Voters in Cuyahoga County were taken in by big money’s big deception on Issue 6: That it would address and clean up corruption in county government. Here are three things to watch for to tell if the new system will be as easily influenced by money and favors as the one we're scrapping one.
1) A transition process dominated by business interests.
Issue 6 was written without community involvement by a handful of people. At least 34 of the 41 members of the co-chair committee are connected to business, and there was little or no representation from education, labor, social services, neighborhood groups, the faith community and the Hispanic community, to name just a few. Most of the endorsing mayors were either Republicans and/or represented tiny white outer-ring enclaves. Donations to the campaign came in chunks that would represent annual income for most of us.
Issue 6 focused on economic development over human services. If those interests are not balanced in the transition, look for the continued promises of flashy pie-in-the-sky projects at the expense of rebuilding our neighborhoods and developing our human capital. That’s corruption of the most devastating sort.
2) Bill Mason's next move
This is essential to avoid the appearance that the new government is already corrupt. Mason was one of the instigators of the restructuring process, despite his lack of background or apparent previous interest in government reform. He was the only current elected county official involved in the process and conveniently, his was the only job — and political power base — retained under the restructuring. Even if Mason were a saint, the temptation to abuse political power in the absence of the competing power bases he personally eliminated would be strong. As it is, there are already questions about Mason’s inappropriate exercise of power, questions the Plain Dealer helpfully downplayed during the Issue 6 campaign. It’s hard to see how the new government could be trusted if Mason has unchecked political power.
3) A candidate for county executive receiving large donations from the same big-business interests — the KeyBanks and Eaton Corps — that poured money into passing the issue
Already the names surfacing — like Chris Ronayne and David Abbott — have tight ties with the corporate community and experience (and good reputations) in big-project management, but little involvement with the difficult social issues facing the region. Perhaps such a candidate would show different colors in a campaign, refusing to accept huge corporate donations and focusing as much on human needs as on managing development. If so, they’d deserve a listen. If not, they’d be troubling choices. Many people are rightfully suspicious that no campaign finance controls were written into the Issue 6 charter on purpose. If big-business money flows to a particular candidate, their suspicions will be confirmed. — Anastasia Pantsios
UPDATE: An expanded version of this post appeared in the November 11 print edition.