In her brief time on the job, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has taken a rare approach to public life in Ohio: She's actually trying to do something.
First she worked to reform the notoriously inept Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. Last week she took on a bigger fish, dumping Republican boss Alex Arshinkoff from the Summit election board.
For nearly 30 years, Arshinkoff used the board as a personal job bank for friends and relatives of the party faithful. That normally doesn't raise a stir in these parts, where patronage is the mother's milk of government. But Arshinkoff may be the meanest man in Ohio politics, and he didn't exactly abuse his power judiciously.
He's been known to throw secretaries out of work for not showing the proper fealty. Scott Sigel, a campaign finance worker, was quickly demoted after he questioned a mysterious $75,000 payment the party made to Arshinkoff's personal account.
And many of the mean little people Arshinkoff appointed appear to have been guards at Buchenwald in another life. One even spit in a subordinate's face. Supervisors not only refused to act; they laid off the woman who got spit on.
The board "is the most negative, backbiting, unprofessional, juvenile, and hypocritical atmosphere I have ever worked in, thanks to [Arshinkoff]," one worker complained.
Yet Arshinkoff was also a monster fund-raiser and helped make Republicans competitive in heavily Democratic Akron. So party big shots tolerated his pathologies.
Brunner, however, is hoping to make the state's election boards better reflect that really cool brand of democracy we've all read about in the brochures. So at the end of this month, Arshinkoff will be out of a job. Republicans hope to find a replacement with a functioning heart.
To state Senator Kevin Coughlin, the news is bittersweet. He's been leading a rebellion within the Summit GOP, hoping to get Arshinkoff ousted from the party chairmanship. But without the help of major donors, the gay godfather will remain free to work his Leona Helmsley impression.
"The people around Alex and the people who have thrown money at him over the years allowed him to get so out of control," Coughlin says. "They never pulled him aside to say 'Knock this off. You're hurting the party.'"
North Olmsted Mayor Thomas O'Grady is a little touchy these days about his bid to win the West Side congressional race. While the rest of the Democratic field has made it clear they're trying to unseat Dennis Kucinich, O'Grady spends much of this time bagging Denny's principal rival, Cleveland Councilman Joe Cimperman.
That's led to nasty rumors that O'Grady is merely a Kucinich plant, campaigning to simply take votes away from Cimperman. The mayor naturally denies this.
"Any idea that I got into the race because Dennis Kucinich is worried about Joe Cimperman is ridiculous," he says.
But he immediately diluted his point when he spent the next several minutes ranting against . . . Cimperman.
"Joe Cimperman isn't a real candidate," he rails. "Joe has no qualifications, he's been dishonest in his campaign . . . We've had one cheap stunt after another that came from the Cimperman campaign."
Finally, when Punch interrupts to ask if O'Grady had any criticism of Kucinich — you know, the incumbent he's supposedly trying to beat — his response is halfhearted.
"My international experience is more extensive than his . . . I'm the only candidate in the race that's a former military officer," he says. But he still thinks the Elf "has done great things . . . My intent from the very beginning was never to go after Dennis Kucinich."
Right. Thanks for clearing that up.
Saffold Bows Out
Punch was intrigued a while back to learn that Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold was gunning for the job of Tim Flanagan, the top judge in the county's Domestic Relations Court.
The divorce court is widely considered a monument of waste, even by Cuyahoga standards. Divorcées and lawyers complain that Flanagan lets bully attorneys run amok, dragging cases out for years while racking up fees.
Could Saffold clean it up? Probably not, since she has a reputation as the strangest bird in the judiciary's nest of weirdos. She once urged a female defendant to turn her life around by trolling for husbands at the nearest medical school. "She definitely marches to her own drummer," one lawyer told Scene last year.
But at least she shows some spunk. "I'm gonna beat your butt, and you know it," she told Flanagan during a meeting with The Plain Dealer.
A month later, she dropped out. The PD reported she was muscled out by a two-headed monster, George Forbes and Commissioner Tim Hagan, who couldn't care less if warring couples were tortured by the court. They just didn't want to referee a spat between two Democrats.
Interested in the judge's sudden change of heart, Punch called her chambers. A polite staffer said Strickland Saffold would call back. Then a fax came across our machine:
"My previous experiences and observations of the reports and work ethic of the reporters of your magazine are that you're lazy, mean-spirited, vicious, and only slightly interested in the truth, there forth, I have absolutely 'No' interest in reading or interviewing for any story that you will present. My impression of Judge Flanigan [sic] is that he well deserves to continue as judge."
Damn! Now we really want her to run.