We've got the cliche wagon pulled over and I'm sure my fellow pundits will exhaust the supply to describe Tuesday's results of the Change Akron Now bid to recall Akron's Don Plusquellic. I don't know anyone (including Warner Mendenhall) who believed CAN could DO it. Citizens For Akron ran a smart campaign -- how could they not with a 22-to-1 money advantage? CFA understood all too well the value of CYA, leaving no stone unturned, the value of a professionally-positioned "grassroots" base and effort to define issues, control the agenda and get out the vote. And they did this all without the one candidate on the ballot stepping out in front of the target painted on his back. Don Plusquellic's defense worked best when his team played offense around him.
In the end, GOTV trumps shouting from the Town Square.
The 20% turnout is nothing to be proud of, summertime or no summertime. In the end it wouldn't have mattered if half that number turned out. A 3-1 advantage spells landslide, especially when "absentee voting" -- why can't we just call it early voting? -- provided everything the anti-recall forces could have hoped for. This is the strategy executed to a "t" by Obama in 2008, by Citizens For Akron in 2009, and future politicians smart enough to understand a 30-day voting window means 30 days to win.
Even with the crushing defeat, Change Akron Now promises a slate of council candidates, one led by oh-so-close Plusquellic opponent Joe Finley in 2007. I'll be very surprised if this works, unless they learn from their defeat in June and turn it into fresh strategy for September. These next few months will see the game continue, only with surrogates now carrying the standards for both sides. Those on the outs still want their piece of those on the inside, and the incumbent machine knows all too well they cannot afford to let their guard down now.
That said, I'm still wondering if this recall election was the reaffirmation of love Mayor Plusquellic needs? Or was the vote more a reflection of what most editorials noted: not really a personal endorsement of Don Plusquellic, and all his personality brings to bear, but rather a rejection of the concept of tossing the bull out from the china shop because he hasn't broken anything?
Despite the branding of "our" mayor for "our" city, there are few who disagreed that Plusquellic's style leaves much to be desired. In between stomping around with hurt feelings after opponents questioned the obvious timing of a flood of pro-Akron announcements, cherry-picking interview opportunities -- did he do ANY radio live or long-form? -- he still managed to rub many the wrong way with behind the scene hardball which lends easily to depictions of him as "The Don." I give him great credit for the rep: he's earned it.
This isn't just my observation; the Beacon Journal, Plain Dealer, WAKR/AkronNewsNow, other bloggers, other media -- all made note of the ill-temper described as "passion" as not enough to warrant being tossed out. His own supporters, at the same time calling the vote a mandate for the mayor, also hope he learns to tamp it down; this scuffle cost a quarter-million dollars and plenty of their time. Which Don comes out of this as the smoke clears? Does he sit down and bury the hatchet with the FOP as they've asked? Will he ever talk with enemy-for-life turned anti-recall ally Don Robart again? Will he ever say the name of his chief opponent in public?
Even Obama knows how to say Cheney. The key to the next chapter in this political soap opera is whether those in support offer honest counsel and not just what he wants to hear. That a head-on approach need not be offensive to be a good offense; that being defensive need not be so offensive. That a legacy politician with an iron grip on the job can and should be satisfied everyone knows he's the driving force without having to tattoo it on their foreheads. Which Don Plusquellic will we see, the statesman elected to represent his nation's mayors or the one stepping into the ring?
This is a legitimate question, and one not so easily glossed over. As owner of the "company," Akron voters are the managers; they decided their highest performing employee gets results and needs to stay, even if he can occasionally be a real piece of work. The stakeholders want to keep him because he gets the job done. Even if he snorts and throws his weight around, so long as the dishes don't break. The main message conveyed with such clarity over the past 90 days has been he leads, even with a few scratches; Akron voters know to not mess up a good thing.
But the danger, if he allows the ego of unchecked incumbency to swell beyond his vision, is in continuing to ride that wave of performance goodwill for those times when the next big challenge comes. When a younger, fresher, more energetic version seizes the moment. When Akron's good name is finally dragged down to the level of the other northeast Ohio big cities. Those times when some with new ideas poses a real threat to more people beyond the 25-30% who always say no.
Blogger Pho's Akron Pages is no fan of Change Akron Now nor it's tilting-at-windmills leader Warner Mendenhall. His observations are pointed, but thoughtful. His post "Whither Akron" reads from the heart: who will step up and challenge the status quo, in this case Plusquellic, in the interest of confronting power? It's a core question: just how healthy is the cult of Don for Akron's function as a democracy over the long haul? Akron, Pho writes, needs a "sensible loyal opposition."
It's easy now to villify those who dare ask the question, or push the system to hold a midsummer's day vote. But even losing in a landslide, voices wondering about alternatives or even succession planning can be heard. And the conventional wisdom won't be able to drown them out forever.
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A note on the media coverage of the election: what a vacuum we are seeing develop as a city of a quarter-million people boils down to a handful of outlets. Former WKYC-TV producer Chris Hyser notes correctly in his "Diminishing Returns" post the brave new world of learning results. Those good old days of multiple, competing media outlets using all the tools at their disposal have shrunk when it comes to servicing Akron. The blog world hasn't stepped in, and those outlets in a position to step up didn't show it Tuesday night.
I have a very vested interest in this; for the most part we did what we thought was best on Election night, just as the Beacon Journal did in getting results, analysis and coverage to the public. But seeing the region's second biggest city shunted aside to true suburban status on a single, important issue ought to be an eye-opener for all of us.
This was a campaign successfully managed professionally to maximize positives while minimizing risk of damage, which meant no town hall-style forums on cable, broadcast, or digital television. No Press Club luncheons at the Martin Center, where a couple hundred folks could feast on split chicken breasts as the pros and cons were delivered. This was a great example of controlling the message, and not allowing it to get messy. Using websites to position and parry, and employing social media such as Twitter and Facebook to bypass the mainstream. Who needs to sit down with Ray, or Larry, or Howie or Matt? Can't control what they ask, but you can control what others hear and read.
This is the new politics, and Akron's media landscape is not ready for what is to come.
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For those who missed hunky Lt. Governor Lee Fisher's "guns," note YouTube has taken down videos containing the copyright material.
The posts are still up on this blog but you won't be able to see the buff Lee flexing over a late-night video visit while he's answering email.
The Fisher folks worked quickly to flag the video, so it's a no-no now. Fisher followers, rest easy; Brunner backers, at least you had a laugh over the last week.
Back to good government now...