I ran into Bill Mason last month at an event and asked him if he was endorsing in the race to succeed him as Cuyahoga County prosecutor. No, he said, and gave the standard diplomatic line of an incumbent laying low, some variation on, "There's a lot of good candidates out there."
Then Mason told me about a vote the Democratic Party ward leaders had taken the day before on whether the party should endorse a candidate. Like an NFL fan obsessing over his betting pool, he recited the numbers from memory:
28 votes to recommend
James McDonnell, 26
Kevin Kelley, 16
Tim McGinty, 7
Subodh Chandra, 4
Bob Triozzi, 1
Mason may not be running or endorsing, but the veteran political pro still loves the game.
I was surprised at the results. McDonnell, a defense attorney and brother of county judge Nancy McDonnell, is the least known of the five candidates. (Kelley is a Cleveland councilman, McGinty a county judge, Chandra and Triozzi former Cleveland law directors.)
Mason said McDonnell had been working hard for the endorsement, spending months making the rounds of ward meetings to introduce himself.
I knew this was true. I met McDonnell this summer at Zagara's grocery store in Cleveland Heights, where he was wearing a James J. McDonnell For Cuyahoga County Prosecutor T-shirt. He told me he was visiting Democratic neighborhood picnics and the like.
Back then I might've agreed with Mark Naymik's description of McDonnell in an October report on the race: "He's amiable but over-confident and is relying on a decent ballot name to propel him." Guess he wasn't over-confident after all. All that hard work is paying off.
Just how much it pays off, we'll see today. The county Democrats are gathering at the Music Hall to vote on whether to endorse in the March primary. A winner could get a big advantage. Ed FitzGerald's party endorsement in last year's executive race helped propel him through the primary.
But it won't be easy for McDonnell or anyone else to get that endorsement. As Mason, the experienced party politicker, pointed out, a candidate needs 60 percent of the vote to get it. So the five-way race could remain wide open until the voters get a chance to decide.
Update, 12/8: No one got the endorsement. Anastasia Pantsios describes the meeting and vote on Ohio Daily Blog: McDonnell had support in the western suburbs, Chandra in the eastern suburbs, Kelley in the city of Cleveland.
Update, 12/15: Mark Naymik reports that every Parma Democrat voted for McDonnell. Hmm...