On September 11, the executive committee of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party voted - overwhelmingly, by all accounts - to tap Warrensville Heights Mayor Marcia Fudge to run in place of recently deceased Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones.
But this is Cleveland, where the real action occurs behind closed doors. Three days prior to that vote, Mayor Frank Jackson had gathered some of the county's most influential community leaders together to … talk. Ex-Congressman Louis Stokes, who long ago fought the gerrymandering that had kept East Side African Americans underrepresented in Congress, wanted a hand in this pick, and so appointed himself the task of assembling a "vetting committee" to interview the many potential candidates.
The meeting was held on private land, at the InterContinental Hotel, an opulent building on the Cleveland Clinic campus - which added, perhaps inadvertently, to the conspiratorial air of the process. Escorting journalists off the property didn't help.
According to committee member Sandy Smith, each candidate was allotted a half-hour to speak and answer questions. Then Stokes and Jackson led an hour-long discussion, followed by a vote by secret ballot. The ballots were tallied by two committee members and witnessed by two others, though Smith cannot remember who those people were.
So we can't tell you much about the machinations that chose Cleveland's next congressional representative, but we can fill in some blanks about Stokes' vetting committee. It included:
Rose Rodriguez-Bardwell: executive director of the Spanish American Committee, a United Way agency focused on employment, education and affordable housing. The agency also registers Hispanic voters. The Rev. E.T. Caviness: pastor of Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church in Glenville and president of the Cleveland chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Caviness has been instrumental in the success of just about every African-American political leader elected in town since Carl Stokes.
Margot Copeland: director of KeyCorp's $20 million philanthropy program and 2006 Black Professional of the Year. She sits on the boards of trustees for many of the city's prominent foundations, including PlayhouseSquare, University Hospitals and the Great Lakes Science Center. She was appointed to Cleveland's Design Review Committee by former Mayor Mike White, even though she was not an architect.
Brian Hall: CEO of Industrial Inventory Solutions. He was a key fund-raiser for Mayor Jackson, who appointed Hall to the Port Authority board of directors.
The Rev. Frederick Knuckles: pastor of New Fellowship Baptist Church and possessor of one of the coolest names in Cleveland.
Alan Krulak: Forest City executive and former grand jury foreman. Contributions from Forest City's Ratner family and Sam Miller make or break local politicians in this town.
The Rev. Larry Macon Sr.: pastor of the 5,000-member Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Oakwood Village, a protégé of Dr. Otis Moss and an adjunct professor of religion at Cleveland State. He is also the former leader of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a seat now held by Caviness. Once called Mike White "one of the greatest mayors, not just in the world, but in worlds yet to come."
The Rev. C. Jay Matthews: pastor of the 4,000-member Mount Sinai Baptist Church and an avid supporter of Jackson's. Matthews is also actively involved in a number of nonprofits, including the Greater Cleveland Partnership and United Way. Under Tubbs Jones' Fugitive Safe Surrender program, 800 fugitives safely surrendered at his church. Vocally supported Bush's reelection.
Gary Norton: president of East Cleveland City Council and executive assistant to Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones. A self-professed fan of Flavor of Love, 38-year-old Norton is a man on the rise in the local political scene. According to his résumé, Norton facilitates "relationships with organizations and stakeholders" for Lawson Jones.
Bishop F. E. Perry: bishop of Cathedral Church of God in Christ. Perry is active in Warrensville Heights politics, where Fudge is mayor, and supported Tubbs Jones when she first ran for Congress.
Arnold Pinkney: working as a political consultant for Stokes and Jackson, Pinkney supposedly recruited this ad-hoc vetting committee himself, telling The Plain Dealer that Democratic executive committee members needed "some direction, because there are too many names." Though lesser known than Stokes and George Forbes, Pinkney is a major force in Cleveland politics and a revered leader in the black community, although he has used his network for personal gain a time or two, including being the minority partner in a controversial no-bid construction project during White's administration.
Sabra Scott Pierce: Ward 8 councilwoman, majority leader of City Council and one-time aide to George Forbes. Scott Pierce has been a leader in the Glenville community for years but has an atrocious attendance record at Council meetings.
Sandy Smith: second vice president of Tremont West Development Corp. A 2006 recipient of Ward 13's Resident of the Year award, Smith has her hands in just about every civic organization in Tremont and was handpicked by Jackson to be a part of the committee. She's also a reporter for Sun Newspapers, making her the only member of the press welcomed into the closed-door meeting. (She says she didn't know that other reporters had been kicked off the Cleveland Clinic property until afterward. "It was a fair and honest discussion," she says. "I was proud to be a part of it.") Louis Stokes: big brother to Carl Stokes, Lou started out as a lawyer and has argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was elected to Congress in 1968 and served 15 terms in the 11th District, retiring in 1999. He remains one of the most powerful men in Cleveland politics and a partner at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey.
Earle Turner: Cleveland Municipal Court Clerk and former city councilman. He was appointed to clerk of courts in 1996, after Benny Bonnano was sent to prison for using the office and its employees to run campaigns for the local Democratic machine. He promised to take politics out of the office, but then hired several politically connected staffers. In 2005, Turner retired as clerk of courts, but only for a couple days, so that he could collect retirement on top of his salary.
Georgine Welo: mayor of South Euclid, former co-executive director of Cuyahoga County Democratic Party. Welo is a vocal proponent of regionalism and reduction of government redundancy.
Andre White: 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army, vice chairman of the RTA advisory board. Stokes tapped the 42-year-old up-and-comer to coordinate this year's Labor Day parade.
The Rev. Claudie Williams: president of the Baptist Ministers' Conference in Cleveland and Vicinity. A strong supporter of Mayor Jackson's who has denounced legislation that lets politicians gerrymander congressional districts.