A Political Family Feud

Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

   … Where there is unity, there is the victory.
                       – Publilius Syrus

The Lucas County Democratic Party (Party) successfully pushed its slate of 2021 endorsed candidates through the primary election.

Yet, constant intra-Party fighting emanates from 2004 when the Party endorsed then challenger Pete Gerken over incumbent two-time president Harry Barlos for Lucas County Commissioner. Gerken’s 2004 endorsement set up the war and subsequent split between the Party’s A team and B team in the way that Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s 1914 assassination by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo caused World War I. Gerken took on Barlos in the primary and for the endorsement that started today’s Party infighting.

What’s going on now?

In May, the Party’s Gerken-led decision to overturn Party Chair Michael Ashford’s decision requiring endorsed candidates to obtain background checks and credit scores has set off another feud from within.

Allegedly, Ashford later yelled and hung up on Polly Gerken in protest of her use of his photo image on social media, implying Ashford’s endorsement of her campaign for the Toledo Public Schools board.

Why career professional politicians and great friends fight:

First of all, the dispute seems to be a personal conflict between two strong-willed Alpha males who are longtime friends and not a Party conflict. Second, the discord goes back to when Ashford’s wife, Ruth, ran against suspended Councilwoman Yvonne Harper for leadership of District 4.

Purportedly, there was a bond between Gerken and Ashford, not to ever involve their wives in their disputes. Today, each accuses the other of having broken the pact.

It’s hard to toe the party line when there are two (or more) lines:

In a big-tent political party such as the Democrats, there is, almost by definition, ample room for differing views, policies, approaches, and perspectives. Gerken feels that he is speaking for the body when he brings up alternative proposals. However, Ashford, the elected leader of the Party and a Black man, views Gerken’s constant propositions as a blatant challenge to his leadership.  In reality, repetitive arguments over what to do and how the organization should do things are, at the root, disputes over who is effectively “in charge” or a “sufficiently capable leader.”

How essential is unity?

There could be a political price to pay in Toledo’s 2021 City Council at-large general election, where some fluidity exists among the 12 candidates for the final six spots.

Studies show that Party divisiveness could hurt candidates a lot, a little, or not at all, or that they only hurt incumbents. If the current pattern of conflict continues, the Party could be viewed as disorganized and inept, allowing Republicans and Finkbeiner and his endorsed candidates a better chance to win.

So, here are my general thoughts:

  • Former President Barack Obama famously said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” But it is also true, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” So, it’s a good idea for new leaders not to make too many changes too soon.
  • The Party must not “take their eyes off the road by focusing on the pothole right in front of them, and lose their vision of the vast, wide-open spaces available to them.” In other words, let go, focus on the road ahead and don’t micromanage or show disdain or disrespect to its leadership.
  • When disharmony comes from disputes among the leadership, it creates a tense and stressful atmosphere where leaders primarily oversee confrontation, taking away from the focus on more critical issues.

The Outcome:

Political whisperers and insiders in the shadows indicate that “bitching and fighting” has intensified to the point where Ashford and Gerken have disavowed their friendship and refuse to speak to each other.

A major funder has called a meeting and threatened to cut off funds and other Party support unless peace is made between the two.

How will it come out?

Where there is unity, there is victory!

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at drdlperryman@centerofhopebaptist.org