Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Jimmy Dimora: The political outsider who became kingmaker


As fast as Jimmy Dimora built a political machine to rule Cuyahoga County, his machine's collapse came even faster.

When federal agents raided Dimora's house and office in July 2008, citizens got their first glimpse at a corruption probe that over the next 26 months would tear apart county government.

Ever since that day, Dimora, 55, and his closest friends and political allies -- some innocent, others not -- lived under intense scrutiny. Within a year, Dimora was pushed to the sidelines of the Democratic Party he had led for 16 years. He defiantly refused to resign as a county commissioner and challenged prosecutors to charge him or leave him and his family alone.

Early this morning, they opted for the former. Agents arrested Dimora at his Independence home and led him out in handcuffs and chains.

"I'm sickened by it," Tim Hagan, a fellow Democrat and commissioner, said this morning after hearing of Dimora's arrest. "It's been a nightmare, and it's coming to an end."

Dimora maintains his innocence. But, unquestionably, the events of the past two years diminish his legacy as one of the greatest political talents Greater Cleveland has ever seen.

While fallout from the federal investigation cannot yet be measured completely, one certain souvenir is the new form of government corruption-weary voters approved last year. New leaders will be elected this fall. Replacing Dimora, if he finishes his term, as well as the two other commissioners, will be a county executive with a local constituency unrivaled in terms of size.

It is the type of office that Dimora, a man for whom big is too simple an adjective, might crave under different circumstances. Fueling the irony, Democrats harbor legitimate fears that he has left the party in such turmoil that a Republican or independent might win the job.

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