My ballot arrived with Thursday’s mail. It was not a good mail day. One bill, a couple of ads, some oversized political postcards, and a ballot – nothing I wanted to see. I opened the bill, but I put the ballot aside for a couple of days. I can accept responsibility for my expenses. I refuse to believe that our awful choices are my fault.
President Obama is worried that Democrats, like me, are experiencing an enthusiasm gap. He wishes. Mr. Obama and the national party have managed to squander a huge lead and an incredible amount of good will. Add to this a still struggling economy, the debacle in Afghanistan, and a campaign of unparalleled mudslinging from both parties and you have all of the ingredients necessary for voter antipathy. It was fitting that Jimmy Carter spent a couple of days here last week. If I may borrow his term, many of us are feeling “malaise”.
I’ve got to vote. It is my civic duty. Some of the choices are easy. The affable Nina Turner is unopposed. Also unopposed, but vote worthy, are Paul Pfeifer, Jose Villanueva, and Peter Sikora. A few of the contested races are also slam dunks. Lance Mason has received good reviews as a judge. Anyone running against Bridget McCafferty should win by acclamation.
The next couple of races aren’t too difficult. Rob Portman has yet to tell Ohio why we should vote FOR him. Advantage – Fisher. I have never voted for Mike DeWine. There is no reason to end that streak today.
I have given the new County Executive position a lot of thought. The only person with enough experience, connections, and integrity to take the reins and have a chance of success may be Tim McCormack. I don’t know if he will win, but at least I’m not embarrassed by my choice.
The rest of the races are not that easy. Competency, ethics, and judgment come into play. Dirty campaigns, exaggerations, and flat-out lies are sprinkled throughout. I darken the little ovals. I do not cast a straight ticket ballot.
I have saved the worst for last. Item 16 is the income tax increase for Beachwood. For or Against? I have been putting off this decision. Do I reward bad behavior and incompetence? NO! I can not vote for the levy. Do I deny Beachwood the money it needs now that the city has blown through the millions it had in reserve? NO! I can not vote against the levy. I abstain. Since the tax is designed to be paid by people who work in the city, but can’t vote, as opposed to the people who live here and can, it should pass easily.
I am careful to seal the envelope before I either change my mind or simply tear up the ballot. I am just one more guy wandering around the bottom of the enthusiasm chasm. Will the major parties find us in time for 2012?
A recent Quinnipiac Poll shows former Congressman Rob Portman ahead by 20 points over Lt. Governor Lee Fisher. Other polls show Portman with leads of about 10 points. I take no pleasure in reporting these numbers. I have voted for Mr. Fisher lots of times. I will probably vote for him again in November. My vote, like approximately 45% of the ballots eventually cast, will be in vain. Mr. Fisher is destined to lose. Mr. Portman will be our next U.S. Senator.
The polls and recent Ohio elections lead me to one conclusion. Lee Fisher will run in 2012 or 2016 to be our next President.
A stretch? I don’t think so. Let’s review Mr. Fisher’s last couple of campaigns. After serving 12 years in the Ohio legislature:
1990 – Lee Fisher won a close election for Ohio Attorney General earning the nickname Landslide Lee.
1994 – Defeated in his bid for reelection by Betty Montgomery.
1998 – Eschewed the opportunity to challenge Ms. Montgomery, Lee Fisher ran for Governor. He was defeated in a close election 50% to 45%.
2006 – Elected Lt. Governor on Ted Strickland’s ticket.
2010 – Defeated (projected) in his bid for the U.S. Senate.
2012 / 2016 – President Fisher?
His previous defeat led him to run for a higher office. We are running out of offices. All that is left is the presidency.
Please don’t take any of this a knock on Mr. Fisher’s efforts. Lt. Governor Fisher was the state’s point man for economic development. I bumped into him several times in my capacity as President of the Beachwood Chamber of Commerce. He was engaged and active. Was he effective? In a recession? In a state that lost bidding wars to Georgia and others? I don’t know if anyone could have done any better.
Was he good enough to get promoted to U.S. Senator?
Rank and file Democrats didn’t have much of a choice. Fisher or Fisher wanna-be, Jennifer Brunner. Having served one tumultuous term as Ohio Secretary of State, Ms. Brunner refused to attempt to defend her position and bolted for the Senate race. Ohio voters chose the familiar, overly ambitious Fisher instead of the upstart, overly ambitious Brunner. What a shock.
Lee, my old neighbor, if you are reading this, know that I really wish this current race would end more successfully. And, I pledge $18 (Chai / Life) toward your inevitable Lee Fisher for President campaign. Just let me know where to send the check.
