimously elected National Chairman on Saturday morning. (All the competitors for the post withdrew over the past few weeks as Dean picked up endorsements and momentum.) The future of the Democratic Party is at stake here (which drew my interest) and to those who believe in progressive policies - Dr. Dean and Democrats across the country need to successfully build to 2006 and 2008. Despite that awful Iowa moment - Dean sparked a grassroots prairie fire coast to coast, revolutionized the interplay of politics and the internet, and took the fight to the White House when other candidates seemed timid.

He gave a spirited, hard-hitting speech - "You can't trust Republicans with your money" channeling Enron, Social Security and the monstrously bad budget deficit that these "conservatives" are cursing my son's generation with paying off.

I took advantage of the opportunity to reconnect with some folks with whom I worked with in the past, including a brief conversation with Harold Ickes, Jr. - whom I interned for about 10 years ago - and some friends from the Kerry campaign. The Ohio DNC people initially rallied on behalf of former ODP chair David Leland this year, but he succumbed to the outpouring for Dean. Dean has apparently promised much help to current ODP chair Denny White, particularly in the fundraising department. As it is White in 04 smoked the 00 fundraising cycle, $4.8 million in 00 to $8.4 million in 04 (Dems are going to be highly competitive statewide in 06)

All this with the turmoil of the Lucas County Democratic Party in the background. As of this writing, Sandy Isenberg, chair since the "takeover" 9 months ago, has resigned. She wants to support Mayor Ford and the other elected Democrats on the ballot this year (including me!) but the men of the self-described "Coalition of Concerned Democrats" who effectively run the show have other plans. This "coalition" is the fabled B Team, mainly associates and past supporters of Ray Kest, with one singular character who enjoys a cult-like following from within the coalition, former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.

This coaliton snuck up on the former chair, quietly filling petitions for and barely winning the vote at a May 2004 Central Committee meeting - electing Sandy chair. My advice to them was to reach out to the elected Dem's who comprise the equally fabled A Team - particularly reach out to Mayor Ford, I suggested. At the time, political energy was properly spent among both Teams on the Kerry & Kaptur campaigns and for our slate of county candidates. I preached unity, and worked as best I could to heal divisions. LCDP Finance Chair Jerry Chabler raised a quarter of million dollars, and he and Sandy gave much of it directly to local candidates and on mailings and literature promoting our county slate. They also spiffed up 1817 Madison Avenue and bought new computers and furniture.

At the same time, Mayor Ford raised better than a quarter million dollars (400k, I think) and invested much of it into our Democratic county candidates. He did all he could for Democrats, as he (and I) have done in the past. Ford spoke at the national convention, again, and is highly regarded nationally and within Ohio. Yet, the B Team didnt consolidate their gains, and with the exceptions of Chabler and Isenberg, never seriously took the magnanomous approach to elected officials. In fact, they jettisoned them from the party's executive committee at the same time they demanded a cut from each of their fundraising events. Then news broke that nearly all the African-American electeds in town were kicked off the executive committee. Finally, in late summer, the coalition showed their cards.

The party's by-laws were changed to withhold endorsements if "more than one qualified Democrat" ran for a particular office. A highminded change to "prevent what happened to Harry Barlos" (the incumbent Dem county commissioner who lost the endorsement in early 04 to Toledo City Councilman Pete Gerken) was how the change was promoted. In fact, it was an obvious move to deny an endorsement of Jack Ford to benefit another mayoral run for Carty or anybody else but Jack. Effectively, the by-law change would mean anyone could run against, say Marcy Kaptur, Julia Bates, or any incumbent, and the party wouldnt take sides - forcing a likely bruising and expensive primary for the many Democratic elected officials.

The intent of the by-law change has been confirmed by events. Party leaders met with Mayor Ford in late 2004 and told him the party wouldnt be endorsing him. Last Saturday Carty held a recruitment meeting, described by one participant (who immediately realized he was in the wrong room) as an effort to build a slate of councilmatic candidates to run under Carty, particularly African-Americans, better to "siphon off support in the central city" from Mayor Ford and his councilmatic supporters (which would include me)

Sandy rightly wants the party to support Jack Ford and the Democrats on Toledo City Council - but, again, the coalition sees it differently. Subsequently, the electeds Dems and 05 candidates won't give money to the LCDP - and the B Team coalition that actually controls 1817 Madison don't want to give Sandy any money either. How will the lights stay on, the insurance and property taxes be paid? These aren't Sandy's problems anymore, but belong to the new LCDP Chairman, Dennis Duffey, who becomes chair per the by-laws chain of succession as the current chair of the central committee. (He also is Business Manager of IBEW Local 8, President of the NW OH Building Trades, a Lucas County Port Authority Board Director, and was recently appointed to fulfill the unexpired term of Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest by the party's central committee over the Treasurer-Elect.)

