Thursday, October 1, 2009

East Cleveland voters unseat Brewer: Was it the pictures?

Did the racy pictures take him down?

East Cleveland Mayor Eric Brewer was thrown out of office Tuesday, six days after WKYC TV 3 broadcasted photos purported to be of the mayor in women's lingerie.

Last Wednesday must've been the worst day of Brewer's life: the TV report came out only hours after his father, Harold Pride Brewer, died. At a press conference the next day, Brewer wouldn't confirm or deny the photos were of him. But in his classic combative style, he tried to turn the scandal into a jujitsu counterattack. He accused city cops and his election opponent, city council president Gary Norton, of passing the photos around. Norton has repeatedly denied this; the head of the police union denied it too.

Once WKYC ran the cross-dressing boudoir photos, the other local TV stations got a hold of their own copies and ran 'em too. Now they've gone viral, inspiring a snarky post from celebrity blogger Perez Hilton and jokes on the Late Late Show (which inspired this blog post about transgendered rights).

Tuesday night, Brewer lost, attracting only 36 percent of the vote. He blamed the photo scandal. "The reality is the only thing that got [Norton] over was the media broadcasting the information, pictures that had not been authenticated," Brewer told Fox 8 reporter Kevin Freeman.

Phillip Morris will have none of that. East Cleveland voters "did themselves a tremendous public service," he writes in his Plain Dealer column today. He quotes Norton as saying: "By electing me, voters have said they want a mayor who operates from a different set of values and tactics. They want a consensus builder -- not a destroyer."

I heard that line -- destroyer -- while reporting for my May 2006 profile of Brewer, "Ready to Rumble." The mayor, a longtime muckraking journalist, has a knack for tearing his enemies apart. That's actually one reason voters elected him mayor in 2005: I think they agreed with his judgments of former mayor Saratha Goggins, whom he unseated after writing about her manslaughter conviction, and his archenemy, previous mayor Emmanuel Onunwor, who ended up in federal prison for taking bribes from Nate Gray. Norton gave Brewer less to work with: The mayor's newspaper-style campaign literature tried to make the challenger sound dangerous by reporting on his bad grades in college.

Still, even the Plain Dealer editorial page, which endorsed Norton, had to admit Brewer delivered on some key issues. He added cops to the police force, the crime rate has fallen under his leadership, and he kept his biggest campaign promise: he lowered water rates, thanks to a new deal with Cleveland's water department.

So how would the election have gone without the photos? I don't think anyone polled East Cleveland during the race, so I drove through the city last week, conducting my own Extremely Scientific Lawn Sign Poll.

By my count, Norton's red signs outnumbered Brewer's green, but not by a lot. Brewer seemed to have almost as many supporters as Norton in some neighborhoods just north and south of Euclid Avenue. But Norton's slim sign advantage got stronger when I drove up the hill to the middle-class neighborhood next to Cleveland Heights that includes some Rockefeller homes.

{My guess is, without the photo scandal, Norton would've have won, but the race would've been pretty close.} Update, 10/29: A closer look at the election results proves this wrong.

Brewer got 37% at the polls on Election Day, and only 34% in early voting. The vast majority of early votes in East Cleveland -- 836 of 971 -- were already cast by Sept. 24, the day Brewer held his press conference about the photos.

The results before and after were almost the same: 2 to 1 against the mayor.

Why did the Lawn Sign Poll fail me? Take a look at the anonymous comment below for a possible reason: The foreclosure epidemic may throw it off.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric. I disagree with your opinion that the race would have been close without the photos. Just look at the absentee ballot totals. Norton won that vote by almost 2 to 1, too. Most of the absentee votes, however, were cast BEFORE the pictures came out. As for the signs, all of Norton's signs were placed where people live. Many of Brewer's, however, were placed at vacant homes.

By counting signs, you might have been deceived. Norton beat Brewer badly .... months before the election.