A pastor in Florida wants to burn some Korans and the world is outraged. Which part of the above sentence is more surprising? Are you shocked that a Christian minister would want to be the #1 symbol of hate and intolerance in this country? Or, are you amazed that a man leading a congregation of less than fifty people, many of whom are his relatives, could cause an international frenzy? (I will not name him. I will not link to him or any story about him.)
This isn’t even the first time a Christian fringe group has publicly burned or threatened to burn the Koran. It won’t be the last.
I was sitting in my synagogue, surrounded by fellow Jews, observing the second day of Rosh Hashanah earlier today. I thought about this trouble-maker, this man so sure of his cause that only a sign from G-d could deter him. Would it matter if he was stopped? It is not possible to stop every Christian pastor out to display his hate for others or feed his need for attention.
And then I thought about the Kristallnacht.
November 9, 1938. Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. The Storm Troopers attacked the Jews of Germany. 7500 businesses were destroyed. 177 synagogues were gutted. Torahs desecrated. 91 dead. There was no outrage. The world didn’t notice. The world didn’t take action.
There is no reason to burn the holy books of someone else’s religion. But, unless one of the TV cameramen bumps into a print reporter, no one will be hurt by this hateful protest.
So, maybe we have advanced as a society. If the mindless assault on ideas gets international attention, then maybe we can begin to eliminate the mindless assaults on people.
David’s frustration was not feigned. My friend’s confusion was very real. Why wouldn’t I become a Republican? He could not understand my reluctance to change sides. With my occasional bouts of logic and my appearance of reasonableness, I didn’t fit his image of a Democrat.
Before this goes much further, I should probably note that my friend’s name really is David. Get a bunch of Jewish guys of a certain age together and you will inevitably have several David’s, Marc’s, and Jeffrey’s.
David happily listed some of the Dem’s shining stars. He flung names like Pelosi, Reid, and Waters like accusations. I calmly told him that when Republicans refer to a person of color, they usually mean John Boehner. I think I got in an Agent Orange joke, too.
This wasn’t the first time we had had a conversation like this. It won’t be the last. David admitted that the Republicans did have some members on the far right, but he felt that my experience in the 90’s of leading the New Democratic Policy Council would lend a moderating influence. And at that I said, “No thanks”. I can stay where I am and help my own party find the sensible center.
I am, officially, a Democrat. But in truth, I really belong to a party that has only one member and I’m sometimes at odds with him. I don’t think I fit neatly into any particular box and I’m always amazed by those people who do.
Some of you may think that this is a perfect segue to a discussion of the church closings in Greater Cleveland and the one group that didn’t meekly go away. It is not. I thought the letter to the editor published in the Plain Dealer from Reverend Kenneth Chaulker was out of place. I prefer to leave the discussion of Catholicism to Catholics.
A month of so ago the Democratic Party ward clubs of several eastern suburbs were going to have a candidates’ night. The purpose was to gather all of the Democratic candidates for the new Cuyahoga County Executive position. The average voter would have an opportunity to hear their platforms and ask questions. Democracy in action.
The Party squashed the event. Since the Party had already endorsed Edward FitzGerald, there was no reason for us to meet with any of the others. Mayor Gorden and the other ward leaders had conveniently done our thinking for us. The primary is just a formality.
I have already mailed my primary ballot. I sincerely doubt that I will vote, come November, for that person again. Two of the Independent candidates are in the running for my vote. I’m more intrigued by either of them than I am with any of the candidates running as Democrats or Republicans.
I am represented in Congress by Marcia Fudge, someone who schedules community meetings on Rosh Hashanah. We appoint our Congressional representatives for life in this district. Unless she chooses to run for the U.S. Senate, Ms. Fudge will be there in Washington, for me, until death or wanderlust takes one of us. Will I vote for her? I have, and depending on who my choices are, I may again. I reserve that right. I also reserve the right to skip that race on the ballot if I find all of the choices abhorrent.
David shouldn’t waste his time attempting to craft more persuasive arguments. I can’t switch from being a Democrat to identifying myself as a Republican, because I am unwilling to give up what little independence I have left. I may not be much of a Democrat, but I’m more than enough for me.
The water seemed calmer when I was in the boat. Dutifully wearing my life vest, I am bobbing in Lake Erie. My friend Sandy is about ten to fifteen feet away. The boat is close to her. Sandy is holding a rope tied to her boat. The boat is tied to nothing. The sails are down, the engine off. No anchor. No one aboard. The waves push me in one direction, the boat in another. “Don’t drift too far”, I hear her say.
