This was no headbuster who could move the immobile scrap heap of Cleveland government. She didn't possess that fire, that muscle, that certainty, that makes people want to follow.
But at least she seemed sane, which was a great leap beyond her predecessor (soon to be indicted in a federal courtroom near you). She also appeared smart and sincere, a student of bureaucracy. If she didn't have the juice of a true reformer, she could still be a quality mechanic, taking Cleveland off the blocks in the front yard and making her roadworthy again.
She was entering the invention-free zone of City Hall, run by people who had taken a slumlord's approach to governance for 50 years. They didn't understand that if you never fixed the tenement, there would come a day when you couldn't collect any rent. Ideas like waterfront development, downtown housing, and convention centers -- 30 years old even in dumps like Baltimore -- were considered novel by Cleveland's best and brightest.
There's no other way to say it: She would be surrounded by some dumb motherfuckers.
Campbell did have triumphs. She's launched a massive new housing project. The Law Department no longer kicks millions a year to outside lawyers because it's too inept to actually work. She hired accountants who can count.
Even small pockets of competence are much more than Cleveland is used to. This, after all, is the city that built Browns Stadium, yet still has no idea how much it actually paid.
But if you're the mayor of a large city, you'd hope your game won't begin and end with appointing a few good department heads. In the last year, Campbell's made it painfully clear that's all she has.
She's spent most of her term doing what New Democrats do, holding "dialogues," "summits," meetings with "community stakeholders." Among cocktail-party liberals, this is what passes for action. To the rest of us, it's just the chattering of the weak, a way to avoid the unpleasantness of getting your hands dirty.
It wasn't until she knew she was in trouble that Campbell started thinking big. She cast her lot with casinos, convention centers, and Wal-Mart. But the presumably smart lady hadn't done her research. She'd learned to embrace that thinking peculiar to Cleveland leaders, both business and political: She heard something somewhere, so it must be true.
While a casino would stem the flow of money to Niagara and Windsor, and redirect cash from suburbs to city, she spoke of the auxiliary development it would create. One call to Detroit or Atlantic City would expose her claims as fiction.
Years after the convention center was proposed, she has yet to make a concrete economic argument about why it will work. Nonetheless, we spend 33 grand a month in further study, hoping one will appear.
And when Wal-Mart came knocking, all she saw was shiny new things. An intern with one day of Google access could've told her it would kill off better-paying grocers, providing poverty wages that would only bloat the rolls, from public health care to subsidized school lunches. But why do research when there's more poverty to be had? We're the poorest city in America. We have a title to keep.
Through her travails, Campbell's become the discount Mike White, alternately blaming her staff for failing her, or blaming the media for not understanding her greatness.
Though she promised open government, City Hall remains a paranoid enterprise. No one can speak without permission. Those who do talk are as guarded as spies at Langley. Even school employees get threatened when they speak honestly.
These are the centuries-old tactics of despots and hacks. If you haven't done anything worth talking about, better to silence tongues altogether.
But by all means, let's dialogue soon.
Which isn't to say that Campbell's the worst of the lot. Frank Jackson's accomplishments could be listed on a postcard -- if you wrote in really big letters. His reign as City Council president has been wholly undistinguished. If he becomes mayor, make your reservations for the impending disaster. Seats are filling up fast.
Former Safety Director James Draper is another uninspiring bet. It took press exposés, not Draper, to force reform of police overtime scams, firefighters' abuse of sick days, and the practice of parking cops on gym duty for months at a time. He left City Hall when he was forced to slash the safety rolls. The mayor's job carries 10 times the headaches. Draper clearly doesn't have the stomach.
In fact, the only promising candidate is Municipal Judge Robert Triozzi, who harbors the rare-for-Cleveland combination of fire and smarts. He's also the least likely to win. In the one-party system, it's the guy next in line who gets promoted, regardless of his talents. From Moscow to Havana, Columbus to Cleveland, it's always been the best way to ensure you'll be led by a stiff.
But we already know what we have in Campbell, and what we have is weak.
In her state-of-the-city speech, she said that "it's time to move out of the Quiet Crisis and demonstrate a not-so-quiet confidence . . . This fight is for my children and yours -- even for our grandchildren."
But confidence is instilled naturally; begging won't help. And though the New Democrats speak much of fighting, they are loath to knock heads, break balls, and get their suits bloody -- the staples of real work. From Campbell to Kucinich, Kerry to Daschle, they prefer to find gallantry in the wind of their own voices.
So they should do what they do best: run along and dialogue. If they truly want to aid the fight, they'll get out of the way.