Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Living in the Wake and Being "Woke"

In case you don’t know, our local Public Television station, WVIZ, is broadcasting the new documentary series, The Vietnam War, by filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. It is a ten-part, 18-hour affair that, based on what I’ve seen the last two nights, is remarkable for its ability to evoke that era in all its turbulent excitement and energy, conflict and confusion, tragedy and heroism.

Insofar as possible, the story is being told thus far through the eyes of participants — draftees, enlisted men, officers, Viet Cong, diplomats and politicians on both sides, protesters, etc. To this point the story has been remarkably free of dogma. Assigning blame is not part of this story; rather the goal seems to be to one of seeking understanding what happened and how.

My best friend served in Vietnam as an enlisted man. I was an anti-war protester and conscientious objector. We have talked over the years about that era. While many families were divided and torn asunder by divergent views over the war, somehow the domestic strife of that conflict never affected our personal relationship. In fact, he asked me to edit his memoir of his service in that theater of war. [His account is a deeply personal story. I found it a compelling read, of course, and commend it to anyone interested in how an innocent young man from the ghetto was able to navigate his tour of duty and return with his spirit intact.]

I have another friend, more than a decade younger, who also grew up in Greater Cleveland. Little Italy was his touchstone. Unlike my infantryman buddy, this friend and I disagree vehemently on many political issues that are core to what I believe. I suspect it has much to do with our being brought up in different eras and different parts of town. I lived through experiences that he first heard about listening to adults in his community react to in ways that most likely were not sympathetic to me and mine.

First impressions often die hard, especially when they come from people we trust and love. I’d be a lot better off financially if my father had never spoken to me about money but my mother had taught me much more about it.

Each of us has an obligation to challenge the “truths” we inherited from our parents and their generation. Some of the lessons may hold. Others may need to be revised. Still others should be discarded.

That is one value of this Vietnam series. I suspect that when I finish watching it, I will have greater understanding and empathy for all who lived through any part of it, or suffered the consequences of their own or a loved one’s participation.

I called my writer friend last night. He has lived mostly in the Virgin Islands for the last 25 years. I wanted to see how he had negotiated Hurricane Irma and to see if he knew about the PBS series. Turns out that he had just returned to Ohio Monday night, was feeling great, and did not know about the series. Although he usually goes to bed before 10pm, and I was calling him just after that time, he signed off after a bit to go catch last night’s episode.

In my house, we are taping the entire series. [PBS will likely offer the series for sale next month in a nice boxed set for $199 or so; see me for a real deal!]

Tonight’s viewing may be interrupted for me. In a variation of life-meets-art, there is a nationwide telephone call tonight about Herman Bell, a victim of the Vietnam passions that are inextricably linked with the civil rights struggles and the COINTELPRO response of the U.S. Government [see here generally and here re Cleveland]. Bell’s story is gaining traction these days as people work to free him from what seems a miscarriage of justice. He has been imprisoned for more than 35 years, and nearing age 70, was allegedly beaten savagely by five corrections officers. I urge you to read his story here and here. If so moved, you can register here for a nationwide call on his behalf tonight at 8PM EST.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Cleveland in dire need of a mayor with energy and fresh ideas; one candidate has both

Now is the time
Clevelanders will go the polls tomorrow to decide which two men will advance to the November election that will determine the city's next mayor.
Tomorrow's nonpartisan primary takes place in the most dynamic and fluid civic environment this city has seen since the election of Carl Stokes precisely one half-century ago.
In the eyes of some, the primary election will be a referendum on the twelve-year run of Frank Jackson and his administration. He is clearly running on his record, one that has many commendable and noteworthy accomplishments. He steered the city firmly through several tough years of the Great Recession that began in 2008. He has presided over what is slowly becoming a more vibrant downtown. He worked smartly with Republicans to bring their national convention here and helped create the conditions for its smooth execution.
Jackson is seeking an unprecedented fourth four-year term that would make him the longest-running mayor in Cleveland's 221-year-old history. When he announced he would again be a candidate, he said he was running because there was no one else who was both qualified and willing to run.

what qualities should our next mayor have, and who among the candidates has the best combination of those qualities?