This could be the beginning of a larger treatise about being adrift. This could all be a metaphor for the times in our lives when we feel overwhelmed and unable to control our environment. This could even be a parable about personal growth through conquering one’s fears. But it is not.
I am calmer than the water. I trust my life preserver, my friend, and my ability to swim to the boat. I flip on to my back and paddle, with a little effort, back to Sandy and her rope.
The Beachwood Council chambers were packed. The citizenry up in arms. Having squandered millions of dollars, the Mayor and Council had decided to raise the income tax. It was a small increase, just 33%. Our incomes, more importantly the incomes of people who work here in Beachwood but live and vote elsewhere, would be taxed at 2% instead of the current 1 ½ %. But that wasn’t why we had the flash crowd.
In an effort to intimidate the population and force his tax increase, the Mayor decided to close the pool 15 days early. Council, of course, fell in line. The Beachwood Family Aquatic Center, the gem of our little town, turned out to be very important to a diverse group of citizens. We had elderly lap swimmers and parents of small children. We had individuals who were recovering from major illnesses. There were fitness buffs and the occasional waders. All of these people had two things in common. They were all smart enough to know that the city was only saving a grand total of $30,000 by closing the pool. And, they were not going to be bullied.
Baseball fanatics often refer to the diluted talent pool. There was a time, not so long ago, when there were significantly fewer major league teams. The pitchers that made it to the Show were the best of the best. The minor leagues were brimming with talented players trying to break through. Today, with so many roster spots on so many teams, the talent pool is diluted. Many teams, including our Cleveland Indians, are stocked with minor leaguers. They may be nice people. They may be good players. But, there is very little we can identify as great.
I am reminded of major league baseball’s problems every time I look at city government in Cuyahoga County. By having over 50 separate municipalities in this county, we have diluted the talent pool. And like baseball, attendance is down while salaries have escalated.
Beachwood exemplifies this problem. We have very little city leadership. Instead, we have managers, people who have managed to hold on to their piece of the pie long after their skills and interest have diminished. Our elections are seldom contested. There isn’t enough talent to fill all of our slots. Thus, some of our elected officials, like the power pitcher past his prime with a fastball now in the high 80’s, have little left to offer. And like the Indians current third baseman, some of our leaders are just small market kind of guys.
Last Monday the citizens witnessed the Mayor and Council back down. The pool will stay open, but the hastily cancelled community programs like Family Fun Day will not reappear. We were told that four union contracts will be up for negotiation in November. The Mayor and Council elaborated on the fierceness of the unions. They shared with us their fear. Fear. While cities around us have pushed for layoffs and give-backs, Beachwood is still hiring and wages are still going up.
Beachwood was among the leaders in economic development and outreach. But again, the talent pool is diluted. A couple of months ago we sent a Councilman to a biomedical conference in Israel to convince entrepreneurs to move to Beachwood. This is innovative and important. I have been involved in the past. But an attorney who won’t move his practice from a neighboring suburb to Beachwood is hardly the guy to convince someone to move across seven time zones.
(In the interest of full disclosure, the Beachwood Chamber of Commerce is a volunteer driven organization and I served two terms as the President from 4/1/2008 to 4/1/2010. The city contracted with the chamber to do economic development. I represented Beachwood twice in Israel, once on the chamber’s dime and once I paid all of my expenses.)
We are about to embark on a grand experiment in Cuyahoga County. The new County Council and County Executive could be the first steps to a more logical and efficient government. As our population and resources shrink, it is vitally important that we find the best people, regardless of party affiliation, to fill these positions. This may be our last chance to truly be major league.
The client, preparing to leave my office, announced that she will be blogging soon. After all, as interesting as her life has been, she owes it to the world to tell her story. She was serious. I started to laugh.
Has she lived an interesting life? Absolutely. She is totally interested. You? You might be bored and are probably apathetic, but she is completely captivated by the storms she has weathered, the dragons she has slain, and the bridges she has crossed. Speaking of bridges, she thinks you are dying to learn which ones she burned and which ones she spared, and why.
The blogosphere is filled with people just like her. Who amongst us hasn’t either overcome great adversity or is prepared to share his/her tales of martyrdom and sorrow? Divorce? Children? Jobs and businesses? We are all the stars of our own limited run movies, surprised at times that our potential audience is too wrapped up in their own productions to admire ours.
This is not to say that there isn’t a place for the autobiographical ramblings of Again? Really? and the blogs of other writers. Whether we are simply entertaining ourselves or, on really good days, a handful of readers, our blogs are a means of self-expression, communication, and venting. My daughter would probably reverse that order if this was just about me. Funny, poignant, possibly insightful, these posts might have some value.
