By Larry Durstin
By using the above cry for justice employed by the angry and the ironic since the 1960s, hopefully I have the attention of both the many outraged by the three-DUI resume of Cleveland’s Ward 2 councilman Zack Reed, and the others who may be more sympathetic to the controversial legislator.
I fall into the latter category. I first became aware of Reed when I covered local politics for the Cleveland Free Times a decade ago. He always struck me as an agitated outsider among his fellow councilman – a square peg trying to fit into what was essentially the black hole of Cleveland City Council, a not-so-august body with a decidedly low bar for measuring achievement and the corresponding timidity that accompanies such dreary dispassion.
After a while, I found myself seeking Reed out for comments on the issues facing council, mainly because he seemed, unlike the majority of his council-mates, to not only exhibit a pulse but to actually have something to say on the serious matters facing both Cleveland and his oft-troubled Mount Pleasant/Kinsman ward. In journalistic parlance, he was good copy
But there was genuine substance to his style. In 2005, after getting a few years of seniority in council, he became more aggressive in his approach and not only toward the usual establishment suspects often targeted by African-American leaders. When he protested the absence of blacks working on a construction site on Kinsman Road, he lashed out – not at the developers or the Man – but at the lack of support he was getting for his efforts from the black community itself. He said, “There wasn’t anyone from my ward putting pressure on me or activists coming over from other communities. It was just me and it fizzled because people said I was running for mayor. There’s no intense pressure to mobilize for change in our community. It’s dormant.”
This is not exactly the typical formula for winning votes among your constituents and he took a lot of heat for his stance. That same year he came down long and hard on the police as he led the charge for an empowered citizen’s review board following the shooting of 15-year-old Brandon McCloud in his bedroom by two Cleveland cops pursuing McCloud for allegedly robbing a pizza driver. Needless to say, the police were unhappy at Reed’s “grandstanding,” and he’s been a marked man by them ever since.
True to form, however, Reed made headlines shortly thereafter by blasting – not police repression – but the “thugs” in his ward and throughout the city who are making lives miserable for the good people in the community. He called them out loudly and defiantly in the same manner that fellow blunt-speaking councilman Mike Polensek has bravely chosen to do on numerous occasions. And, like Polensek, he didn’t hide, he showed up – everywhere. Each is not afraid to take unpopular stands and back them up with actions. How rare is that, nowadays?
Those who cover council or follow the Cleveland political scene know that Reed – along with being a genuinely bright and gutsy agitator – is one of the city’s hardest-working public officials and excels when it comes to constituent service, arguably a council members’ most important job. My guess is that in the last 10 years Reed has been to more neighborhood meetings and political get-togethers all over the city than any other Cleveland politician.
So that brings us to the demons and the three DUI’s and the possibility that his political career could be ended because of them. He is an alcoholic and nomadic night owl, sometimes careening from spot to spot on a ‘the-heart-is-a-lonely-hunter’ kind of loop. Been there, done that, so you won’t get blanket condemnation from me but neither will you get an excuse for his behavior. He deserves to be punished for breaking the law and potentially endangering the lives of his fellow human beings.
If, on September 5, visiting judge Larry Allen chooses to give him the maximum sentence of six months, Reed could be faced with being expelled from council for missing 10 consecutive meetings. If that happens, Council President Martin Sweeney, a man who does not have support from Reed on many issues, could banish him from serving and potentially get rid of a consistent detractor. This would not be wise for Sweeney to do, since Reed is probably going to be easily re-elected by his constituents, and the brouhaha that would ensue would not be good for anyone involved.
Allen should use his discretion to make sure Reed gets punished for his misdeeds but does not have his livelihood taken away. Sweeney, who may be on the ropes and out as council president anyway because of eroding support and the likely defeat of two of his supporters (T.J. Dow and Eugene Miller), should take the high road and, even in the unlikely case that Allen gives Reed six consecutive months, not expel Reed.
But, many will say, what about sending the wrong message by allowing Reed to continue in council? That is certainly a valid way of looking at this unfortunate situation. For me, however, after watching Reed carry out his council duties over the past decade, I’ve concluded that he has been a true asset to both his ward and the city of Cleveland and deserves the chance to keep up the good work.
Larry Durstin is an independent journalist who has covered politics and sports for a variety of publications and websites over the past 20 years. He was the founding editor of the Cleveland Tab and an associate editor at the Cleveland Free Times. Durstin has won 12 Ohio Excellence in Journalism awards, including six first places in six different writing categories. LarryDurstinATyahoo.com