Democracy In Action At Lakewood Dems Meeting by Chitra Walker

“NO ENDORSEMENT”!! Exactly one half of the unusually large crowd at the Thursday, September 29th, 2016 meeting of the Lakewood Democratic Club breathed a sigh of relief; the other half was mostly silent, but most likely grimaced in frustration! “No endorsement” was the result of the vote taken at this meeting of the Club on Issue 64, the referendum on the ballot in November to either “save Lakewood hospital”, or move forward into the 21st century with a state-of-the-art Family Health Care Center based on the healthcare needs of the demographics of Lakewood and its immediate surrounding area! Yes, each side had exactly half the votes cast For and Against and a number of members had also cast votes to Abstain. An incredible phenomenon that many in the room who had expected the Club to endorse the view of the “Savers” (an epithet by which they have come to be known over this rancorous and divisive year in Lakewood) did not think would happen.

From another perspective, however, this was truly democracy in action! The members of the Club are divided on the issue, and have worked hard on each side to win the argument. The citizens of Lakewood had already spoken loudly and clearly in the November 2015 election, when they re-elected Mayor Summers (who was endorsed by the club and the county party) instead of electing State Senator Mike Skindell (who ran his campaign solely on the Save Lakewood Hospital issue). The rejected and dejected Savers were not, and have not been, ready to give in. They have done all they could to keep the issue alive, going as far as suing Lakewood City Council and the Mayor (costing the city’s residents thousands of dollars in precious tax money), and have now petitioned to have a referendum on the ballot in November to “save” their now closed hospital (continuing to propagate the myth that the hospital could be/would be reopened)!  I do not need to go into the arguments for moving forward. We already have!

However, in the context of the vote at the Lakewood Democratic Club, one of the strategies of the Savers was to get an endorsement for their position on Issue 64 from the Club. The Club, which has seen rancorous “take-overs” in the past, when some members left in disgust or frustration because of infighting and politics, has, at least in the last five years, been stable, and has gained the reputation, under its current strong leadership, of being a vibrant and trusted voice that is heard in the City and in the County when it comes to elections. So, an endorsement from the Club is something that is valued. The traditional mailing sent out by the Club listing all endorsed candidates and positions on issues prior to an election is something most Democrats in Lakewood find very useful, regardless of whether they have been following the news, in fact especially when they have not been following the news! Such a mailing is indispensable when it comes to candidates for the courts, or on issues that the electorate may not have as much information as they need (although in this case, it is arguable that we have beaten the issue to death in the press and elsewhere!). So the endorsement of a well-established and recognized Democratic Club was part of the Savers’ strategy to convince Lakewood citizens to vote against Issue 64. So they began to stock the Club with their members, including some registered Republicans (!), as early as February or March of this year so that the minimum requirement to be a voting member (attendance at 3 meetings of the Club in the previous 12 months) could be satisfied – after all membership costs only $20 and seniors get a 50% discount! With no offense to the many seniors who have now joined the Club, the recruitment of new members could not have been a very expensive proposition for the organizers of the Saver strategy!

The Lakewood Democratic Club Board decided to have the endorsement meeting in August in order to have time to prepare, and then mail, the required endorsement postcard (as well as to place the announcement in the press) in plenty of time before early vote began in October. Since an endorsement vote at the September 29th meeting would have created an extremely tight timeline, the Board made a very sensible decision to have the endorsement meeting in August, especially since at the time of the decision, early vote was supposed to start during the very first week of October, before the courts eliminated “Golden Week”. The Club announced the endorsement meeting the requisite two weeks in advance. However at the August meeting, it became very apparent that the Savers did not want the endorsement vote to take place that month, presumably because some of their members did not have the requisite three meetings in before that meeting and, consequently, those individuals could not vote. Therefore, in an attempt to move the meeting to September, they claimed that some individuals did not receive adequate notification of the meeting.  So a motion was made late in the meeting, after many people had already placed their ballots in the ballot box and left the meeting, to move the endorsement vote to September. The meeting became raucous, unruly and rancorous. People talked and shouted over the President’s pleas for decorum and civility; there were loud boos and childish screeches when matters didn’t go a particular way; and dissention over how the vote was conducted. In the end, the motion to move the endorsement vote to September was seconded and passed with the majority of the votes of those still in attendance.

True to the Club’s avowed purpose of being democratic and principled, the President and Executive Committee were determined to conduct the next vote (as they had the previous one) as judiciously and transparently as they could. Member lists were reviewed again scrupulously; all members sent a written notice of the vote as well as asking their permission to opt out/in to the use of their personal contact information in future mailings by the Club. Member lists were also examined to assure that the required number of meetings had been attended to cast a vote.  All the arrangements were made to conduct a civil and rancor-free meeting including a request to members and guests for courtesy, decorum and to respect the policies of the club. A special Parliamentarian from the Cuyahoga Democratic Party was invited to serve as an ombudsman, and to avoid any unpleasant conflicts, the Lakewood Police were asked by the Club to be present!

The meeting on Thursday, September 29th was, as expected, very well attended. The vote was conducted simply and quietly, with the Parliamentarian explaining the rules. The votes were counted by members from each side, with two members from each side as observers. When the vote was completed, the Parliamentarian/ombudsman accompanied by a police officer was asked to go back into the room with the counters to verify/recount the votes. He returned and announced the result: NO ENDORSEMENT! To have the Club’s endorsement the winning side had to get 50% + 1 vote! And, when adding in the votes to abstain - each side had garnered exactly half of the remaining votes!

Democracy at work, indeed! Does this end the discussion? No, of course not! We do have the referendum in November, and the endorsement of the Club, while very valuable, does not guarantee anything. But it would be fair and right to end further discussions and rancor over this issue in this, our beloved City! It was sad to see some of the stony and angry faces after the vote; and to physically feel the tension and dislike that some members expressed at the August meeting. This is not the Lakewood we all chose to live in because it is vibrant and growing. No matter what the result of November’s election, we need to move forward, looking towards the future, looking towards a strong, united Lakewood where our families young and old can thrive in a healthy and civil environment.

Read More on Letters To The Editor
Volume 12, Issue 21, Posted 4:56 PM, 10.11.2016