There are sidebar events that have contributed to this meltdown: the aforementioned snubbing of Wade Kapszukiewicz who got 120,000 votes to succeed the embattled Mr. Kest as Treasurer. (Wade also continues to hold the endorsement of the LCDP screening and executive committee for that office - but the B team has put two men in ahead of him - this is important in light of the second recent dust-up.) The new screening committee, forgoing the highminded "two qualified Democrats" by-change, recommended Teamster Mark Sobczak to succeed Pete Gerken on Toledo City Council. Thing is, Sandy wanted Laborer Local 500 leader Phil Copeland (nephew of local Dem giant, the late Bill Copeland.) Unlike before, the screening committee didn't seek input from the Mayor or the sitting Toledo City Council Democrats in their deliberations. I had repeatedly called Kest's second in command John Irish, head of the screening committee, and pleaded with him to reach out to council (as council would have to vote to elect Gerken's replacement.) At the same time, council Dems reached out to Sandy with their thoughts. Copeland would support Mayor Ford, Sobczak wouldnt. Both men have helped Democratic campaigns and both would make good councilmen and both great skills and experiences, but the Teamsters were on the vanguard against Ford and Wade and had just helped Republicans attempt to take control of the Board of Lucas County Commissioners. (Teamsters gave dual support for Gerken and Barlos, but picked GOP State Rep Lynn Olman over incumbent commissioner Dem Tina Skeldon Wozniak. Local 500 almost exclusively support Dems)

What took the cake was that on this party-line vote I was asked to break ranks with the Mayor and my fellow Democrats as the Teamsters had the 3 Republican votes lined up. It was easy to anticipate that situation weeks in advance of the screening committee recommending Sobczak, and I made it clear, repeated my position, and remained consistent, in saying that I had given up too many Saturday mornings and late nights working with DEMOCRATS to elect DEMOCRATS to break ranks. No, if the B team wanted to make a recommendation, then that candidate should have been able to get the support of the Chairwoman of the Party and a majority of Democrats on council. Copeland won the appointment 7-4, with Dem Bob McCloskey breaking ranks to join the Repubs. So now the B team wants the 7 Dems "sanctioned" for not following the recommendation of the screening and executive committee (see above for recent precedent.)

A long story short: Sandy did the right thing, and she should be respected for it. Democrats concerned about moving the city and region forward will work together to re-elect Ford - who has done very well as Mayor and as a champion within the Democratic Party, will work together to support my colleagues and I - and also build momentum for 2006 gubernatorial and state races. Those who attempt to distract us...won't.

9 Comments:

Blogger Michael Veh said...

While I have always liked Sandy Isenberg and I am disappointed by the turmoil within the county Democratic Party, there might be something good to come of it yet. Perhaps the latest implosion within the Democratic Party presents an opportunity for something new and exciting to happen. For too long has the party been under the control of the unions in this town much to the detriment of the community as a whole. Policy has been built around who can be elected and who can raise the most money and not who will do the best job. This has left a large number of people, particularly young people, feeling alienated and disenfranchised.

The future of this region rests in the hands of small to mid-sized companies and young professionals living here. The days of big business and the unions controlling the future of this region are gone. If Toledo and the surrounding area is to grow and thrive, it is essential that there be a new direction and fresh perspectives. For decades, we have clung to the past, protected the status quo and failed to live up to our potential. Toledo and Northwest Ohio could be a dynamic community with a bright future but we will never get there by clinging to the past and attempting to reclaim past glory.

We need new ideas, fresh perspectives and a new direction. This is normally the territory claimed by Democrats but in our area, there is little difference between the two parties with both burying their fingernails in history. The people who lead this community should be challenged to take us a new direction but all too often, they are allowed to let us wallow in the memories of what we once were.

Now is the time to open the doors to fresh perspectives and become the party that is inclusive as opposed to being exclusive. It is an opportunity to invite new ideas, fresh opinions and creative solutions. We are being given the chance to invite the future into the party – the question is will we squander it as we have so often in the past?

9:23 AM  
Blogger demos said...

The divisions in the county party probably didn't effect the outcome of any particular race in 2004 but if it continues it will have terrible consequenses for Democrats in '05 and '06, particularly for the '06 County Commissioners race. There is a solution. Congresswoman Kaptur should take the lead in finding a new county chair. As the de facto leader of the county Democrats she could work to find a young technocrat who can:
1- unite the party-- a younger operative will not have the same baggage and factionalism as the older operatives in-county.
2- increase fundraising potential- a Kaptur protege would be able to bring in out of county and out of state financial support.
3- harness technology-- build a dynamic website, expand our email lists and most importantly build and maintain an effective voter file.
I hope something like this will happen. I managed Lucas County for John Kerry and the Ohio Coordinated in 2004; I know that there are hardworking and caring Democrats on both sides of this heartbreaking rift. Given the right leadership I think the split can hopefully be largely healed.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Kathy Rutkowski said...

Thank you demos!!! I am encouraged by your sensible suggestions. Having worked in a minor role on Marcy's campaign over the years, I have great conficence in her leadership. I am also aware of the technology problems that need to be fixed. I believe that most democrats would welcome the guidance of a proven leader like Marcy and she could rally supporters to win in 2006.

