Opinion: Divisive Decisions

Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

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

  If you can find ways to balance the differences within your teams, you can discover that a(n) [organization] can be a beautiful example of diversity and an antidote to [today’s toxic] echo chambers.  –  Kristen Sieffert

The local Democrats’ “private” decision to appoint Anita Lopez as Tina Skeldon Wozniak’s successor for Lucas County Commissioner appeared to be a seamless transition, reflecting a consensus within the Party. That is, until the tranquility was abruptly disrupted by Party Chair Paula Hicks-Hudson’s unexpected challenge for the same position. This surprising twist has introduced a potential rift within the Party and also illuminated a complex strategic quandary.

Hicks-Hudson’s delayed entry into the race is far more than a mere assertion of ambition; it’s a pivotal moment that forces the Party to confront its approach to internal competition and consensus-building.

While Lopez’s candidacy is bolstered by significant support from key Party factions, notably the Building Trades, which “owns” the central committee, and by the understated but powerful influence of David Fleetwood and Local 500, her path is not unobstructed.

Hicks-Hudson’s challenge as party chair, reinforced with the power of the gavel, adds a dramatic twist. Her backing, especially from Tony Totty and the UAW, points to a divided base, with each faction rallying behind its chosen candidate.

The unfolding story has become noticeably rife with tension. Behind the scenes, there’s a flurry of activity – meetings, negotiations, and scrambling to secure central committee votes as Lopez and Hicks-Hudson engage in a delicate power dance, each trying to outmaneuver the other.

However, a third option has surfaced in this charged atmosphere – appointing a temporary placeholder until a primary can be held, allowing voters to choose the replacement rather than the Party. This move, seemingly a masterstroke of political strategy, could offer a temporary truce. However, this solution is tenuous, a mere band-aid over a deeper wound of division and rivalry that doesn’t address the underlying tensions.

Indeed, the prospect of a primary battle between Lopez and Hicks-Hudson leaves the latter as a decided longshot. Lopez’s formidable candidacy is built on her five-time countywide ballot appearances, property tax reductions, and gifted communication skills. She is well into her electoral strategy implementation –  working on campaigning, raising money, making speeches, and trips.

With her established record and broad recognition, Lopez poses a daunting challenge to Hicks-Hudson, whose late start leaves much catchup work to do. Therefore, a primary contest risks becoming even more polarizing, drawing battle lines within and diverting attention from the Party’s more pressing collective objectives.

Simultaneously, there’s speculation around Hicks-Hudson potentially leveraging her candidacy for a strategic gain – specifically eyeing the Lucas County Auditor position that Lopez would vacate. This maneuver, extending beyond the immediate goal of securing the Commissioner seat, could reshape the Party’s internal dynamics and affect other emerging leaders like Katie Moline, who may also have aspirations for the Auditor role.

Moreover, Hicks-Hudson’s shift from vying for the Commissioner seat to potentially occupying the Auditor role is a pragmatic approach to maintaining influence while avoiding a direct confrontation with Lopez. This could either raise complaints of political opportunism and how leaders navigate their careers within Party structures or be applauded as business-as-usual hierarchy and succession planning within the Party.

Nevertheless, if Lopez and Hicks-Hudson both decide to run, the primary could transform into a battlefield, with each candidate leveraging their political acumen and support bases. This contest is critical for both candidates and, if divisive, also holds significant negative implications for the Party’s prospects in the 2024 Presidential election and Senator Sherrod Brown’s crucial re-election campaign.

So, as the plot nears its climax, the question of leadership and direction for the Party becomes paramount. Will the Party opt for the electoral appeal of Lopez or the experience of Hicks-Hudson as Toledo’s first African-American female mayor? Or, will the Party find a middle path, preserving its unity and focus for the challenges ahead?

For Hicks-Hudson, her entry into the fray represents a test of her influence within the Party.

The Party, for its part, must begin proactively having the tough conversations necessary to balance fostering healthy internal competition and maintaining Party cohesion.

How it handles the Lopez and Hicks-Hudson situation will set a precedent for future leadership contests while building a solid foundation to weather the combative times in which we live.

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