Brown has never run for office before, but she hopes her executive experience impresses reform-minded voters sick of politicians' scandals. As executive director of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, she cleaned up the agency after scandal. She learned economic development as a community development aide to Mayor Mike White and served as president of University Circle Inc. and a vice president for diversity at National City.
What we should expect from the new county executive: "We have to establish a new culture: expecting excellence in service delivery, holding people accountable to very clear expectations of performance," Brown says. The county executive should be "somebody who's built something," she says, because the new government will help develop the Medical Mart.
Jobs: "New revenues coming into the county from the casino [should] be dedicated to economic development and work force development," Brown says. The county should pursue a "place-based" economic strategy, using the county land bank "for assembling land, clearing land, that we would then market for new businesses and expansion of businesses."
Regionalism: The executive should help communities find ways to work together. "We read about cities sharing SWAT teams or call centers, and it feels so novel. It shouldn't be novel." The county and cities should share planning efforts, with the county helping identify land for development.
More reforms: Brown wants to follow up on the county's successful early-childhood programs with a similar program for adolescents — "how they communicate, civic engagement, leadership development, as well as multicultural experience." She proposes new rules for appointments to county boards, including a requirement that a majority of appointees be affiliated with neither political party.
The current county government's successes and failures: "What we could absolutely improve is in creating a shared vision for what we as Cuyahoga County want to be known for, or what we are working towards. I'm not sure that we have that today. Where we succeed is large-scale projects of impact. We come together and make them happen: Gateway, the Medical Mart, the casino, the Rock Hall and Science Center."
Can Terri Hamilton Brown become a politician?
As we sift through candidates for the county executive job, Terri Hamilton Brown may have the best résumé in the pile. After taking over the county's public housing authority from Claire Freeman, who was fired for corruption, Brown got rid of foot-dragging holdovers and transformed the agency's finances from unauditable to pristine. A star of Mike White's early City Hall cabinet, she played a major part in developing the Church Square shops-and-housing complex near the Cleveland Clinic.
But here's the problem with Brown's job application: communication skills. She's stumbled in interviews and seemed stiff in some public forums. She's a first-time candidate, and it shows.
On paper, Brown has a plausible path to beating FitzGerald in the Sept. 7 Democratic primary, by combining votes from Issue 6 supporters with endorsements from black political leaders and financing from businesspeople who know her from her time at National City and her consulting work with the Greater Cleveland Partnership. But Brown seemed stalled until mid-August, when she won the endorsement of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge. She lagged behind FitzGerald in fundraising, and she'd just started to attack him over Issue 6. To close the gap, she has to show better political instincts and more eloquence than she's shown so far.