New Day for Democrats in Cuyahoga
Judge Michael J. Ryan
This morning, the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Executive Committee met to select a candidate to replace the late Judge Peter Sikora on the November ballot for county juvenile court judge. Prior to the candidates’ speeches and the voting, county executive Ed FitzGerald spoke briefly, saying that two years ago, no one would have believed that a Democratic-led county government would have come back so strong and regained the trust of citizens across the board, leaving memories of the old regime in the dust and copious weeping in the executive offices of the Plain Dealer. (He didn’t say that last — that’s me editorializing.)
The voting results demonstrated that the party is indeed shedding itself old ways — as did the process itself, which allowed members of the executive committee to cast their votes independently for any one of a declared slate of candidates. In the Dimora days, the winning candidate would have been pre-selected, and Dimora would not have even paused for breath to allow any nominations from the floor or any “nay” votes on his chosen candidate.
Five candidates presented themselves this morning: John Lawson, William McGinty, Terease Neff, Mike O’Malley, and Michael Ryan. Ryan is a sitting Cleveland municipal judge; O’Malley is Bill Mason’s lieutenant at the county prosecutor’s office; the others have all run for judicial offices previously.
Listening to the candidates talk was revealing. Three of the candidates emphasized their fitness for the job, outlining their qualifications and their concerns for the kids and families that come into this court. Lawson, Neff, and Ryan focused on why each felt he or she would be a good juvenile court judge.
I’m not quite sure what McGinty was talking about or why. His “Tale of Two Cities” themed speech focused more on the political climate than why he should be a judge.
O’Malley, on the other hand, appealed heavily to old-school-style county politics, talking about party loyalty, connections, and family. It all seemed very geared to reminding people of the way it used to be when votes were horse-traded based on favors, and who you knew was the most important aspect of your resume.
When he mentioned that he had helped elect countless party officials, one couldn’t help picturing him working on behalf of now-convicted ex-officials like Jimmy Dimora, Frank Russo, and his own brother, former recorder Pat O’Malley, college roommate and buddy of Mike O’Malley’s boss Mason. You can’t blame a guy for the actions of his brother, but enough is enough. Of all the candidates, he’s the one that needed to make the strongest case for why he should be a juvenile court judge — and he didn’t.
On the first ballot, residue of the party’s long-standing east side/west side split was in evidence. McGinty and Neff had minimal support, each mostly from their hometown (Fairview Park and Lakewood, respectively). Lawson’s support was widely distributed, with much of it coming from the east suburbs, probably from good-government types more interested in qualifications than politics (Lawson is highly respected as an attorney but isn’t known for involvement in party politics). Ryan, the only African-American candidate, racked up votes from the eastern suburbs and the east side of Cleveland, much of it likely coming from people who believe that a court that serves an overwhelmingly black constituency ought to have more black faces. (As long as the candidate is qualified, it’s a valid point.) O’Malley got much of the west side, including 100 % of the always-unified Parma vote.
Ryan led O’Malley by 11 votes on the first ballot (150-139), with neither getting the 197 majority required to win. Lawson trailed at 75 votes, qualifying him for the second round of balloting as well. But, with this shaping up to be an east vs. west/ black vs. white/qualifications vs. connections vote, Lawson stepped up to announce he was withdrawing, leaving the second ballot a runoff between O’Malley and Ryan.
As the cities and wards stepped up to announce their vote totals, and people did mental calculations as to whether Ryan was racking up enough votes in the inner-city wards to offset the Parma tidal wave for O’Malley coming at the tag end of the balloting process, it became clear that the “good government” voters who were impressed by Lawson’s qualifications had largely moved to Ryan as a second choice.
In the end, Ryan was the choice of the party’s rank and file by a vote of 223 to 170. To his credit, O’Malley was incredibly gracious when he got up to speak. He acknowledged his awareness of the black/white split as he urged Democrats “on both sides of the river” to join together to support Ryan, whom he praised highly, to defeat Governor Kasich’s appointee, Anjanette C. Arabian Whitman, in November.
With his strong resume and powerful back story, Ryan is well qualified to do so, and as a Democrat in Cuyahoga County, he’s going to be the frontrunner. You can read his story here: