Capital has mobilized in Northeast Ohio this summer to crush Nina Turner in the August 3rd Ohio 11th US House District special election Democratic Party primary. Nina was cruising this spring with a 35 point lead, a bottomless pit of online donations, collecting endorsements not just from “the Squad” but from many elected officials across the local Democratic Party’s Bernie Sanders leaning wing, even establishment figures like outgoing Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who is no Bernie Bro. All summer in response, dark money in defense of capital has flooded Cleveland and Akron airwaves, mailboxes, and everything else to prop up pointless neoliberal lab specimen Shontel Brown, chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, and county councilwoman.
While Nina embraced BreadTube online capitalist Cenk Uyghur in a pay-walled top secret “town hall” covered here at Midwestern Marx, the chief culprit of capital became over half a million dollars (so far) from, predictably, Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), whose ads’ message to date has been that Nina is not a party loyalist, doesn’t support Joe Biden, and isn’t a real Democrat. (DMFI hasn’t called Nina an anti-semite...yet.) Nina’s 35 point lead is now heading to (or even equals) zero, according to multiple polls showing a dead heat, less than 3 weeks from election day August 3rd.
As I argued some time ago here on Midwestern Marx, messaging Nina as Not A Democrat would have played very much in her favor if she had run as an independent against Shontel Brown in the November general election, a ballot of non-partisan local elections, including for Cleveland mayor, where party ID is not the driver of turnout, and is even shunned. In a Democratic primary ultra low turnout special election in August, turnout will be driven, if at all, by establishment likely voters who always vote in Democratic Party primaries no matter when they occur, and by the well known machines in the party apparatus, including capitalists who want this seat in the US Congress to represent some other country, namely Israel.
August 3rd’s group of likely voters is largely Cleveland African American women older than 60, who increasingly vote by mail, and robotically do precisely what they are told by TV ads. This dynamic mirrors the 2020 presidential primary, specifically in South Carolina, where Rep. Jim Clyburn turned the key on the same machine for Joe Biden, as he has done in OH11 for Shontel Brown. Another, probably smaller chunk will be Jewish Democrats in suburban Cuyahoga County, who were the first to hold an online debate in OH11 in March, during which Nina left no daylight between herself and Shontel on the issue of congressional funding for Israel. One wonders why DMFI bothers, since it matters nothing whether Nina or Shontel end up the Congresslady for Israel, but that’s another article.
This establishment turnout August 3 will form a disproportionately large chunk of what will be very low overall turnout. In our recent Midwestern Marx podcast on the race I predicted 7% turnout, but given all the money flooding in, turnout may approach 15% or even higher, the vast majority of which will be these Democratic Party establishment voters in Cuyahoga County, who have quite a bit more reason than merely national trends to send Nina packing. These voters not only remember Nina flipping her endorsement from Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders in 2015. Nina Turner has a comeuppance she’s been avoiding from precisely these establishment African American voters, dating to the deep distant past of...2009.
The most consequential political act of Nina’s career was her 2009 endorsement of Issue 6, a new county charter launched by Cleveland’s highest levels of capital in response to a penny ante “scandal” in county government in 2008. Cleveland’s business establishment seized the moment to wipe away layers of county government in one fell swoop. Crucially, Nina Turner was the only African American elected official to support Issue 6 in Cuyahoga County, launching Nina’s “maverick” era of unrestrained love from the media oligarchs who desperately needed at least one African American face on the sheep’s clothing covering their fox. The new charter erased every countywide elected official in county government (auditor, recorder, commissioner, etc.) except for two - county executive, and of course, county prosecutor. Ever since Issue 6 passed with Nina Turner’s help over a decade ago, no African Americans have been elected to countywide office in Cuyahoga County.
Before the new county charter passed in 2009 with Nina’s indispensable help, African Americans were regularly in countywide office, complete with patronage jobs to hand out in the community by the hundreds. In fact, keeping African Americans in countywide office was a decades long top priority for the two county party officials targeted by the “scandal”, former county auditor Frank Russo (who last year was released from federal prison due to covid-19), and former county commissioner and county party chair Jimmy Dimora, who is still in federal prison. Today, under the new charter Nina helped pass, there is zero chance an African American gets elected countywide in Cuyahoga County.
The DMFI funded Shontel Brown message that Nina Is No Democrat thus lands on the most fertile ground possible. Establishment African American voters on August 3rd well remember Nina’s Issue 6 bear hug with big business in 2009 that erased every countywide African American office holder forever. These voters likely even know (and may be themselves) people who lost their jobs because of Issue 6, candidates who had planned to run countywide, county employees smeared by the “scandal” 13 years ago, precinct committee people whose opportunities are limited because African Americans can never rise through the party to countywide office. The list is rather endless.
At the time, Cleveland’s historic African American newspaper The Call & Post vilified Nina in the most vicious way possible, an Aunt Jemima cartoon caricature, published after the new charter passed in November, 2009, saying, “Frank Sinatra said it best in a love ballad. ‘Girls were made to kiss, but Nina never knew.’ Obviously, State Sen. Nina Turner didn’t know the damage she did to her career when she became the only black elected official to jump headstrong and support Issue 6 – county government reform...all black elected officials, former elected officials, community leaders and institutions including this newspaper said ‘No’ to the so-called reform. Nina Turner was the only exception.”
Worse, the real world effects of the 2009 charter did nothing to address the “corruption” its backers like Nina claimed to solve; quite the opposite. In addition to leaving the county prosecutor the only remaining countywide elected position besides executive, corruption has stove piped itself to gargantuan heights, featuring on demand handouts to the city’s sports billionaires, as the county jail regularly wheels out bodies of prisoners abused to death by guards. County council seats like the one Shontel sits on are nothing more than musical chairs added to a politicians’ career, with far fewer of those drawn to elect an African American, with far less power than existed under the previous county government. The county government Nina created with her own hand is a comical grotesquery, thus, during this election, mention of Issue 6 in 2009 has never once passed Nina’s lips, nor Shontel’s.
Is Nina Turner a better candidate for a leftist than Shontel Brown? That depends on if you like what Nina says better than what Nina does. If so, then yes, Nina Turner is a far better candidate for a leftist. For DMFI, and the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, it really does not matter whether Nina or Shontel wins the seat, because there isn’t a difference in the world between them, even on Israel. The only difference that would have mattered to me (go ahead, call me an ultra), and made me care, or even volunteer, is if Nina had run as an independent in the fall, outside this maggot pit of worms and thieves, to destroy it. Nina did not, which was not only a mistake for radical leftism, but looks to be shaping up to be a big mistake for her, period. Having lost her 35 point lead in a matter of months, a strange, long brewing comeuppance whose seeds she laid herself may await Nina Turner on August 3rd.
Tim Russo is author of Ghosts of Plum Run, an ongoing historical fiction series about the charge of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg. Tim's career as an attorney and international relations professional took him to two years living in the former soviet republics, work in Eastern Europe, the West Bank & Gaza, and with the British Labour Party. Tim has had a role in nearly every election cycle in Ohio since 1988, including Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020. Tim ran for local office in Cleveland twice, earned his 1993 JD from Case Western Reserve University, and a 2017 masters in international relations from Cleveland State University where he earned his undergraduate degree in political science in 1989. Currently interested in the intersection between Gramscian cultural hegemony and Gandhian nonviolence, Tim is a lifelong Clevelander.