Op-Ed: The Next Chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Must Focus on the Future

click to enlarge Op-Ed: The Next Chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Must Focus on the Future
Artwork by John G

In the coming days, hundreds of committed Democrats will gather to elect the next Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Chair. This is a huge responsibility as it will set the course for our local and state party over the next four years and beyond.

Democrats in Ohio and Cuyahoga County are at a tipping point. There is only one elected statewide Democrat, outside of judicial officials. Democrats have only won one governor’s race out of the last eight and have lost the past two presidential elections by an average of eight points.

Much of our problem winning statewide elections starts right here in Cuyahoga County. Although Democrats still win the vast majority of races in our county, the number of votes we are turning out is shrinking. Even though statewide turnout increased 6% from 2012 to 2020, the turnout of Cuyahoga Democrats decreased by 7% in the same time period. In Cleveland, turnout is becoming especially dire with approximately 40,000 fewer people voting in 2020 than in 2008.

This is not to assign blame because ultimately, this failure falls on all Democrats. Rather, the point of highlighting the current failures of our party is to explain the importance of the task the next party chair will face. The next party chair will craft and oversee the strategy that leads Democrats out of the wilderness in Ohio. Or the next party chair will continue Ohio’s march toward an out-of-touch extremist Republican supermajority that advances the broken trickle-down economics of the 1980s, the social inequality of the 1950s, and the corrupt backroom politics of the 1920s.

The negative consequences of Ohio’s rightward shift on all of our lives cannot be overstated. Republicans have used these years of dominance to eliminate a functioning democracy through gerrymandering. They are pulling power from the people’s hands and cementing permanent one-party rule. They are then using that power to run the biggest corruption schemes in the nation’s history. And, of course, they are using their power to continue passing tax cuts for the rich and anti-worker economic policies that have resulted in lower wages for working people and higher costs for families. When not enriching themselves, Ohio Republicans are codifying into law disgusting bills that would require girls who want to play sports to submit to genital exams; that would teach children in Ohio that the Holocaust wasn’t genocide; and that would ban books that have diverse or LGBTQ+ characters. It is not hyperbole to say that what is at stake is whether Ohio will be livable for our generation and beyond.

The winner of the chair election will have a monumental task, and that is why whoever it is must be focused on the future of the Democratic Party. To that end, we believe that the next party chair must answer the clarion call of reform that is so desperately needed and organize around four central principles.

The next chair must hire year-round staffers who are trusted community members. The chair and staff must start by listening to people from across the county to learn what matters to the community. No longer can we show up every 2 or 4 years and tell voters how to vote; we must instead listen, learn, and mobilize based on the needs of the community.

“We must build a bench” is a common refrain from party leadership, but it always rings hollow. The most successful local campaigns in recent years have been folks who are not involved in the Democratic Party. The party should be leading and encouraging young candidates to get involved at the local level and should be actively encouraging candidates from diverse backgrounds to run for office.

It is not enough to recruit candidates. We must recruit, train, and invest in the people who will be the future campaign managers, policy advocates, journalists, and activists. Investing in staff means that you must pay staffers fair wages for their hard work. When the expectation is that folks start as unpaid volunteers, we make it impossible for people who don’t have the luxury of financial security to be involved in the political process.

Democracy in Ohio is dying right in front of our eyes. As Democrats, we must constantly fight to keep the Constitution’s promise of self-governance alive. Winning federal elections will not save us. Instead, we must prioritize local, state, and judicial elections just as much as presidential elections. The next chair must create a structure of fairness, transparency, and good governance internally and mobilize Democrats to push for policies at every level that combat gerrymandering, push for campaign finance reform, and strengthen our voting and ethics laws.

These ideas are just the beginning. No matter who the next chair is, though, the party must look to the future, be bold, and fight like hell for our values. Because the alternative is an incredibly scary reality for all Ohioans.

In Solidarity,

Brendan Heil
President Cuyahoga County Young Dems

Matthew Ahn
Ward 3 Precinct Committee

Nick Aylward
Ward 17 Precinct Committee

Michael Bowen
Vice-President Cuyahoga County Young Dems

Ashlynn Carroll
Programming Chair Cuyahoga County Young Dems

Andrew DeFratis
Ward 15 Ward Club Treasurer

Gayle Horwitz

Kerry Kertesz

Rick Raley
Political Director Cuyahoga County Young Dems

Adam Rosen
Ward 15 Precinct Committee

Justin Strekal
Ward 15 Ward Club Secretary

Matthew Thomas
Ward 15 Ward Club President

Anne Tillie
Ward 15 Precinct Committee

Franklin Triozzi
Membership Chair Cuyahoga County Young Dems

Rachel Weber
Communications Director Cuyahoga County Young Dems

Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.
Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.