It took Rosemary Palmer extended stays in New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and China to realize that, as the saying goes, all politics is local.
The Wooster-born 60-year-old, who also was a Chronicle-Telegram writer in the 1970s, returned home from her travels and is now running against Dennis Kucinich for the Democratic nomination for the 10th Congressional District of Ohio – her first major foray into politics.
The 10th District encompasses western Cuyahoga County, including Bay Village, Fairview Park, North Olmsted, Olmsted Falls, Olmsted Township, Strongsville, Westlake and several other cities.
A complete understanding of the forces that led Palmer to politics remains a mystery even to her.
“If you had told me 10 years ago that I would run for Congress one day, I wouldn`t have believed it,” she said. And yet, Palmer finds herself in a race against Kucinich – a six-term incumbent who is also running again for president.
Despite her slim political history, Palmer is entering the race with fervor and fire.
“This is what I want to do,” she said. “I want to work for this district.”
The ties that bind her to the 10th District are strong. She taught for three years in public high schools and volunteered for politicians in Cleveland, where she lives with her husband in his childhood home.
It is her varied background and close connection to Cleveland that make Palmer think she can win.
“I don`t have plans of going any further in politics,” she said. “I really have a passion for helping the people in this district.”
Her interest in politics first reared its head when she was a reporter at The Chronicle in the 1970s.
“I was so informed of the issues, and I kept learning about how the government worked,” she said.
But instead of diving into the center of politics, she chose to trace its edges as a journalist and teacher. So while many politicians lose perspective from their bird`s eye view, Palmer always kept her feet on the ground.
“Being a journalist kept me focused on the problems of the people,” she said.
And through her many careers – as a journalist in Elyria, Columbus and Michigan and as a teacher in China, New Jersey and Cleveland – her interest in politics lay dormant.
Before deciding to take a plunge in the 10th District race, Palmer spent some time dipping her toe in the waters. She volunteered for U.S. Sen. John Kerry`s unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2004 and even for Kucinich in 2006.
It was Kucinich`s decision to enter the presidential race after saying he wouldn`t that ultimately led Palmer to decide to enter the race herself.
“His decision to enter the race hurt me. I felt that he was taking his eye off the ball and that he was losing focus of the ones he was supposed to be representing.”
If he didn`t have their issues in mind, who would?
It didn`t take long for Palmer to decide that she would.
She went from being a Kucinich volunteer to his foremost rival in the blink of an eye. Her ability and desire to offer herself as an answer to a problem is nothing new. Now it`s just on a much grander stage.
In 1992, Palmer found herself in a similar but much smaller situation. After living in New Jersey for just over a year, Palmer was contemplating the candidates for her local school board.
“I was thinking and thinking and I realized that there weren`t three people I felt that I could vote for,” she said. So instead of voting for the least of the evils or simply abstaining, Palmer ran as a write-in candidate.
And despite having no experience and no name recognition, she won.
Now 15 years later, she hopes the same basic strategy will lead to a seat in Congress.
But the Rosemary Palmer who ran for an empty school board seat on a whim and the Rosemary Palmer currently running for Congress are miles apart. Aside from the traditional wisdom that life bestows and the curveballs it throws, Palmer was forced to face the clearest example of the proximity and personal impact of global politics.
In August 2005 her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Edward Schroeder, was killed in Iraq. This lit a fire under Palmer and she vowed to make the pain she felt visit as few others as possible. With her husband, Paul Schroeder, she co-founded Families of the Fallen for Change, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that has sought a responsible end to the Iraq War.
Not surprisingly, ending the war in Iraq has become one of the major platforms of her election bid. And despite his own forceful views on the subject, Palmer sees the war as an issue that highlights the differences between her and Kucinich.
“He`s an ideologue,” she said. “His plan lacks a real mechanism for getting us out of Iraq.
“I have a real plan; a coherent plan that moves us towards an agreement,” she said. For a comparison of the two plans, visit www.rosemarypalmerforcongress.com.
This difference, Palmer said, is indicative of what she can offer the district that Kucinich cannot. “You need a balance between idealism and pragmatism,” she said.
“It`s easy to have ideals,” she said. “The hard part is giving your ideals legs.”
So now, in the thick of her campaign, Palmer is working to put in the leg-work. She is working toward a master`s degree in applied politics at the University of Akron and fighting to find her political footing.
“I`m not a career politician,” she said. “And I think that is one of my advantages.”
She said that her varied background outside of politics has allowed her to organically decide which issues are important to her and to the district.
“The war is my heart issue,” she said, “but improving the economy is my head issue.”
These two issues make up the bulk of her platform but if she knows one thing from her five months campaigning, it`s that there`s a lot she doesn`t know.
“Politics is very complicated. You have to be prepared for anything,” she said.
Palmer has faced many surprises in her fledgling career. She often faces 17 hour days and has had to use some of her own money to get her campaign started. Her brief experience has already changed her view of the world.
“Politics makes you look at things in a different manner,” she said. This, though, isn`t always a good thing.
“I try to keep my perspective on it all,” she said. As a politician “since childhood,” as Palmer put it, Kucinich has lost this perspective, according to her.
“It`s more of a game to him,” she said.
But for Palmer it is anything but. “This is a full-time job for me,” she said, “more than a full-time job. I want to roll up my sleeves and fight for the people of this area.”
Contact Michael Baker at 371-9325 or firstname.lastname@example.org.