But, my life isn’t that different than yours. And the woman in the first paragraph is more like you than she could ever imagine. The details may be different, such as how long she has been at her job. Or maybe it is how she raised her children. Perhaps it was finding her significant other cavorting with five midgets and a film crew from Jerry Springer (Ok, I clearly made that one up). Whatever, the core issues of acceptance, love, and appreciation color much of who we are.
So in the end we are not that different. Those harrowing experiences may have deeply impacted you, but each of us can match those with the challenges we faced. We have all won some battles by sheer luck and lost wars when we should have been victorious. If you make us laugh, if you make us think, we just might care.
Where is Golda?
“Golda doesn’t live here anymore.”
And with that I learned that I had lost another member of my congregation. Golda (name changed for obvious reasons) had lived in Arden Courts, an Alzheimer and dementia facility, for the last few years. Her family moved her sometime in the last week. Where? Why? I will never know.
I conduct a weekly Friday evening service at Arden Courts for the Jewish residents and their families. Attached is the article that ran in the Beachwood Buzz earlier this year. I named my group, my congregation, Am Shalom, The People of Peace, and created a service for them. The majority of my group have attended, week after week, since I began. They follow the service, participate as much as they can and tolerate my off-key singing. It is the rest, the ones who come and go, that get to me at times.
Arden Courts is a terrific Alzheimer facility, but it is still a facility. One of my congregants died. Some can’t sit still and comfortably participate in a 10 to 15 minute service. And a couple have relocated for some reason or another. But I have interacted with them. And I have watched them change as Alzheimer’s claims more and more of who they were and transforms them into a shell of their former selves. And against my better judgment, I have become attached. I celebrate those moments of clarity when one of my congregation is totally present. And I miss them when they are gone.
Golda had attended almost all of my services. Even on days when she was physically with us but her mind was clearly elsewhere, Golda usually had a moment or two of clarity. The fog would lift and she would knowingly laugh at herself and her fellow residents. I had special jokes in the service just for her.
So good luck Golda wherever you are. I hope that there is someone there to tell you a joke every time the fog lifts.
Ann Arbor Art Fairs – Greetings from one of the largest art fairs in the country. Technically, Ann Arbor is four separate art shows that happen to run concurrently. There are a total of 1400 plus booths. Paintings, ceramics, sculpture, wood, fiber, glass, and jewelry are just some of the types of art on display for your viewing pleasure. And of course, everything is available to take home today.
Darcy, who I was dating in 1993, introduced me to Ann Arbor. I have attended almost every year since then.
Entire city streets are closed to vehicle traffic. Booth after booth. There doesn’t appear to be any logic or reason for the $6000 sculpture to be right next to the guy selling $5 ceramic trivets. But that’s Ann Arbor.
One whole block of East Liberty Street is dedicated to not-for-profit organizations. Everyone coexists respectfully and peacefully. The Right to Lifers with their plastic fetuses are within 100 feet of the National Abortion Rights Action League. The Republicans are within spitting distance of Congressman Dingell’s staffers. There are advocates for greyhounds, the homeless, and the legalization of marijuana. Some of the booths are common, mainstream charities. Some, like the nudists, two fat guys thankfully wearing shorts, are reminders that we are in a college town. All of the advocates sit in their booths and talk to anyone interested. If you aren’t interested, you simply keep on walking. What the Hell? If a couple of people want to spend their time campaigning against circumcision (for real), it isn’t hurting anyone.
There is only one group attending the Art Fairs, stationed primarily in the not-for-profit zone, that doesn’t play by the unwritten rules. Instead of manning an ignorable booth, they are positioned in the middle of the street at both ends of the zone. Their volunteers accost the attendees and attempt to force people to acknowledge their presence and take their fliers. They are a lie and a sham. They are, of course, Jews for Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m positive that somewhere, sometime ago, someone born Jewish decided to become Catholic, or Methodist, or whatever. That was a personal decision of faith. It was their choice and I honestly don’t care. I know men and women who have chosen to be Jewish. That was their choice. We aren’t keeping score. Jews for Jesus is different.
First, I must admit that I find any type of proselytizing offensive. I have always thought that the idea of reducing the search for a personal relationship with G-d to the experience of buying an overpriced vacuum cleaner terribly odd. But Jehovah’s Witnesses are, at times, amusing in their naiveté. J. W.’s are out collecting warm bodies. They need to hit critical mass to get to heaven. Jews for Jesus is an organization of non-Jews targeting Jews.
