As of today, the Chair and Executive Vice-Chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, the state of Ohio’s largest and most powerful Democratic organization outside of the Ohio Democratic Party, are seeking elected office: Chairwoman Shontel Brown is running for Congress, and Vice-Chair Kevin Kelley is seeking the mayoralty of Cleveland. At the same time, the talented former Executive Director of the party stepped down several months ago to help run a competing campaign for Cleveland mayor.
Thus, in the wake of statewide underperformance by Democrats in 2020, and on the heels of egregious Republican corruption in the statehouse, no one is minding the proverbial store. And, perhaps more compelling, during the 2020 elections last year, GOTV efforts in Cuyahoga County were led by grassroots groups of citizens, and not by the county party.
I do not begrudge Brown or Kelley for seeking higher office. Nothing in the bylaws or history of the county party prohibit them from running for office while serving in their positions. Indeed, the very reality that they both currently hold elected positions means they’ll almost intrinsically be going before voters at some point. But, if the Democratic party is to make any gains in the state of Ohio, after what has been a largely disastrous decade, the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party must be at the forefront of those efforts.
What The Party Isn’t Doing Today
- Organizing any sort of voter engagement project with the county’s largest city, and numerous others, holding municipal elections this year, including for Mayor of Cleveland.
- Informing the public of how Democratic policies are impacting our region and highlighting the differences between the Democratic party and the Republican party. For example, Cuyahoga County and the city of Cleveland will be receiving nearly $800 million dollars in (somewhat) discretionary funding. This largesse would NOT- in any way, shape, or form- be happening if Republicans controlled the White House or Congress. And here in Ohio, if Democrats were in charge, you wouldn’t have millions of dollars changing hands in backroom deals to ensure billion dollar utility companies could pawn their losses off on taxpayers.
- Preparing a ground game for the 2022 election calendar when statewide races will occur and redrawn districts could play a decisive role in Ohio’s Congressional contingent. To say nothing of the fact that the top job in Cuyahoga County–County Executive–will also be on the ballot.
- Explaining in any inspired way what the Democratic party stands for in Cuyahoga County, or for that matter, in America.
In recent years the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party has seen an infusion of new blood in terms of the party machinery. Spirited efforts by the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus have led to a drastic, more democratic voice within the county party, in terms of party officeholding on the Precinct and Executive Committees. This has brought new voices into the arena along with a great many people who’d never before involved themselves in the inner-workings of Democratic politics. But, it has not (yet) fundamentally changed the county party’s purpose or focus, and quite frankly it won’t be enough if the offices of Chair and Vice-Chair are akin to monarchical titles.
The CCDP’s bylaws do not require the Chair or Vice-Chair to be an elected official. In fact, they stipulate explicitly that it may be a full-time, paid position that bars said persons from holding or running for office.
- The Chairperson should no longer be an elected official. This would prevent the current awkward predicament. Democrats today are confronted by an opposition party who seeks power for the sake of power alone and is willing to use any and all means to gain and wield it. Thus, it is absolutely vital that the Chair be someone who’s overriding focus is on strengthening the Democratic party and its message. In this day and age, the stakes are simply too high.
- If the party continues with elected officials as Chair and/or Vice Chair, the Executive Director should be given autonomy and made responsible only to the party’s Executive Committee.
- The Chair, or an Executive Director endowed with decision-making power, should have a background in organizing, issue and/or data analysis, or rather obviously, in elected, political campaigning.
- A year-round, round-the-clock voter engagement and voter education project must be undertaken, making use of the latest and most efficient strategies, analytics, & technologies.
- The current Chair and Vice-Chair should step down. As I said, I do not necessarily fault them for seeking office while holding these positions. So, while there’s nothing illegal with our current predicament, that doesn’t mean it is right or beneficial for the party. The reality is that they’re waging extensive campaigns for incredibly important positions and thus their chief focus is, perhaps rightly, elsewhere.
I imagine other Democrats throughout the state, in Franklin County, in Mahoning, in Athens, and even both of the Democrats who live in Guernsey County, saying to themselves at some point in the near future, with no sense of irony, “Look what the Democrats in Cuyahoga County are doing.” Too often, political leaders in this county tell us what we CAN’T do. New approaches will enable us to instead envision what we CAN do. And a dynamic county Democratic party will help us get closer to that goal.