The Cuyahoga County Democratic Party is "feared for the wrong reasons," said Newburgh Heights Mayor Trevor Elkins in a video (above) announcing his bid for party chairman.
"It's feared because there's a risk that if you don't go along [to] get along with a select set of power brokers, that you'll be punished," he said. "We're not creating transparency and inclusivity in our process."
Elkins' announcement had the flavor of déjà vu. Only last summer, he ran for party chair when Stu Garson, chairman since 2010, vacated his seat a year early to — ironically enough — let the party adjust to new leadership and prevent turbulence before a pivotal election year.
County Councilwoman Shontel Brown prevailed in that race, though Garson explicitly endorsed either Elkins or State Senator Sandra Williams. Williams recently retained her state senate seat with the backing of the party, though not with the backing of Congresswoman Marcia Fudge. Fudge was presumed to have thrown her weight behind challenger Jeff Johnson largely to punish Williams for running against Shontel Brown for county chair. Brown is a Fudge protege.)
Elkins must now be hoping that a fresh party central committee — populated, after last week's primary, with a good deal more of his Progressive Caucus backers — may be more receptive to his leadership. In a press release, Elkins alluded to the need to "nurture activist energy" as an important strategy for winning elections.
His current run is predicated on four things, he said, all of them technical recommendations for how the party operates and endorses candidates. These recommendations are all, he said, in the service of building unity.
He wants the party's executive committee, itself made up of precinct committeepeople, to be fully elected. He wants to postpone endorsements of candidates until after the filing deadline to encourage broader participation. He wants to redefine the role of city and ward leaders to prevent what he called, in a statement, "backroom horse trading." And he wants to do away with primary endorsements for open seats.
In doing so, he said, the party's various factions — the Progressive Caucus, Labor, the Stonewall Dems, the Northeast Ohio Young Black Dems — could all participate openly without being in conflict with the party at large.
Elkins said he anticipated cynical questions about his ability to represent the party because he is white, an observation likely directed at Shontel Brown, who spoke about the party's racial divisions on the day of the party endorsement votes earlier this year. But it's an observation without much historical precedent, given that the party chairs prior to Brown's election last year were Stu Garson and Jimmy Dimora, also white men.
"I want this to be a big tent," Elkins said. "I genuinely feel that we can heal our divisions and divides."