Last Saturday morning, county Dems huddled up by precinct inside the soon-to-be-spruced Music Hall in the Cleveland Convention Center to choose the second sheriff in nearly two generations that will maybe — who knows? — care about little things like, well, enforcing the law. With two candidates, whittled down from 13 — one tall and black from Central Cleveland's projects, the other short and not black or once-poor from Bedford — no better view could be had region-wide to witness the precarious balance that still exists between city and suburbs.
Word came in before the big day that former Bedford Police Chief Robert Reid — current Bedford city manager and all-around Mayors and City Managers Association schmoozer — was the party pick over Clayton Harris, chief of Tri-C's police department, as well as its police academy, and all-around can of whoop-ass as a former Cleveland police commander with a master's degree in business administration. Leading up to the vote, everybody — black and white — was talking about why Reid was probably going to win, even though it was evident to most everyone who witnessed their résumés and speaking ability side- by-side that Harris would really be the one to restore confidence after three decades of Gerald McFool. And let's not forget about the several months of federal investigations into alleged county corruption, favoritism and rule-bending allowed under county commissioner Jimmy Dimora, the county Democratic Party boss.
"Seems that a large amount of people are for Dimora's pick," said Cleveland Ward 9 councilman Kevin Conwell, chair of council's public safety committee. "I'm hoping [for] Harris, but who knows. The black establishment is solidly dominant in city politics, but the outlying municipalities are strongly represented in county politics."
The new sheriff will serve until May 2010, when he will run (translation: win) in the Democratic primary in spring and then coast on to November. Dimora thanked his ward leaders for nominating Reid, then started a fair-enough show of objectivity, the nominations and their rhetorically retarded speeches. Reid? "Experience, professionalism, accountability!" Harris? "A very fine public servant." And for both, it might be true.
Reid came forward first, spilled his Bedford-centric résumé and time spent getting to know all the right people around the county, then promised to "work hard to earn the trust of the voters across the county." He didn't say how.
But Harris was unequivocal. As a little boy, he'd seen a man killed and, like a superhero, became "dedicated to protecting people's lives against others." He called himself "the most well-rounded and best candidate," and most everyone seems to agree ... at least with the first part. "Every day I wear that badge and that uniform, I will remember each and every one of you. I will not fail to serve that office well." The applause roared twice as loud as Reid was able to coax. A superhero? For us?
And then 487 Central Committee members — only a third of those who could have come and cast a vote — broke off into little groups.
The votes stacked up predictably: strongly for Reid in the outlying 'burbs, a mixed bag for the inner ring (Shaker and Cleveland Heights coming out strong for Harris, Euclid and Parma breaking for Reid), and Harris all the way on the East Side. Reid won with 280 votes. Harris pulled away 206. Half the crowd cheered. But few wanted to talk about race as a factor.
Dimora was praised on both sides of the aisle for "a good job" and "a well-run meeting." And he too dismisses the color of the candidates' skin. "They're both well-qualified," he says. "They both had good experience. That's why it all lined up fairly balanced. They were looking for qualifications then voting for the individual of their choice." Did he worry about anyone thinking it was more than a coincidence that Reid hails from city next door to Dimora's hometown of Bedford Heights? "There's people living in both cities," is all he would answer.
On the way out, Conwell chatted up his side of the aisle. He shook his head. He'd called it.
"It's hard for an African-American to win county-wide," he said. "Clearly, you see what happened here. They want to talk about regionalism but you see right there why the African-American community is afraid of it. Because of just what we saw here today." — Dan Harkins
HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY
A week after Clear Channel Communications gave the axe to Cleveland veterans Brian & Joe, the radio leviathan has outsourced the Mix 106.5 FM morning show. Monday morning marked return of the syndicated Valentine in the Morning Show. Beaming across the country from Los Angeles, Valentine — formerly heard on CC sister station 96.5 Kiss FM — mixes tame radio hits with the celebrity-beat/Hollywood-insider thing, aiming for the American Idol demographic. The vanilla program seems like good fit for the station's Hot Adult Contemporary format, which is radio code for "Top 40, no rap."
The Clear Channel program director didn't return calls; all Clear Channel personnel are prohibited from addressing anything that might be perceived as a negative. The station does seem aware that it's a potentially touchy issue: The press release bearing the news ends with a note that Mix 106.5 is still home to Cleveland's Daune Robinson and Jay Hudson.
As the Gorman Media Blog calculates, in the last 110 days, Clear Channel has eliminated 2,440 jobs from the approximately 900 stations it owns. Local talent is a thorny issue. The corporate office recently gave programming executives the choice to hire more homegrown talent for locally masterminded programming. Many who opted for "live and local" approach are no longer with the company. But so are many who chose for the canned programming.
"I think Clear Channel PDs were screwed both ways," says Gorman. "If they opted to go live, they were fired for wasting money. If they opted to go automated/voice-tracked/syndicated, they were fired because they weren't needed to babysit robots."
And that's why radio folks call it Cheap Channel. — D.X. Ferris
SUCK IT, CHICAGO!
Congrats to Chef Michael Symon, winner of the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef in America/Great Lakes Region award. He’s the first Cleveland chef to win the title.