Now that Bill Mason and Dean DePiero have decided not to run again, who'll be the next king of Parma politics? We'll find out soon. Three experienced Democrats are running to succeed DePiero as mayor of Cleveland's largest suburb: Chuck Germana, Tim DeGeeter, and Mickey Mottl. They'll face off in a May 3 primary.
It'll be an interesting election. DeGeeter, a state representative, is a Mason-DePiero ally. Mottl, former state rep and son of a former congressman, was once a rival of DePiero's. Germana, the former Parma city council president, is somewhere in between.
Germana is probably the best-known outside Parma, thanks to his seat on the new county council and his failed bid for its leadership. He's a solid, reliable guy, the type of mayor Parma was used to having before 2003, when it elected DePiero, then a 35-year-old rising star. If Germana wins the primary and the November election, he'd leave the county council after only a year. When he talked to the Sun News last week, he sounded like he hadn't expected DePiero to bail.
Lots of people didn't. But there are two good reasons DePiero is getting out of politics instead of heading to Congress or Columbus, as Bill Mason once told me he might.
One was foreshadowed in early 2004, when I visited DePiero in Parma City Hall for my profile of him, "The Flamingo Kid." On the way into his office, he introduced me to his administrative assistant and former campaign manager: Vince Russo. Nice guy, very young. I think I asked him if he was any relation to the other political Russos, and learned he was Frank Russo's son. I shook his hand and figured that with that then-golden name, he'd be elected judge within 10 years.
Instead, Vince's brief stint at Parma City Hall linked DePiero to the county corruption scandal five years later. It turns out Frank Russo bribed J. Kevin Kelley to stay out of the 2003 mayor's race. "In exchange for PO2 convincing Kelley to withdraw from the mayoral race, Kelley's opponent gave a thing of value to a relative of PO2," the Kelley charges read. Everyone knew the feds were hinting about DePiero, but he denied any wrongdoing.
The second reason DePiero's leaving is his family. I know, they all say that. But take a look at the Plain Dealer story about his announcement. Below the requisite scandal summary, we learn that DePiero lost his dad and a niece and nephew last year, and that his mother, Roberta (whom I interviewed about Parma in 2009), recently suffered a stroke. Reason enough not to make a bad year worse by spending it traipsing around town, running for re-election, having to answer Frank Russo questions everywhere you go.
So, with DePiero leaving the corner of Ridge and Ridgewood at year's end, and Mason retiring after 2012, who'll command the Parma wing of the Democratic Party -- the remains of Mason's machine, the southwest-county faction that stretches at least from Parma and Old Brooklyn to Berea Municipal Court? My quick guess is DeGeeter -- Mason's support will still help a lot in Parma itself -- but I wouldn't count Germana out either.
To read "The Flamingo Kid," my 2004 profile of DePiero, click here.