This article is an op-ed/essay. Learn more about how to contribute to The Land here.
Here in Northeast Ohio, the most meaningful of the upcoming primary races aren’t for Governor or other high-profile state office. They’re for precinct seats on the Cuyahoga County Democratic Central Committee. These 975 souls, one from each precinct in the county, form the backbone of the state’s Democratic party and carry with them the potential to enact the reforms desperately needed to make Democrats competitive in Ohio again.
Many critics throughout the region have admirably pointed out some of the egregious wrongs being wrought by today’s Republican party. Repeated and incontrovertibly false lies about elections, antipathy toward even the most basic safeguards during a pandemic, and blatant attempts to hinder voting are just a few symptoms of the party’s larger fear-mongering.
This is a political bloc that no longer recognizes a Democrat’s right to win a contested election and flouts the will of the voters in Ohio and elsewhere by drawing state and Congressional districts that violate both the spirit and reality of what voters have expressed at the ballot box.
Instead of vigorously combating this malevolence by crafting and defending policy alternatives, however, the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party (CCDP) spends much of its time squabbling internally over which member to endorse in primaries. This is the case with the county executive race, where the party’s executive committee will soon make endorsements.
This is how I see it: A certain, small faction of the party for some reason didn’t want Chris Ronayne to be the County Executive. Then some of those same people forced the eminently talented Annette Blackwell out of the race in favor of Brad Sellers only to have that blow up in their faces. Efforts like this are made during nearly every election cycle, often in multiple races. The same type of chicanery happened in other races in 2020.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have an increasingly unlikely chance for victory in any of the statewide races this year. And the Democrats in Cuyahoga County, from where victory at the state level must emanate, have done far too little in any formal capacity to build a message or GOTV organization, and even less to build up future leaders.
This failure to step into the fray has given Republicans a leg-up in Ohio. In the wake of the biggest political scandal in Ohio history—the pitiful HB 6 saga—Democrats in 2020 somehow lost seats in the Ohio House. Along the way, Republicans successfully framed their message around either-or political scenarios. For example, not only do they claim, falsely, that all Democrats believe in de-funding the police. They also successfully claim that only Democrats believe in it.
In this zero-sum Republican game, there are no shades of grey, only right and wrong, black and white. What’s worse, Democrats – especially those here in Cuyahoga County – have enabled it, by not articulating nuanced, compelling visions of what their policies would bring about.
If Ohio is to be a true two-party state again, Cuyahoga County must lead the way. The CCDP must ask itself several hard questions:
What efforts are being made to develop future leaders?
Where are the organized efforts in support of Build Back Better and the right to vote in free and fair elections?
Why did former Democratic bulwarks like Brook Park and Parma vote for Donald Trump in 2020, and how do we change that?
How do we reverse the trend of declining voter turnout in Cleveland and convince residents of color to vote Democratic when the political system in general has rarely worked on their behalf?
It’s time for Democrats to go on the offense. To do this, the CCDP must adapt and modernize. The largest “Get Out The Vote” (GOTV) efforts in Cuyahoga County during the 2020 general election were undertaken by grassroots groups. This isn’t sustainable over the long term. The official Democratic party must lead all messaging efforts, including grassroots engagement. It also must consider deep canvassing campaigns, improved access to voter databases, and a greater physical presence at events throughout the county.
What specific steps must be taken to reform the CCDP?
Eliminate intra-party endorsements, especially before filing deadlines. There’s little to be gained from pitting Democrats against each other.
Demand greater involvement by elected and appointed party members to strengthen the activist ranks.
Appoint a full-time chairperson whose focus is on registering voters, promoting and defining Democratic platforms, and getting Democrats to vote. At a time when elected officials already have too much on their plates, this may be the most important step of all.
No one person is to blame for the current state of the Ohio Democratic Party. The inertia under which it labors has been cultivated by many for decades.
Still, the solution lies with individuals. Democrats who want to combat the Republican misinformation machine must run for seats on the Cuyahoga Democratic Central Committee. Only there can their voices be heard above the din. To reform the party as a whole, they must start at the local level, where political decisions matter most.
The filing deadline to run for Central Committee is February 2nd and candidates need to only get 5 valid signatures from Democrats or Independents in their precinct to get on the ballot for the May 3rd election. If they win they would become part of the governing body for the CCDP. There are no fees to file or run and the overall time commitment is largely up to the individual. But, the more active the members are, the more dynamic the party and its message will be. There’s 975 precincts and thus 975 Central Committee spots that are elected directly by Democratic voters to represent them in the Democratic Party. Visit https://www.buildbackcuyahoga.com/ for more info.
Politics, public policy, sports, and food are four facets of life that intrigue David Brock the most. He’s a progressive. He wants to see the city of Cleveland’s economic, educational, and political life improve, in any way possible.
Keep our local journalism accessible to all
Reader support is crucial as we continue to shed light on underreported neighborhoods in Cleveland. Will you become a monthly member to help us continue to produce news by, for, and with the community?