Politics on Location:

On the trail in Cuyahoga County

While presidential candidates are getting the lion's share of attention this year, for most politicians and campaign workers more is riding on the slew of spring primaries than the question of White House occupancy. State, county, and municipal campaigns across the country are gearing up with local pols pitting traditional seat-of-the-pants management and grass-roots arm-twisting against slick national media campaigns for voter attention.

Harvard offers no government courses which prepares one for politics in urban areas, such as the 20th Congressional District in Cleveland, Ohio where several former and current Harvard people are getting a baptism in realpolitik.

The Ohio primary takes place on June 8, and in the solidly-Democratic 20th Congressional District seemingly everyone and his cousin (literally) has jumped into the void left by incumbent Rep. James V. Stanton (D), who has announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. At this point, there are about twenty hopefuls, representative of a wide range of backgrounds in local and state political experience.

Somewhere along the strip of cheap bars, industrial warehouses and porno bookstores which line Detroit Avenue, one storefront advertises CELEBREZZE FOR CONGRESS. Anthony J. Celebrezze Jr., a state senator since 1974, is one jump ahead of the pack at this premature measuring point according to a recent private poll. And--although Detroit Avenue is a far cry from Nini's Corner, the Celebrezze headquarters is heavily staffed by Harvard people. Ira Forman '74, campaign manager, came back to Harvard in December to recruit, and with the aid of Office of Career Services and Off-Campus Learning (OCS-OCL) staffers he nailed down two undergraduates who were looking for excuses to flee after exams.

Cameron G. Nixon (sic) '78 of Cumberland, Rhode Island and Winthrop House, is still surprised to find himself talking of precincts, polls and re-districting instead of Gov 30's interest groups, bureaucracy and party loyalty drifts. A government concentrator, Nixon had not intended to take time off, but he started looking around to see what was available, applied for jobs, and "got sucked in deeper and deeper. There were good opportunities in political work this spring, and if you pass it up now, who knows? I dove for this now because there may not be another chance for awhile."

Kevin Riper '77 of Palo Alto, Calif. and Leverett House, says he is not headed for a political career. An Applied Math/Economics concentrator, Riper says he "wasn't originally interested in this field at all. But I saw the job listed in the OCS-OCL newsletter and decided, hey, this would be a good way to spend time off, as long as I would be doing something other than stuffing envelopes. I grew up in Palo Alto, a fairly wealthy suburb of San Francisco, then I went to Harvard--how 'elitist' can you get? I thought this would give me a chance to deal with real people, to hear their concerns--and it does."

The district in which Celebrezze is running--and, unlike most of his opponents, the district in which he lives--is a striking case study of urban politics. It is extremely liberal on economic questions and extremely conservative on social issues. "The same people who foam at the mouth about busing and have every stereotypic ethnic concern you could name are, on economic issues...well, I wouldn't want to say they're socialist, but they come awfully close," Nixon said last month.

While the district is all white, it is not the whiter shade of pale reflected in the gracious homes of Shaker Heights. The 20th's whiteness is tinged with the dirty grey of Cleveland's heavily industrialized flats; the Cuyahoga River, which cuts across the district, caught on fire several years ago because it was so heavily polluted with industrial waste. The population of this lower-middle-class urban stretch is predominantly of eastern European ancestry--Polish, German, Czech, Hungarian, plus some Irish and Italians--and roughly 75 per cent Catholic.

Crime--which has skyrocketed in the past year or two--is the number one issue for most constituents, followed closely by anxiety about the economy. Bearing the scars of heavy industry, yet strongly oriented towards small businesses and unionized labor, residents of the 20th are demanding checks on the reach of big business and more federal aid to workers and the unemployed--hence the district's economic radicalism. Social issues such as consumerism, pollution and abortion generate little interest, and international affairs do not claim much attention from district voters. Black-white relations have been a source of tension in the past; the racial issue lies just below the surface now, an uneasily quiet volcano which could erupt this summer when the District Court makes a decision on busing.

The scenes of local politicking are usually intimate. When Celebrezze staff members are lucky, that might mean talking to members of Local 91 in a bar down the street, but more frequently it means spending the evening in Democratic ward club meetings.

In the basement of St. Josephat's church, Gerald McFaul, Ward 31 Leader and a candidate for County Sheriff, greets his neighbors by first names as they stroll into the weekly gathering of the Ward Club, children in two and knitting ready. Campaign flyers scattered over tables, chairs and the floor advertise candidates for U.S. Congress, Cleveland City Council, District Judge and "McFaul for Sheriff." Forman is circulating petitions to assure that Celebrezze has more than enough names to put him on the ballot. City Councilman Michael L. Climaco, another candidate for Congress, is pumping hands and introducing himself as "the picture on that card you're holding." Although the room has the ambience more of an after-church coffee klatch than a political meeting, those present take their politics seriously. The gap between St. Josephat's basement and the House Chamber in Washington seems unbridgeable--but even House majority leader Thomas P. O'Neil (D-Mass.) got started in church basements.

The initial impression which clicks when you shake Tony Celebrezze's hand and listen to him talk is one of solidity and careful seriousness. Thirty-eight years old, Celebrezze has had two years' experience in the Ohio State Senate. Name recognition is no problem--Celebrezze comes from a prominent Cleveland political family. His father, Anthony Sr., presently a federal District Court judge in southern Ohio, was mayor of Cleveland and HEW Secretary under John F. Kennedy '40. His uncle is a Cleveland municipal judge, one cousin is an Ohio state senator and another--also a former state senator--is running against Tony this year.

Certainly, recognition presents no obstacle for a Celebrezze--but will two scions of that family confuse voters in a race which one Cleveland columnist claimed has "overtones of a family rivalry?" A recent poll done for Tony's campaign showed a big gap between his support and his cousin's--respectively, they garnered 25.6 per cent and 7.5 per cent. City Councilman Basil Russo, Tony's major opposition, remarked that "having two Celebrezzes in would be the best thing that could happen to me."

The campaign staff displays real affection for Celebrezze; as Forman said, "Tony creates loyalties." At the same time, Celebrezze can be difficult to work for because he spends most of his time in Columbus with Senate work. Forman heats up when he talks about this particular campaign-manager headache; he and his boss have a running battle over Celebrezze's absence from his district. "We don't have the dough to run a slick media campaign," laments Forman. "It's all personal contact--but Tony has to be here." Getting Celebrezze's name in the local news takes more calculation than for other candidates who hold local positions--what goes on in Columbus often loses out in competition with local news.

In a district where one-third of the population is slavic, there seems to be an overabundance of Italian surnames in the race. Behind Celebrezze and Russo jogs Michael Climaco, another young city councilman whose big issues are social security rip--offs and reducing U.S. imports. Despite his bias, Nixon is on target when he says, "Climaco has a good deal of polish but he's not big on substance. He gets all kinds of political mileage by wrapping himself in the flag and talking about things everyone has to be concerned about--but getting the facts wrong."