What the %$#&?

Great non-issues of the mayoral race.

When the Cleveland mayoral race began, there were vows of civility all around. At the time, Mayor Mike White, a principal architect of The Comeback City, was presiding over The City Where Bickering Accounts for 68 Percent of Our Gross Domestic Product.

He and council traded daily accusations of deceit, obfuscation, and general scumbagocity. The fighting caused museums to be delayed, playground equipment held hostage. Even basic information was treated like state secrets, as if administrators were auditioning for work with the North Korean government.

This was part of a keen marketing strategy. With a wounded economy and the city suffering from high taxes, bad schools, and Rust Belt malaise, Cleveland was positioning itself under a unique mantra: "We don't have much to offer, but at least we're hard to deal with."

Alas, this visionary strategy failed. But the thinking was that, once White removed himself from the picture, City Hall could become more approachable. So his would-be replacements stumbled over each other to present themselves as the anti-White. At the time, simply not being an asshole was a viable campaign platform.

Thus far, the race has been remarkably civil, leaving residents to believe we may have been annexed by Canada. Still, two enormously trite issues have reared their unwelcome heads. The first arose when the black political elite rallied around Raymond Pierce, much to the chagrin of front-runner Jane Campbell. The reaction from some whites was that the black monolith, so quick to cry racism, was supporting no-name Pierce just because he's -- gasp! -- black.

Never mind that voters have long backed candidates who seem most like them. County politics are filled with Irish and Italian names. In places like Lakewood, you need to sing an impeccable "Danny Boy" just to get on the ballot. From Mormons in Utah to Scandinavians in Minnesota to Jews in New York, everyone votes for their own. Scientists call it human nature, a Latin phrase meaning "You got a better idea, pal?"

Nor does endorsement from the black elite -- or any elite -- constitute a universal movement. Councilwoman Patricia Britt says East Siders, like all decent Americans, won't be told how to think.

She uses neighborhoods like Fairfax and Little Italy to "gauge the pulse" of her ward. "The blacks that live in those areas are not going to vote for Pierce," she says. They prefer the more experienced Campbell and "have a problem with the people propping Pierce up. I think they find it fairly insulting."

And even if there is evidence of racial politics, the trail leads to whitey. "African American voters in the city have been widely supportive of candidates of various ethnicities," says Councilman Craig Willis. "Just look at their record. What you tend to find is that the reverse is not always true. We don't have a single black in a countywide office, with the exception of one judge. Blacks have no problem supporting good Democrats. It doesn't work the other way around."

Yet the raising of asinine issues cuts both ways. The Pierce camp has noted that Campbell -- double gasp! -- sends her kids to Shaker Heights schools. Message: She's an uppity suburbanite in peasants' cloth. (Never mind that Pierce sends a child to private school.)

So let's get this straight: A mother has the choice of sending her kids to A) one of the best districts in the state or B) a system where administrators are required to hold Ph.D.s in mismanagement. She chooses A, and she's ripped for not sacrificing her kids for political street cred? "You got a whole bunch of black folk sending their kids to Shaker Heights schools," laughs Councilwoman Fannie Lewis. "That just says she cares about her children."

Lewis notes that Cleveland is "blessed" to have two good candidates. Even if they spend the next four years playing Madden Football on the office computer, they'll be an improvement over White. But if they maintain the pettiness of the White Era, Cleveland will no longer be known as The Comeback City. We'll be The City Just a Few Factory Closings Away From Becoming a Large Steubenville.

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