Fischbach describes his political aspirations much like he does his golf game. He's an avid duffer, a regular at Mallard Creek Golf Club. And brashness is his singular characteristic. He brings orange balls, yellow balls, glow-in-the-dark balls, all because he ends up in the sticks so often that he needs something - anything - to help him out. He plays with abandon.
"I'm the worst golfer," he says. "I'm one of those guys who throws his clubs. I don't even have a full set anymore. I'll get so pissed." He'll often toss around a few fiery opinions on the current events of the day while chipping shots too. Now and then, his buddies indulge him. Other times, his rants carry into the woods, lost to the game.
And in golf, politics, or other arenas, Fischbach lends no quarter to those who defy his sense of style.
"If you don't have brats at your golf course, I don't go there," he says. "I went to Coppertop, and I'll tell you, the course was good. But they had, like, chicken wraps. I never went back there. You gotta have brats, I'll tell you."***
Three Democratic candidates for county executive are spouting party lines about all sorts of topics - the sin tax extension, Opportunity Corridor, how they'll continue building stuff and how they totally won't hand over jobs to their friends. This public forum, held Jan. 26, basically underscored the Democratic and media elite decision to back candidate Budish fully. The powers that be have already decided Dems like Shirley Smith or Bob Reid and GOP names like Jack Schron and, yes, Tanner Fischbach don't matter. And that goes quadruple for Democratic outliers like Tim Russo and Walter Allen Rogers Jr.
Armond Budish, former speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives and current District 8 representative from Beachwood, is the vaunted favorite among the field. Precedent says he'll win the whole thing. He's fine enough, which is the sort of high bar set in Cleveland these days.
The Shaker Heights Democratic Club met Feb. 5 to considerable fanfare (the meeting is pulling in politicians and friends thereof). There was a fantastic spread of fresh vegetables, warm baked goods and chunky guacamole.
"We've had a change in our program tonight, so we are really excited to have two excellent speakers tonight," club director Jane Buder Shapiro tells the crowd. She is referring to the fact that the night's program had originally been planned as a multi-pronged debate among Democratic candidates. Contenders Bob Reid (former county sheriff) and Shirley Smith (state senator) pulled out; Tim Russo (self-described "exploding inevitable") did not. In fact, he insisted on fairness and equal participation, party-wide, in the debate. The club responded by splashing fan-favorite Budish (Ohio House rep) across the marquee. Budish would be speaking; Ed FitzGerald would open the show. Somewhere between the seats and the podium, they'd exchange a sly handshake and Fitz would hand over a set of keys to the executive bathroom.
More of the same, really. Russo, the one Democratic challenger who's actually putting forth contrarian and original ideas, sits through the event wearing a stunning smirk. And it was apparent from the campaign fluff peddled by FitzGerald and Budish that in no part of the county has the Tanner Fischbach Effect yet taken root.
"I think since we pushed the charter change, I feel like it turned this county around," the young Fischbach says. "We're still in the gutter, but it turned us in the right direction. But then we just turned it right back around, because we've got these same old politicians coming into office.
"I feel like if I do get in, a lot of people aren't going to like me. I'm not the typical 'I know Jack and Jill from Solon.' I don't know anybody," he continues. "You're all going to leave. I want to clean up. I want everybody out. I want to rebuild, get new people in office."
As you might guess, no one is going to leave except Tanner.***
Tanner Fischbach has disappeared. Vanished as quickly as he arrived, it seems.
Where once there was promise -- "Everything is going to be changed, because I'm going to be in this campaign. I'm loving it." -- there was now silence. Fischbach had been missing from the public eye since his fundraiser in late January. Messages and phone calls by the dozens went unanswered. He stood us up for an early cover shoot for this story. Old Meatloaf LPs spun in the Scene office, a last-ditch attempt to summon some good Fischbach karma.
The lone clue: An arcane Facebook status update posted on Feb. 3 that read "Bye Bye Cleveland!!"
Bye Bye Cleveland??
From the beginning, Fischbach's campaign Facebook page broadcasted his thoughts and promises and those familiar, buzzy rallying cries for jobs, jobs, jobs. But his stilted language and odd use of punctuation became a sticking point for potential followers. Few could really decipher what he meant. An example: "My campaign is making a progress in this county. We need a fresh, New, Republican mind in office. Who is here for the Taxpayers Only and Not the pay!!"
Now there was nothing at all.
And there was nothing at 4 p.m. on Feb. 5. That was the deadline for political candidates to file for the May primary in Cuyahoga County. Tanner Fischbach, the young Republican punk from Berea, did not file.
While Ed FitzGerald and Armond Budish bond over fresh-baked cookies that recent evening in Shaker Heights, we ask other attending politicians and friends about Fischbach. What happened to his unique brand of hell that would uproot the campaign? Most reply simply, "Who is Tanner Fischbach?" But a precious few shake their heads and lament: "It's a damn shame."
Perhaps a write-in campaign is Fischbach's next step? With the race essentially settled and the big umbrella issues too dull and pervasive to really engender any response from the public, who wouldn't want Fischbach to stir things up? After all, he promised us, and you, that exact outcome. "The shit will hit the fan when I go in there," he says. "I have so many ideas."***
It happened sometime on side B of Bat Out of Hell. A text. We confirmed the lopey grammar against writing we had on file. It was him. Fischbach wanted to meet.
Of all places, he chooses the empty food court amid the shuttered storefronts of Parmatown Mall. The imagery of the place is too goddam vivid, too perfect a metaphor for what had become of the Fischbach campaign.
Party pressure had him up against the ropes, he says. He had people telling him to pursue other offices, to stay away from the Big Time. An hour before the filing deadline, with required signatures in hand, Fischbach debated this quandary silently.
"They're really telling me there's no chance," he explains. "At that point, there were two sides: On one hand, fuck it, let's go for it. On the other hand, am I really gonna waste all this time and not even get close?"
Fischbach explained how Tim Russo, the exploding inevitable, called him after the filing deadline had passed: "What the hell, man?" We were all asking the same question.
"I just didn't know what to do," he says.
Then, a bombshell: "I'm 250-percent sure I'm running for the mayor of Berea."
And with that, we're right back to the beginning -- an odd sense of promise and the kid's boisterous, ever-loving charm. He smiles. The "Would-Be Baron of Berea"? Who knows. But Tanner Fischbach is not ready to drop the microphone yet.