The guiding principle of politics in Toledo may be simply stated: Everyone gets a cookie. That is, everyone who is in the club, and plays by the unwritten and understood rules.
The first unwritten rule is self-perpetuation: Protect the club and its members — the people who hold power and wish to retain it — above all else.
The city council’s override of the plan commission vote on the location for a new Kroger store was a case study. But there is no shortage of such cases.
The appointment of Theresa Gabriel as deputy director of the Lucas County board of elections is another. It was purely insider dealing.
What did the public good require in the case of the proposed new Kroger store? A location that fit the company’s needs and preserved significant architecture and green space and did not add to congestion. What was needed was a compromise solution that balanced particular private interests and at the same time placed the general welfare of the community above all.
But in Toledo politics, the norm is the opposite: Not partial gain and partial sacrifice for all interests and overall attention to the general interest. But total victory and 100 percent of the resources to the dominant interests. And then the requisite rewards for those who serve those interests. Everyone gets a cookie.
But everybody is defined as everyone already on the inside of the clubhouse. New members are seldom admitted, and only with caution.
In the case of the elections board, the public good was, and remains, simple to define. What is needed is less politics and more competence.
There has been trouble at the elections board. And what goes on there does matter. After all, counting votes in a free society is fundamental. It is a sacred responsibility.
But under the rule of Toledo politicians, the goal is quite different. Indeed, the opposite. It is to employ hacks at top dollar and exact political payback. Competence and guarding the franchise do not come into it. Not at all.
The elections board, you see, is the last vestige of old-fashioned patronage in the city. You can get a person who knows the right person a job there based purely on political loyalty and expediency. No competence is required, or even feigned.
Ms. Gabriel is not apolitical. In fact, she is as political and opportunistic as they come. And she has no background in elections work, legal or administrative.
So why was she appointed?
Ms. Gabriel was appointed first because she was acceptable to, and friendly with, the Lucas County Republican chairman, Jon Stainbrook. Mr. Stainbrook, though not corrupt as with many who have served on the board in the past, is the cause of many recent unnecessary feuds. Indeed, the Ohio secretary of state removed him from the board for fratricidal and unprofessional behavior. The chairman could not get himself, or one of his obvious puppets, appointed director. But he could get someone he could live happily with appointed — Ms. Gabriel.
Local Democrats, in turn, get another seat on city council, Ms. Gabriel’s, without having to earn it.
You can be reasonably sure an “independent,” what Ms. Gabriel was nominally, will not be appointed. Ms. Gabriel, who is a tough old bird you cannot help but like, is independent the way Sydney Greenstreet was independent in The Maltese Falcon. She’s a lot more like a D.C. deal maker — Tommy “The Cork” Corcoran or Clark Clifford — than Archibald Cox.
So Ms. Gabriel wins a fat paycheck. The Dems get another seat. The Republican chairman gets a win. Everyone, in the club, is happy. Everyone gets a cookie.
Is it possible that Ms. Gabriel will do a good job, and behave with true independence and professionalism? It is. She is no pushover and no fool. Harry Truman, don’t forget, came out of a shamelessly corrupt political machine. But if you were looking around for a person free of Toledo political machinations and highly versed in election law and administration, you would not propel yourself swiftly to Ms. Gabriel’s door.
The point is not that she might do the job well. But that whether she would or would not was not a part of the political calculation.
Toledo politics and politicians exist almost totally for Toledo politics and politicians. The commonweal does not enter into it.
A final exhibit: A commission recommends that the mayor and city council get a raise — from $122,400 to $136,000 for the mayor and from $27,500 to $39,500 for council members. Who is on the commission? Why the union leader who was the major force behind the Kroger vote, among others. So, let’s do that calculation: Vote with the trade unions on Kroger and you get 1.) endorsements, 2.) campaign contributions, and 3.) a raise.
Jon Stainbrook was also on the commission. Of course! Perfect. The commission’s recommendations, which, to his great credit, Mr. Stainbrook voted against, will be sent to guess who for consideration? City council! You can’t make this stuff up.
Welcome to Toledo politics, folks, where showing up and going along is its own reward. Where everyone — on the inside — gets a cookie and the public gets the shaft.
Keith C. Burris is the editorial page editor of The Blade. Contact him at: email@example.com or 419-724-6266.
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