Tip O’Neill said that all politics are local. To former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas, local politics are the master science.
I spent part of a day with him recently, mostly driving around the city he loves. That city would be Toledo, even though Mr. Douglas lives in Columbus and practices law there. He stayed there when he retired from the court.
The first thing he tells me is he expects to be buried here.
One of the last things he tells me, after waving at a stranger on the street and checking to see if Nick’s barber shop is open, is he thinks he could be elected to office if he returned here.
I still have a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution that Mr. Douglas gave me about 25 years ago. It is his scripture. But he leaves no doubt he is, first and foremost, a politician. The sheer number of people who voted for him still lights him up. Indeed, he vividly recalls his first winning election — for fire marshal in the fifth grade.
Mr. Douglas tells me a jurist should bring his life experience to the bench. He brought his: Growing up poor in the north end. He is immensely proud of how far he came and maybe even more proud that he never forgot his roots.
His father was a minister, and much of his father’s flock was poor and black. His neighborhood contained every kind of minority, all united by want.
He tells me a story. His father buried a neighbor’s son, and the grieving dad came that afternoon to pay him: a loaf of bread. The Rev. Douglas knew that man needed the bread more than he did, but he did not want to deny the man the dignity of paying for his son’s funeral service, so he told the man: Go get your family, I’ll get mine. We’ll have sandwiches together.
Andy Douglas says that moment — you’d have to call it judicial, if not Solomonlike — guided him for the next 70 years.
He tells me he only went to law school to get into politics. Almost 20 years he served on council, where he championed downtown development and fought for a better water plant, sewage treatment, and flood control at Point Place. He was the youngest ever elected, usually the highest vote-getter, the dominant force on council.
“So, you came to love the law?” I ask. “Oh, sure,” he says, “but it’s not as much fun as running the city.”
He liked being a judge. But being able to get a pothole fixed or a stoplight installed — that’s satisfaction. He believes that if he had become mayor he could have prevented much of the deterioration of the North End.
Mr. Douglas is 82 now. To say he has a healthy ego would be an understatement. But former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner says Mr. Douglas was also an uncommonly generous mentor. Mr. Douglas tells me he is still available for special assignment and advice. I can tell he means it.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: email@example.com or 419-724-6266.
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