Thursday, June 18, 2015

With Kapper, you're never too old to serve your city

Ray Kapper fussed with a bagel and cream cheese with a sense of quiet desperation.
"Bagels have a lot of calories," he said, remorsefully expressing the guilt of one trying to lose a few pounds.

Not unusual for dieters, casual or otherwise.  It's the sort of painful self-denial that sends a person to the bathroom scale  after snacking on two graham crackers.   But if you've already been to a couple of meetings by midmorning,  your defenses can be down.

For the man  that many of his friends call the patriarch of the local Democratic Party, and who has survived two open heart surgeries, one bagel with cream cheese hardly seemed life-threatening.  Oh, I didn't mention that it was topped by  two thin slices of tomato - something I had yet  to witness after countless sit-downs at the West Market eatery.  "You can get the tomatoes if you ask for it," Kapper knowingly explained, a little surprised that I didn't know.

Every since  Don Plusquellic's abrupt retirement shook up the balance of politics in Akron  last month,  Kapper voluntarily worked long days behind the scene partnering with his friend Joel Bailey, with a single goal of insulating the town's stability from a rising faction from his own Democratic Party  that was on the verge of seizing control not only of the mayor's office but also of city council.

Bailey, a FirstEnergy vice president and former Plusquellic chief of staff,  and Kapper worked through two of the former mayor's in-and-out successors in the  kaleidoscopic fallout.  

Never an orator, but a veteran at sizing up the prevailing landscape,  Kapper simply said, subject-predicate : "I'm from Akron. It's my home. I love my city. It was becoming the laughingstock.  I couldn't stand by without trying to do something, right?" 

Drawing upon his long political experience as a council president and respected city service director and Plusquellic advisor, he  became a  well-known figure among business and labor interests as well as party activists. It was an important asset in getting everybody's attention with what he considered a crises in the politics led by Plusquellic's old rival, Councilman Mike Williams.   

"I got 57 phone calls yesterday," Kapper told me along the way.  But never once was his work  noticed that much in the media,  which is exactly the way he wanted it.

He also was paying off his debt to Plusquellic's 28-year service.  "There's never  been anybody better than Plusquellic in getting jobs and lines open to business and labor....You have to know that all of the cities that have had problems have had bad mayors.  That wasn't true of Akron."

In the midst of the meltdown, Kapper was also digging into his work as a board member of First Tee, the youth development program that is ingrained in his his soul. 

"That,  too? "  I asked.  In his plaintive way of expressing himself, he nodded. "Yeah. My wife said I should be concerned about my heart, too." But at 78, he conceded he just couldn't walk away from the things that were most important to him - a city whose image and management were in peril. 

Nobody is more impressed than Bailey.  "Ray is a good and capable man with a vast wealth of knowledge and experience and trust, " said Bailey, who helped develop support in the business community for a united political front for their efforts. 

Eventually they were rewarded with Dan Horrigan, the popular Summit County Clerk  of Courts as their candidate for mayor on the November ballot.

Ray Kapper doesn't  need a gold watch  for his service.  He's already got a nice one.  But it wouldn't be a stretch to say in this instance that has worked out so far, he at least should be known as the unheralded hero of  the messy affair. And thanks to Ray, next time I'll try my luck at asking for tomatoes with my bagel.



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