Among his family and friends and co-workers, support for Fischbach's run is essentially universal. There's genuine support for his efforts throughout the night of his Middleburg Heights fundraiser, so much as one can gauge from a crowd of a few dozen. Elsewhere, in rooms across the county populated by those with, say, more established resumes and ties to the political scene, support is nowhere to be found.
There's an old joke around here that even Jesus Christ Himself couldn't get elected as a Republican in Cuyahoga County. Tanner Fischbach - let the record show - is not Jesus.***
Rob Frost avoids the subject as best he can and at all costs. Rob Frost doesn't want to talk about Tanner. Rob Frost flatly says he has no comment on Tanner Fischbach whatsoever.
The chairman of the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County has other things on his mind, probably the least of which is discussing that kid out in Berea hoisting GOP colors and embarrassing the local GOP machine that Frost is tasked with preventing from becoming (any more of) an embarrassment or afterthought. (Ed FitzGerald bested Republican lawyer Matt Dolan in the first county exec race by a 45-31 tally.)
None of that really surprises Fischbach; Frost wouldn't even return the kid's calls. Ever.
"The Republican Party is in the gutter. It is. It's in the gutter. There's no Republican Party in Cuyahoga County. No one even shows up to their meetings," Fischbach says. "Look at the Democrat side: They're having meetings at golf courses. They can give their candidates half a million dollars. Then you look at us, and we're just looking at our toes. We need to work this out!"
The Republican Party of Cuyahoga County boasts an odd claim to the Denny's on West 150th Street. It is, in short, the party's social headquarters. It is also one place where Tanner Fischbach has felt wholly unwelcome since first announcing his intention to run last fall.
He leapt into the election spotlight months before County Councilman Jack Schron took up the sacrificial mantle of the GOP and announced his own county executive campaign. Fischbach, to be clear, has been the hardest-working local candidate for nearly half a year now. To wit: Schron has not booked any cover bands - 80s or otherwise - for his official events.
"The party doesn't like to do meetings," he says. Fischbach is talking about getting actual facetime with the taxpayers of Cuyahoga County through the party. He's saying the GOP maintains a fairly insular existence, even as he, a candidate, expresses desires to take the crest of the party to the people and talk policy. "If you want to do a meeting, you've got to go to Denny's for five minutes where they'll trash talk you and they'll trash talk everybody else. That's nice, but I'm not here for that. Mind you, that's all the party does is trash talk." (Our attempt to attend one of these semi-regular Republican powwows at Denny's was scuttled by the Cleveland winter morass. When we do make it, we'll let you know what everyone orders.)
The problems he mentions are ones mirrored nationally by the Republican Party. He rants ad nauseum about the problems with the local outfit, but this is the nut of what Fischbach is trying to get across in his campaign. Out with the old, in with the revolutionary new.
Before it's over, this story is going to get very strange, but for now, Fischbach is talking more sense than what official party elders would ever let on. And he wants you to know as much.
The storyline, particularly in this post-Romney world, is that the GOP is having image issues with respect to, you know, women, money, energy, race, war, history, legislation and so on. Fischbach is the foil, of course.
He is pushing a seven-point plan to change that and galvanize... something - anything - in Cuyahoga County. His platform breaks down thusly:
- Tax cuts and tax breaks to businesses bringing jobs to Cuyahoga County
- Monthly meetings with the mayors of the county
- Institution of a five-person team to develop new job creation tactics
- Restoration of the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds
- Restoration of the lakefront
- Decrease in salaries for public-sector workers
- More effective regional marketing
Pretty boilerplate stuff, really. But it's here, in the early machinations of Fischbach's political efforts, that something now dubbed by the fringe punditry as the "Tanner Fischbach Effect" becomes apparent.
Despite talk and media narratives to the contrary, prevailing attitudes continue to prevail. County leadership these days still looks eerily similar to county leadership pre-reform. In his Feb. 5 speech at the Shaker Heights Democratic Club meeting, Democratic county exec candidate Armond Budish followed in the rhetorical footsteps made by County Executive Ed FitzGerald right before him. He prefaced nearly every point by saying, "Like Ed said" or "As Ed mentioned..." Fischbach sure as hell isn't running his mouth like that.
"I'm not here to please you guys; I'm here to please the taxpayers," Fischbach says, relaying his brief encounters with local GOP brass. "They got pissed off by that."
And that's not surprising. What Fischbach is saying - pardon the specifics of his policy for a moment - is that everyone in public office right now has to go. The cheesy-puff imprints of Jimmy Dimora's fatty fat fingers are still riddled across county government. The big guy's behind bars, but members of his sprawling network still line the payroll sheets.
The Tanner Fischbach Effect is the natural counter to the Republican Party's national woes. It's the natural counter to the political hamster wheel here.
"The party is a joke in this county, and they don't want to do anything about it," he says. "I try to stay away from the party. They are next to my name, but it doesn't mean I'm sipping tea with them every other Wednesday or anything like that."
In fact, Fischbach isn't even a registered Republican voter.
"I'm doing my own thing," he says, kicking back another gulp of Coke.***
Fischbach carves his own niche in this world with pride. He's in charge. His story, quite clearly, is one of sustained iconoclasm.
The kid started working at 14, both out of necessity and a drive to be an active participant in this world, to enjoy the burden of working-class callouses on his hands. He is not an idle young man. By 16, he claims he was racking up 60 hours a week at Southwest Golf Center (that was on top of his conservative shenanigans on the clock at Berea High).
Toward the end of his time in school, Fischbach enrolled at Polaris Career Center, pursuing study in criminal justice. The plan, then and now, was ultimately to become a police officer. He says he lives with a plan on the table at all times. His campaign for the county seat kept him on the trail this year, but he'll be heading to Cuyahoga Community College for continued education next year.
On a more macro level, though, Fischbach couldn't resist the urge to shake things up. The police beat is one thing; tackling the muck and mire of Cuyahoga is quite another.