Creating a New Democratic Party: Ohio's Democrats Hope to Build New Legacy for Party
David C. Barnett- Sherman Brown sits on a bench outside of an upscale shopping center in Boardman, on the outskirts of Youngstown. Fancy restaurants and a Barnes & Noble bookstore are part of a sprawling development that is growing on the edge of the aging industrial city. Sherman Brown is a North Carolina native who has spent the past 14 years in the Youngstown area. The CEO of a marketing firm, he sees himself as part of a new generation of activists who will change the local political scene just as much as these new retail outlets are changing the Greater Youngstown economy. But change is slow.
Sherman Brown- I think one has to understand the origins of Youngstown politics, the Democratic machine, and, as the people in Chicago can tell you, democratic machines are very hard to break-up and dismantle.
DCB- That "machine" was the creature of old-line cozy relationships between big steel officials, politicians, and the mob. Youngstown politics can be combative - and highly theatrical.
Of course, last year, the melodrama that took place in the White House sometimes threatened to over-shadow the posturing of flamboyant local congressman James Trafficant. As such, Sherman Brown thinks the Democrats will be bringing a mixed legacy to voters this fall.
SB- Obviously this country is under a phenomenal economic boom. But obviously, the personal disasters that happened in the White House will haunt him. I think with Mr. Gore selecting Senator Lieberman, that will help neutralize some of this, but I still think Gore will be carrying some Clintonesque baggage going into November 4th.
Nancy Shew- It's an issue. There are a lot of people that like to judge people morally.
DCB- Nancy Shew is a Canton democrat who thinks the Clinton personal scandals have to be put in perspective.
NS- I think it's gone on for a century with public officials, but it was always taboo to attack anyone in a prominent position. That has changed. I think it's probably good that his term is up, even though he's been very effective. The economy is good. I think his foreign policy has been very effective. And I think Al Gore can carry on and continue to do a good job.
DCB- Shew's politics come from her blue collar up-bringing in Stark county. Her parents were independents, who usually voted for the Democratic ticket, but sometimes voted for Republicans who they thought understood working-class issues.
NS- I worked in a grocery store for 13 years. I was a cashier, I worked produce, I worked in the main office... I did all of those things.
DCB- And "all of those things" sparked an interest in labor issues for Nancy Shew, leading to an involvement with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 880. Today, she will be experiencing her very first political convention.
NS- I think this will be a great learning experience - to actually be there and participate in the process. I think that I have a good feel for issues that have an impact on working people and especially women. I think I can take that message and have contact with people who can make a difference. If I can make one person's life better, I've accomplished my goal.
DCB- One of the criticisms of the recent Republican nominating convention was that it came off as a "staged event". And some observers think the Democratic gathering will be no better. Law Student Tracy Turoff of Mayfield Heights was witness to such staging four years ago when she was a featured speaker at the last Democratic convention, in Chicago, at the age of 24.
Tracy Turoff- I got up to the Teleprompter. They taught us how to use it the night before and had made a big deal about teaching us. They promised that it had never broken before and, of course, I got up there and looked at the Teleprompter - and it was blank.
DCB- That technical glitch is symbolic of a communication break-down that Turroff feels sometimes separates old-line democrats and the new generation.
TT- Social Security, for instance, is always talked about in terms of senior citizens. And the truth is that, the senior citizens of today aren't really in danger of losing social security. If any group would be, it would be my generation. And no one addresses that issue with us.
DCB- But, despite the challenges, Tracy Turroff, like Nancy Shew and Sherman Brown, still believe in the potential of the Democratic party to lead the country into a better future.
SB- Honestly, I was a Republican for a hot second when I was in high school and quickly got through that phase. There wasn't any specific incident. It was like the prodigal son - you go away, you experience things, sometimes things work out, sometimes they don't, but eventually, you always come home.
DCB- Tonight the Democratic family will stage their home movie for the country, replete with the requisite balloons, speeches - and Teleprompters. In Cleveland, David C. Barnett, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.