Voter guides are a convenient way for citizens to compare the qualities of candidates running for office. At a glance, you can cross-reference the accomplishments, opinions, and personal backgrounds of the various hopefuls. As the primary election for Cuyahoga County Executive and Council approaches, a Northeast Ohio newspaper has added a new element to the standard candidate profile --- criminal record. ideastream®'s David C. Barnett reports.
Plain Dealer Metro Editor Chris Quinn says his paper regularly does background checks on candidates, usually noting such things as past criminal convictions and personal bankruptcies in the body of an article. Traditionally, there hasn't been much to list. But, he says, this time, things are different.
QUINN: With the elections for the new government --- particularly the County Council seats --- we've hit a lot of people with criminal backgrounds --- and some serious things. There's a couple with murder, there's somebody who tried to pick up a 12-year-old boy for sex, and rather than bog down stories with a litany of these things, we figured the most convenient way of getting it out there is to put it in the "bio boxes".
The "bio box" is a familiar feature for many newspapers, during the political season --- usually a photograph accompanied by several bullet points about each candidate. Quinn says several candidates with past brushes with bankruptcy have cried foul.
QUINN: They've felt that you shouldn't hold it against somebody that they had financial trouble --- which is legitimate, but we figured that voters do have the right to know about the people handling their taxes.
Hiram College political science professor Jason Johnson, says there is a precedent for listing some of the unsavory aspects of a political candidate's background. He says papers in Miami and Detroit have both noted criminal charges against former mayors that came to light only after they had been elected.
JOHNSON: It's sort of like, after you've been on a few blind dates, you start asking up front what kind of problems a person may have. And so, after a community has been burned by politicians who were personally, or professionally, or legally irresponsible, it is the responsibility of the newspaper to say, "Hey look, who are we going out to dinner with here?"
Cuyahoga County voters will weigh in on their Republican and Democrat dinner dates on Tuesday, September 7th.