Friday, August 29, 2003

The Gig May Finally Be Up for Cleveland Works' David Roth

Channel 3's website is reporting that David Roth, the founder of the welfare-to-work organization Cleveland Works, was busted this morning for selling and using drugs. The station has beaten everyone to the story simply because of the long tenure (extremely unusual these days in local TV) of its excellent veteran reporter Tom Beres, whose reporting roots in this community go all the way back to the erstwhile Cleveland Press. The story is no surprise for anyone who's been paying attention to Cleveland for any length of time. The worst-kept secret in town was Roth's "problem." And the stories went from whisper to print a few years ago when Mark Naymik, who's now a political reporter at the PD, wrote an illuminating and devastating cover piece on Roth and his out-of-control ways in the Free Times. Devastating, one would have thought, but somehow it never got traction. Neither the PD nor TV followed up, and funding, while taking a momentary hit, appeared to recover.

How, you ask? Well, his leading sugar daddy has been Progressive's Peter Lewis, who has time and time again come to the rescue of Cleveland Works when it experienced financial trouble. Admirable in a way, but troublesome in another: Lewis is himself a notorious multimillion-dollar funder of marijuana legalization (along with his likeminded billionaire friend, George Soros), who was nabbed with some pot in an Australian airport some years ago. Pot is one thing, of course, but the anemic-looking Roth was always known to have (and is now formally charged with) partaken in more serious drugs such as heroine. Was Lewis his leading enabler?

And one last thing about the story: a correction. Roth DID NOT found the Free Clinic, as he is often said to have done (and which he never went out of his way to correct people about). That splendid organization was actually begun (with heroic seed funding by the Cleveland Foundation and lots of volunteer labor by dozens of local docs) by a sweethearted Mother Earth of a nurse named Jeanne Sonville, who recently died, and whom I profiled in a cover piece in the Cleveland Edition in the early 90s. David Roth simply came along later, and with his loquacious ways (plus a memorable TV commercial in which the then-ponytailed Roth calmly gave a pitch for the clinic) he hogged the spotlight. But facts is facts. In my reporting on the story about the roots of the Free Clinic, Roth also took credit for having launched the Mike White mayoral campaign from the offices of Cleveland Works, along with his then second-in-command (and later Mike White aide) Eric Fingerhut, who's now running for the Senate. This story was actually true, although as Fingerhut said when I confirmed the story with him: "David might not want to keep talking about that, since it violates his nonprofit charter."


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