I am again disheartened by the behind-the-scenes antics of the Carty consorts and am eager to work with Sandy and other courageous democrats to re-elect Mayor Ford, our sitting democratic councilmembers, commissioners and, of course a Governor.

As for Michael Veh's comments about a new direction for the County - DUH! Take a look at what Mayor Ford is accomplishing. We don't need more of the poorly planned and executed failures of the Finkbeiner regime. We need a progressive thinker and seasoned leader like Mayor Ford who is respected throughout the state.

Having been around since the 60's when, by the way, the Republicans tried to control council from the County chair position by mandating that Cook be named mayor. (I was an active participant in bringing this travesty to the attention of the Blade, flooding their headquarters with phone calls and ultimately deposing their heir apparent. This is when council elected John Potter as mayor.) I don't see why responsible democrats cant's tumble the "B" team, reverse their by-laws revision and come together as Democrats who respect the will of the average voter -like me. Let's show the Republicans and the "B" team that we won't stand for their underhanded and undemocratic methods. We elected city council, we elected the mayor, we elected Pete Gerkin and we WILL elect our next governor!

3:49 PM  
Blogger Man-Hamster said...

I think this is a major issue, that transends "party politics". How in God's green earth do we as a city expect people to take us seriously (enough to shell out some dough), if all they see is our city leaders trying to knife each other. All this pettiness is something this city doesn't really need and people in both parties need to grow up and start acting like responsible adults.

7:10 PM  
Blogger harriet said...

I've been working with MainStreet Dems, DFA, and moveon.PAC., so I have to admit to being spoiled. After Dean lost his bid in the campaigns, I attended a so called, "unity" meeting at Democratic HQ in Toledo. It was like travelling backward in a time machine. The meeting was compeletly top down, with boring speeches by uninspiring pols. There was no sense of interactive communication. I didn't go back. While I know I need to return and take on my share of the work, I'm not looking forward to it.

If Toledo is going to bring those new people, who have been inspired by the grassroots campaigns of Dean and Clark, into the party, something has to change. New people can't walk away from party meetings with a the feeling that 1. they should just shut up and do what they are told, and 2. that they need to quickly go home and shower.

I don't yet know the ins and outs of local party politics, but I do know that going back will take all the self discipline I can muster. I also know that we can't build an vibrant, forward moving party by being Republican lite.

8:03 PM  
Blogger harriet said...

Oh, and one more thing. As regards Michael Vey's comments, I agree with much of what he has said but I'm not eager to sideline the unions. We are a union town. I think those of us who come from grassroots work should be attempting to build a dialogue with the union political leadership. Without that we can't move forward together. I'm not sure it's a good idea to seek to destroy the party in order to change it. We definitely need to change the party to make room for the new energy out there waiting to find a voice. Do we have a SEUI organization in town? They are the spot on group to dialogue with.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

I'd like to thank you guys for posting and caring about what happens next. I'd also like to ask you to help make phone calls, deliver lit door to door, and help us organize our campaign this year. Email your contact info to fszollosi@hotmail.com

First, Mike Veh...I've mentioned this elsewhere on the blog, the 3 largest spenders on research & development are the Big 3 automakers. We need to be, in the words of James Fallows, "More Like Us" and attract high tech auto parts development & manufacturing, among other targeted sectors. Our commitment to the right of employees to organize, collectively bargain, and seek better wages and benefits, transcends intra-party debate.

Second, Demos..your prescription is welcome - Marcy has the gravitas to broker a fresh start. And the vindictiveness of a select few on people of good faith is indeed heartbreaking.

Third, Kathy - I appreciate your sense of history and enthusiasm to win elections - bring your friends to campaign with us this year.

Fourth, agree with your sentiments about people needing to behave like responsible adults, but am somewhat thrown by your handle, man-hamster.

Finally, Harriet - the SEIU chief locally is Kristy Bollis and she has an office at Local 12 - Kristy is a super organizer, a good friend, and someone who has always fought for her rank-and-file and alongside progressives. This experiment of a web site I hope engages people who will take action at appropriate times, in a team-like way.

"Early to bed, early to rise, fight like hell and organize."

10:27 PM  
Blogger Michael Veh said...

Great conversation and great ideas going on here. I really like the thought that Marci could step in and help bring the party back together. It could work.

Regarding my comments dealing with the unions and the control of the party -- I am not suggesting that the unions not be involved but I am suggesting that they not control the process. A lot of people are alienated by the overwhelming control the unions have in the party's decision-making process. While I agree with Frank that the future of the auto industry in this region is technology driven, those workers will probably not be UAW members. Professionals -- engineers, accountants, attorneys, doctors, nurses -- generally do not belong to unions. I grew up in a union family and most of my family members are union members now so I do not intend any disrespect. Nevertheless, if we're going to bring new and innovative ideas and leadership to this community, we have to look beyond what the unions bring to the table.

10:58 PM  
Blogger harriet said...

Michael Veh
I hear you and I take your words very seriously. The reason I suggested a dialogue with SEIU is because they are seeing union/business relations in very creative ways. The NYT wrote an interesting Sunday mag. article about them a couple of weeks ago. It was encouraging.

6:31 PM  

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