per·fect storm (Noun)
- A particularly violent storm arising from a rare combination of adverse meteorological factors.
- A particularly bad or critical state of affairs, arising from a number of negative and unpredictable factors.
Somehow over the past several years, people have come to think of the phrase “a perfect storm” as a good thing when, in fact, it’s the exact opposite. (Spoiler alert) In the movie “A Perfect Storm,” they all die in the end. Yesterday, our friend Subodh Chandra, PAC+’s first endorsed candidate, ran into a perfect storm in Cleveland in his race for Cuyahoga County Prosecutor (essentially District Attorney of Greater Cleveland). Fortunately, he didn’t “die” and will remain a strong and important political leader in Ohio, despite suffering a disappointing defeat.
I grew up in Cleveland, so let me provide a little quick background. Cleveland is one of the ten most segregated cities in America, and it’s pretty much divided right down the middle by the Cuyahoga River. The East Side of the city is overwhelmingly Black, and the Eastern suburbs are very diverse and relatively liberal. The West Side of the city is overwhelmingly White, and the Western suburbs are more moderate and conservative. Cleveland has had a long history of racial tensions, usually played out along geographic lines, and I rarely ventured to or spent much time on the West Side when I was growing up.
The other reality of Cleveland and Ohio is that the dominant racial lens is Black and White. While there have been increasing numbers of Asians and Latinos in the past couple decades, the primary prism is still Black and White, and there is not a track record yet of multi-racial coalitions and solidarity.
Against this backdrop, Subodh tried to run for County Prosecutor and ran into the perfect storm. At least three elements conspired against Subodh:
1. Kucinich vs Kaptur. Because of redistricting controlled by a Republican state legislature, Democratic incumbents Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur were thrown together in a competitive race on the West side which drove up turnout in the whiter, more conservative part of the county. Former Judge Timothy McGinty, a fixture on the West side, benefited strongly from the increased turnout in this part of the county, and that helped him secure the victory;
2. Local Paper Lost It’s Mind. I’m embarrassed to say that I used to work for the Cleveland Plain Dealer (“PD”) and even served on its Editorial Board in 1985. Unfortunately, things have changed. We knew something weird was happening when the PD endorsed Joe the Plumber for Congress. I kid you not. Then, in the County Prosecutor’s race, the paper (which had endorsed Subodh when he ran for Attorney General in 2006) acknowledged that Subodh had the biggest vision for the job but then refused to endorse him (his vision was “too big”; what kind of crap is that??). So that critical institutional voice in a one-newspaper town defaulted to a more comfortable (and Caucasian) candidate.
3. Late-entrant on East Side. In order for Subodh to win, he was going to have to have a strong showing on the more liberal East Side where the preponderance of the people of color are. Unfortunately, an African American woman (Stephanie Hall) jumped into the race late, and she explicitly ran as “the only African American in the race.” Despite Subodh’s track record of solidarity with and fighting for the Black community and his endorsement from the most prominent Black elected leaders in the City, the other candidate’s mono-racial appeal was sufficiently effective to split the East Side vote between her and Subodh.
Between them, Subodh and Hall — the two candidates of color — received 43,700 votes. McGinty, the winner, received 40,841 votes. The split vote sunk the chance to elect a progressive leader of color.
Where Do We Go From Here
While disappointing (and unlike the characters in the movie “The Perfect Storm”), Subodh’s loss does not mean an end to his political leadership. If anything, his strong showing in the debates and with the Democratic Clubs during the campaign has only enhanced his stature and role as one of the pre-eminent progressive leaders in the Greater Cleveland area. Much as our friend Randy Parraz pivoted from losing the Arizona Senate race in 2010 to leading the effort to recall the author of the anti-immigrant SB 1070 bill, Subodh is well positioned to champion progressive policies and politics in Cleveland and Ohio for years to come. Ohio remains a critical swing state in the Presidential election, and we look forward to working with Subodh to build on the foundation he laid in his campaign to solidify social justice politics in the Buckeye state.
As Jesse Jackson said in 1984, “we’ve never gotten freedom in an election. An election is a comma, where you pause and go on. We will continue to fight for freedom in the courts, in the streets, at the ballot box. Freedom, by any means necessary.”