Wednesday, August 20, 2003

The Day After

Okay, there's only time for a few quick hits today, if I have any chance 'tall of making it down to Shaker Square and Joseph-Beth bookstore for the 7 p.m. function on behalf of Kristin Ohlson's brilliant new book, Stalking the Divine. Join me if you can.

The big news in Cleveburg, of course, is the mayor's decision to finally give up the ghost on the Convention Center. It was perhaps a foregone conclusion, but it now nakedly holds up for all to see how bankrupt of ideas and energy is our Cleveland political/business/shadow government establishment. In its place is beginning to rise something else, the bare outlines of which are growing only slightly less foggy daily (more about which later).

Anyway, I thought Bill Callahan had by far the best take on it all, and our boy Zinsser would love his brevity: In all of about 250 words, he provides it a small, unemotional burial, and then calmly goes on to congratulate Campbell on facing facts, stopping just long enough to give the back of his hand to the PD's "usual tin-eared fashion" editorials. Do read it all, please. And for weeks, even months of insighful background reporting and commentary leading up to it, you'd be foolish not to review the work of our man Chas Rich, who deserves special applause for his sheer brilliance and doggedness at sticking with this subject, calling attention (among other gems) to the fact that the PD's Sam Fulwood seemed to utterly change his tune in quick order, with no real explanation (something I'd otherwise have missed). Great job, Chas, you covered this better than ANY writer in Cleveland, I'd say (with the possible, and unfair, exception of Roldo). This day and this subject fills me with hope for and pride in (as never before) this growing network of citizen reporters and commentators. And as the Carpenters would say, we've only just begun...

Only one main dynamic has been missed in all the commentary/writing on the issue, and so I'll supply that small missing bit: suburbanites (mostly white) who pine for regional perspectives and lampoon the nearsightedness/myopia of Cleveland-only pols who fail to see the larger regional picture unfortunately don't seem to appreciate the powerful forces at work on a Cleveland Mayor and City Council that aren't there for others, chief among them the black vote as powerfully articulated/threatened by the again-muscular Call & Post. Under Don King's ownership, it has re-entered the fray with the kind of strong, no-nonsense, thinly veiled threatening editorials and other coverage that made a king-maker out of the late editor William O. Walker. And the revived C&P and its words have to weigh heavily on anyone who runs for office in a town that's just over half black, and who must be left to ponder (more about which in coming days) whether this one was dictated or at least influenced by George Forbes, Arnold Pinkney, Council Prez Frank Jackson (less likely) or maybe King himself.

Now, it's one thing for the average citizen or even community activist not to grasp this fact, but I find it a bit shameful and ridiculous that few media folks ever even read the paper, rendering them (in my view) utterly unable to grasp even the basics of Cleveland brass-knuckle power politics. The C&P's editorial last week on the subject pf the convention center seems nowhere online, so I'll reprint it in its entirety here (note to Working With Words' legal department: please page me immediately if you get any threatening correspondence from Don King's rights & permissions people).

Anyway: Here it is, under the headline "Convention Center Sleight of Hand:

If the Cuyahoga County commissioners and the leadership of the city of Cleveland can't present a united front on the issue of building a new conv. center, how can they expect voters to support a tax increase to build it? Could it be that some parties to the negotiations don't really want a deal? This entire charade is taking on a new face and stalemate appears to be the real end game, with the folks at 601 Lakeside shouldering the blame. Early on, Cleveland leaders established a list of demands that all parties acknowledged should be included in the inter-governmental Agreement. When the commissioners met and passed their plan Monday, it ignored the principles outlined during Cleveland City Council's public hearings. Missing is any mention of responsibility for paying millions of dollars to the former owner of the I-X Center, which Cleveland bought for airport expansion. As part of the purchase, the city agreed to increase the purchase price if a new convention center is constructed in Cleveland. The county commissioners totally ignored the careful work that City Council did to insure that the citizens of Clev. would not be stuck paying for or finding a new use for the current convention center complex if it is abandoned. Commissioners may have an MBE/FBE plan but it wasn't included in the convention center plan, they enacted nor did they agree to the union labor provisions that city council included in the draft. There are constant reports that the three County Commissioners invited Mayor Campbell and Council President Jackson to a private--and illegal--meeting where there allegedly was an agreement in principle. Those principles were abandoned early Monday as the commissioners hastily pre-empted city participation by proposing their own deal because 'we are not responsible for putting the tax issue on the ballot.' If city and county officials really want to do the right thing, honesty must be injected into the process. If the site is not right, or the money split is wrong, then talk about it and make some corrections. There is no reason to ignore the negotiation process unless there is another agenda. More than once city official has been left with the impression that the project is being carefully managed by the other side to let everyone down easy. And if it somhow makes it to the ballot, it won't live to see the light of day. There are dozens of questions that are totally ignored. They can't be answered by cute 30-second commercials. Unanswered, they represent the death of any inititiative to increase taxes for a convention center. Unilateral moves will be measured in voter resentment. This project is unleashing a lot of furstration and pent-up anger in the minds of voters. While power politics is a sure way to mess up the Convention Center project, it is also a good way to get linked to other 'welfare for the rich public projects' like Gateway, Browns Stadium and the Lakefront Line. There is a big downside to building a new convention center. There are no prospects of a big upside. The best this half-billion dollar deal can do is maintain the status quo. Nationally, the industry suffers from overcapacity and a willingness to pay to play with convention manager. Locally, the convention bureau is used as a stalking horse to hide ignorance of convention selling policies. There is no gain there nor was there ever any hope of gaining ground. From the beginning, the convention center issue has been congested with things like taxpayer support for art institutions and housing for the Scranton Peninsula, which shouldn't even be considered. If the Scranton project were feasible without a public subsidy, it would have been completed a decade ago. Arts institution support for Black projects is microscopic. Employment is even smaller. Why should Black voters back an issue that gives money to an arts community that neither hires them, nor serves their interests and cultural needs? Cleveland's demands MBE/FBE and union inclusion, and a minimum investment for neighborhoods and economic development need to be met. If they aren't, commissioners shouldn't put the issue on the ballot.'

Well, there you have it. After years of reading elegantly nuanced PD editorials that sometimes take waffling and subtly to new lengths, that may read to you like an enormous punch in the face from four big titty bar bouncers, or maybe a kick to the face from the man (Don King) who once kicked a man to death on a Cleveland street, only to be officially forgiven in a fascinating bit of behind-the-scenes gubernatorial corruption. As for me, I find its honesty and directness refreshing. I also think this editorial played no small part in convincing wobbly-kneed Jane, increasingly being called a one-termer and faced with building black opposition, only days off a national embarrassment that overwhelms her Today Show makeover in her national press profile, that she ought to quit while she's behind. We'll delve a bit deeper into this rich topic in coming days. In fact, maybe in coming hours..


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