by Anne Trubek
At the Ward 15 Democratic Club meeting on Saturday morning, Councilman Matt Zone explained that the morning’s program—a debate on Issue 7, a ballot measure to extend a cigarette and alcohol tax to pay for the city’s three professional sports stadiums—was a first. Wards 15 and 16 had recently merged, a result of depopulation that led to redistricting. The newly formed ward club on this “midwest side of Cleveland” would be holding more events, Zone told the crowd of about 60, including one “the Tuesday after Easter.”
Easter was the reason why one of the panelists was without “the family support I was hoping for” at the event. “My wife and daughter are over at the Easter Egg hunt,” Martin McGann, who works for the Cleveland chamber of commerce, explained. We were sitting in the gym of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. On one wall was a giant mosaic of Pope John Paul XXIII; next to the pontiff was the school mascot, a gigantic tiger. On the other wall, above the blue and yellow bleachers pushed against the wall, were hand-made letters spelling out “Viva Italia” in red and green. From the rafters above draped the flags of the Vatican , the United States and the Mercedarian Community, which Google tells me is a Catholic order founded in 1218.
Attendees were sprinkled throughout, sitting in orange plastic chairs set up in rows. The debate was scheduled to start at 10:00, but by 10:15 no panelists or program had emerged. “The first half hour is always for networking,” I was told. “Saturday morning ward meetings: gotta shake hands.” And sure enough, small groups of folks stood chatting around the donut table and the registration desk. At 10:30 the event started and I did an informal count: 41 men, 14 women, 98% white, average age of about 50.
Zone introduced the moderator: “Many of you know Carrie,” and following that the speakers continued to speak in tongues. Places and names and acronyms flew about and the phrase “as most folks know” was uttered more than once. When one panelist mentioned a piece by “Miller in Crain’s,” everyone giggled. Miller, I later learned, is the father of the moderator.
There were a few verbal fisticuffs but not enough to pep up the sleepy, hungover crowd, and I could easily imagine the four men debating below the pulled up basketball hoop having a beer together while watching a game.
Afterwards, we were invited to stay for coffee and doughnuts, and new groups formed to chat. I went to the basement to find a bathroom, and walked through a cafeteria smelling like something meaty and doughy. The churchfolk were preparing for a “reverse raffle” to be held later on.
I walked out of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and along an urban street lined with hipster boutiques and new American bistros, businesses all born in the past few years in this neighborhood oft touted as an example of community resurgence. I walked from old world, old school white Democratic machine politics to millennial artisanal globalism, one might say.
Or maybe not. In both the hipster bar and the reverse raffle I would bet most know who that guy on stage was referring to when he described when “a certain person decided to move his team.” They understand what it meant when another mentioned “when a certain person made a certain decision.”
There is nothing more comforting or more scary than a tightly-knit community.
But what is the story of a Saturday morning ward meeting in Cleveland 2014 if not a story of stitches that have been dropped, creating holes in the fabric. The ghost residents of Ward 16 are as much a presence as are Art Modell and LeBron James. Holes are loss and holes are openings. Even I got some of the jokes. I looked up “Easter 2014” on my phone and drove home.
Anne Trubek is the founder and editor-in-chief of Belt Magazine. She is not a native Clevelander.