Why was Jimmy Dimora allowed to abuse his power for so long?
We can start by looking at how he treated women.
When you read the federal government's transcripts of Jimmy Dimora's conversations, apparently recorded by wiretap, a clear pattern emerges about this supposed liberal Democrat.
Dimora and his buddies trafficked in profane references to women's genitalia. He reportedly engaged in sex-for-hire and sex-to-be-hired schemes, which were facilitated by political friends willing to drop off condo keys, rent hotel rooms and pay a prostitute's bill to keep his name out of the transactions.
Dimora isn't some old codger still fuming that women got the vote.
This is a fellow baby boomer, a guy only two years older than I, regularly acting as if the last 80 years of women's history never happened. Why didn't that send up more flares?
Clearly, this is a story about a man with little regard for women. But it's also about newsrooms and Cuyahoga County's Democratic Party shrugging off Dimora's raunchy jokes and boorish behavior as Jimmy just being Jimmy.
Here is the beginning of a story that ran in The Plain Dealer in June 1998:
Just in case they were wondering, Bedford Heights Mayor Jimmy Dimora
assured 431 members of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Executive Committee on
Valentine's Day that his sex life was just fine.
"Boy, do I feel good today," Dimora, party chairman, said in opening
remarks to the Democratic faithful gathered for the party's endorsement meeting
at the Holiday Inn in Independence. "My wife took good care of me this morning."
Somewhere, the woman married to the Italian Stallion of Bedford Heights
had to be blushing. Out in the audience, women were cringing . . .
Yet, no one for a minute believed that Dimora's locker room braying
belied a latent vein of disrespect for women. "He's no chauvinist pig," Cindy
Marizette, co-executive director of the county Democratic Party, said this week.
"That's just Jimmy."
At 260 pounds, Dimora is a teddy bear of a man with a kind heart and a
penchant for honesty. He talks to you straight up and sometimes gets in trouble
for it. In a realm of rhetorical wafflers, he's a breath of fresh air.
Hmm: I read that and missed both the cool breeze and the punch line.
The first time I met Dimora was memorable. He made me wait 45 minutes in an empty room for a scheduled interview in 2001. When he finally waltzed in, he took one look at me, and bellowed, "Well, if I'd known you looked like this I would have been here a lot sooner."
Then, he immediately recounted the advice he'd given one of my female colleagues: "I told her she should get another head shot because she's a lot prettier than her picture in the paper."
When another of my female colleagues was first assigned to cover county government, she took Dimora to lunch. She was a newlywed, and Dimora asked how she had met her husband. When she described her then-boyfriend driving more than 24 hours straight just to have dinner with her, Dimora smiled and said, "You must be reeeeeally great."
Some of us never found Dimora to be empathetic or generous, and we never thought he was funny. But we found little interest back then when we tried to raise the issue.
The constant refrain: "It's just Jimmy. He's old school."
My gut told me there was more to it. I wish I had forced the issue.
When you are an elected official born in 1955, your boorish behavior toward women isn't "old school," it's unacceptable. It also raises the question: What other old-time traditions have you revived?
I'm hopeful that the county's liberal leaders will publicly condemn the systemic malaise that allowed Dimora's disregard for women to fester and flourish. I also know I could be in for a long wait.
Last Thursday, The Plain Dealer reported that Dimora had sex on numerous occasions with a public employee seeking a new job. We identified the woman only as PE39. On Friday, one of our reporters started getting calls from various pols, including a couple of suburban mayors and a high-ranking county official.
All of them were men, and all of them had the same question:
Who is PE39?
Because, you know, the lowest form of gossip is more important than the scandal that betrayed so many of us and toppled our county government.