Friday, December 14, 2007

Marc Dann at the Akron Press Club

Cross-Posted on Ohio Daily
Marc Dann is not the guy he looks like in his publicity still. The man pictured on the Attorney General website looks happy and friendly and, well, a little pudgy. Soft. Soft in a good, nice, favorite uncle sort of way, but still soft.

Marc Dann in person is far more imposing. Broad-shouldered and barrel-chested, with a persistent set to his jaw, in person he looks hard. Hard in a good, tough, guy you want to have your back sort of way, but still hard.

Marc Dann spoke at the Akron Press Club today. With a variety of disclosures and caveats1, here are a few impressions. He is, again, an imposing presence. Yes, he carries a little of the extra padding that comes with middle age, but it’s layered atop a bruising physique. He carries himself like the former o-lineman he is.

Dann is also a forceful speaker. Whatever one thinks about his policies, he speaks with impressive passion about his accepted mission to act on behalf of consumers and citizens. Part of the rap on Dann during his first year in office, on both the left and the right, has been his lack of political acumen. In contrast to the occasional missteps of the last eleven months, the speech today was a political masterwork. In particular, Dann’s speech did two things Democrats need to do better, and did both wonderfully.

First, Dann bucked the narrative. The narrative on Dann is that he is too hard. Too combative, too volatile, too mean. In Jim Rome speak, Dann has a reputation as Likes to Fight Guy.2
Today in contrast, Dann was self-effacing, particularly when acknowledging his missteps. Here’s how he started the day:

    It’s appropriate I speak prospectively about my term at the invitation of an organization founded by journalists. First, because as the husband of an award-winning investigative reporter and journalism professor, I understand the value of the fourth estate. And second, given the amount of material I’ve given to reporters the past year, the least you could do is buy me lunch.
He went on to catalogue the column inches and “one memorable YouTube moment” he lavished on the news media this year.

He kept that side to the audience throughout the afternoon. During questions, when a woman complemented him on “all the information” he gave in his speech, he quipped, “That’s a nice way of saying I spoke too long.” Too often Dems seem oblivious to their narratives -- everyone has one -- and because they fail to counter the narrative, they instead deepen it. Dann understands what people are saying about him and works to makes sure they see his other facets.

Dann also frames issues well. Much of his work this year has been in consumer protection and fraud cases. He describes shifting the philosophy of the office toward serving citizens as a cornerstone of his administration. The obvious first criticism is that he is a regulation-happy Democrat who is bad for business. In his speech he first introduces the topic as protecting consumers and ethical businesses. He recounts speaking to business leaders who want robust enforcement of laws they obey so they aren’t working at a disadvantage.

And when he got an inevitable question about casino gambling, he shifted the discussion to the problem of “unregulated gambling machines” left by his predecessors. In other words, he was talking about the skill machines. He had statistics at the ready of, for example, how poorly they pay in contrast to machines in states with legalized gambling. And he was quick, in that instance and others, to complement the legislature for addressing the problem.

Though he is genuinely angry about some of the policies, particularly of the Bush adminstration, that put fealty to business interests above all else, he can voice that anger without sounding like a Naderite ativism. Much of that is thanks to the attention he pays to framing.

Marc Dann has a tough road ahead. His was the most surprising of the statewide wins and he is generally seen as the most vulnerable Democrat in 2010. But he already can tick off a nice-sounding list of accomplishments – the AOL/Time Warner settlement, fighting with MySpace over sexual predators and closing failing charter schools, to name a few. And if today’s speech is an indication, he’s learning more about the politics side of the office as well.

ANN has what appears to be audio of the entire speech. In addition, the presentation will air on public access: Dec. 20 at 9 p.m., Dec. 22 at 7 p.m and Dec. 23 at 4 p.m. Then it will roll into free on-demand on Time/Warner.

Also, he didn't mention it today, but the AG's office has a new, constituent-friendly website, (h/t BSB).

1I am a newly appointed member of the Board of Trustees of the Press Club. In addition, a friend of mine works for Dann and that friend arranged for Dann to sit down for a few questions for an upcoming article. And that friend also contributed some of the elements that impressed me about the speech. To that last, I suspected I saw his fingerprints, but didn’t find out until afterwards, after he made fun of my car.

2Described as follows: “Most guys don’t want to get into a fight, but figure if I have to go, I’ll go. Likes to Fight Guy wants to go.” The current archetype of Likes to Fight Guy is Yankees reliever Kyle Farnsworth who rushed the plate last season, in defiance of all diamond brawl convention.


John Ettorre said...

Hey, Scott, I'm thrilled to learn you're on the board of the Press Club. What a great addition you'll be to that conversation. And I found this report right on, and a reminder of the importance of on-site, in-person reporting by blogs. We can find out a lot via the web, phone, and the like. But there's still no replacement for being somewhere, and watching and listening to someone in person. That's when you really learn about the things you're writing about. So anyway, keep up the great work, and do keep us posted on the progress of the Akron Press Club. Maybe we can put our minds together on how to spur some more collaboration between the Cleveland and Akron clubs.

Anonymous said...

OEA's bulldog: "I'm really just their lapdog."

Scott, the complaints filed in the charter lawsuits are laughable (although they certainly highlight ODE's inability to comply with the intent of the State's laws).

Scott Piepho said...


I don't think Dann is the OEA's lapdog, though they certainly are allies. And while I don't foursquare support the OEA agenda, I'd rather have an AG allied with the union than beholden to David Brennan.

The complaints are based on a hard-to-prove theory, but have already resulted in shutting down underperforming charter schools. As for your ODE comment, I'm unclear what you mean. But since much of the legislative intent has been to deprive the ODE of any real tools to hold charters accountable, I'd say the Department is complying with it quite nicely.

Anonymous said...

LOL (nicely put, Pho): "much of the legislative intent has been to deprive the ODE of any real tools to hold charters accountable, I'd say the Department is complying with it quite nicely."

It turns out the value-added scores of Colin Powell weren't so bad. The big problem is players in Columbus who can't agree on how to assess equal educational opportunity.

I lost respect for Dann when I read the risible complaints that exploit contract language demanding accountablity to which no Ohio districts are subject. This does not have the appearance of a good-faith effort of knowledgable people to ensure 220 kids get the education they deserve (or at least the best we can provide with available funds). It smacks of a political vendetta. Maybe it's just ignorance. In any case, the AG's office and ODE ought to agree on how assess equal educational opportunity. Preferably before more schoolchidren become victims of State politics.