I just passed the tall, thin blonde girl. It is impossible to say what a Jew looks like or who, for sure, is Jewish. But this farm girl, a veteran of several years of Ann Arbor Art Fairs, is decidedly not Jewish. I’m willing to bet that the only Jews she has ever met are the ones she’s offended. Their blue t-shirts give us fair warning. We try to avoid them. Our children see their shirts and signs and ask us how you could have a Jew or Jesus. The answer for our children is to laugh and to tell them that on the next block there will be signs on fake cows advertising hamburgers.
The crowd isn’t as big in Ann Arbor this year. Art is a luxury. Some of the artists have confided that business is down. The Billmans, wonderful artists whose work graces both my office and my home, only have one booth this year instead of two. So far I have purchased only a couple of small items including a cool pair of cufflinks. The one thing I won’t be taking home with me is a new religion.
Yes, Mr. Coonix. My name is Jean and I am calling about your recent visit to our store…
Time for another bogus survey. Every trip to the car dealer or the cell phone store results in one of these calls. You are warned in advance by the clerk, waitress or salesperson that anything less than a “ten” is considered a failure. Ten out of Ten. It is pass/fail with nine fail options. It is total BS. The employees are cowed into providing less mediocre service, the customers forced to pretend that they actually enjoyed the shopping experience. Sometimes we did, but we are nice people so we always give the requested superlatives. It is all so cynical.
There is a way to measure excellence. We know real success. And, we have witnessed the results of falling short of one’s expectations.
The Plain Dealer had a sad but important story in today’s paper about a basketball player who had fallen short of his goals. He had not lived up to his or his teammates’ expectations. His time with the Cavs could have been more productive. He had disappointed countless people around the country. And, in the end, he paid the ultimate price.
Mel Turpin died yesterday. To be more accurate, he committed suicide. He was only 49 years old. Mel Turpin was the sixth pick in the 1984 draft, the same draft that gave the league Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. He was a top collegiate player who had led Kentucky to several conference championships. But, he was a bust as a pro. He couldn’t control is weight. His nickname was Dinner Bell Mel. He only played five years before retiring.
Mel Turpin knew the definition of excellence. He knew what 10 out of 10 looked like. In college it was winning the final game, the one on the first Monday in April. In the pros it is winning the ring. It is being the best of the best. And Mel Turpin wasn’t. He lived with that and, sadly, probably died with that knowledge.
This all, of course, leads us to LeBron James. LBJ made a startling admission last night. He was forced to admit that he may be able to control the media, but he can not control the basketball court. He is not THE MAN. He ceded control to Dwayne Wade.
LeBron James was unable to convince Chris Bosh and D-Wade to join his team, the Cavaliers. The money was here. What was missing was the leadership. LeBron couldn’t get the job done. Just as he had failed on the court, he couldn’t execute the deal off the court. If he wanted to play with Bosh and Wade, he would have to leave HIS team, HIS home, HIS safe-haven and join them on Wade’s turf. The announcers and talking heads discussed LeBron as the point guard, sacrificing a part of his game to fit into the new role. To win a ring, to be a part of a championship team, LeBron was forced to admit that he couldn’t lead a team, or a city, to glory.
So what did we see last night? We saw the real LeBron. Unscripted. Amazingly unprepared. Off the court, when the lightning fast reflexes, the court sense, and the basketball knowledge are of no help, he had difficulty communicating. “ I’m going to take my talents to South Beach…” Really? Talents to Miami, laundry to New York?
Dressed in a loose fitting plaid shirt, the guy who had staged this whole self-indulgent promotion was unprepared when the lights came on. More importantly, he showed himself to be unprepared for the responsibility of leadership. He shamed his team. He shamed Northeast Ohio. And in particular, he shamed Dan Gilbert, a guy who appears to have given him anything he had wanted. Not only did Gilbert get the brush off on national TV, we, the audience, were told by James that Gilbert and the other teams were learning his decision during the announcement. He didn’t have the grace or class to talk to the people who had offered him millions. It was tasteless. It was sad. As I watched this spectacle I thought about his teammates, the team management, and the fans. G-d knows he didn’t.
So, if Miami wins a title, and that is a big if, will James be OK? Will winning an NBA title on someone else’s team be enough? Is being a really great role player enough to assuage his ego. I always thought he wanted to be Michael Jordan. I never imagined him as Scotty Pippin. But in this era of grade inflation, where everyone wants a score of 10 out of 10 regardless of the real value, maybe you can still be a King even when you live in someone else’s country.