That claim was untrue. The names on tomorrow's ballot would be very different had the mayor declared his intent to retire. The mayor's decision to run again was essentially a declaration that his leadership is indispensable.
It isn’t.
What's more, the voters know it.
After 12 years, Jackson fatigue is rampant throughout the electorate, and a major reason why he is apt to receive a small slice of tomorrow's vote.

The city's next administration must be characterized by energy and fresh ideas. 

If voters act on their anger and despair, which more than 20,000 of them did when they signed petitions protesting the giveaway of tax monies to expand Quicken Loans Arena, here's the real question they should ask before marking their ballots: what qualities should our next mayor have, and who among the candidates has the best combination of those qualities?
Cleveland has some glitzy bells and whistles. We’ve got a marvelous Playhouse Square, cool chandelier, captivating pro sports teams, a bevy of world-class institutions, and the incomparable University Circle.
But we are consistently mired at the bottom of every quality of life index, in large measure because we are bamboozled into offering public support for private gain and bragging about our charitable nature. We presume ourselves to be liberal because Democrats are everywhere in office, though liberal policies prevail nowhere. We are stuck in conservative trickle down bootstraps muck.
The city's next administration must be characterized by energy and fresh ideas. That energy comes, believe it or not, from the people. Citizen energy is what propelled Carl Stokes to victory fifty years ago.
Mayor Jackson waves at cars
along MLK Blvd. last month
Frank Jackson may still call the Central neighborhood home, but he has become a captive of downtown interests, isolated from the daily struggles of most citizens. His distance from the city is illustrated by the most iconic image of his campaign: the mayor standing detached at intersections in tailored clothing and waving at passing traffic.
Not by coincidence, Jackson detests the two candidates most identified with the people's energy: city councilmen Zack Reed and Jeff Johnson.
We like Zack. He's the hardest worker on city council, and along with the ageless Mike Polensek, the most impassioned. His report card on the failures of the Jackson administration is by far the most biting of all the candidates' critiques. But Reed's signature issue is safety, and student of government that he proclaims to be notwithstanding, he hasn't the foggiest idea how to pay for any of his proposals.
We like Jeff also. We believe in redemption and second chances. But, sadly, Jeff's time passed long ago. He followed Mike White into city council and then into the State Senate. He should have run to succeed White in 2001 but he was fresh out of federal prison. He got back on track but the train had left.
We think the fourth major candidate in this race is the under the radar Brandon Chrostowski. He's lucky in that his typical male indiscretion occurred early enough in life not to derail him. And he was smart enough to learn from it and find his passion in public service.
Four years ago Brandon started a series of nonprofit entities that most famously includes a French restaurant that offers fancy food with zealous service at high prices. It's become a multi-million dollar operation with impeccable accounting from which he extracts only a modest income.
Brandon Chrostowski at the 2d annual
Northeast Ohio Re-Entry Business Summit on April 21,
an event he founded to provide opportunities for returning citizens. 

But the most important product of his enterprise is not satisfied customers; it is redeemed lives. Edwin's Restaurant and Leadership Institute helps people reclaim their lives. It invests in people who have been convicted of felonies and sent to prison. They learn soft skills and marketable skills in the food service industry, find jobs, become productive members of society, and stay out of jail. Their recidivism rate is under 2%.
We have attended several mayoral forums and listened carefully to all nine candidates. (Madalone skipped the ones we attended but we tracked him otherwise.) Chrostowski, a white guy, is one of the only two candidates we heard express actual belief in the potential of Cleveland citizens. This is huge in a city with a population that is largely black and brown, disproportionately under-employed, over-policed, poorly educated, ill-housed, malnourished, in bad health, trapped in dangerous environments, with diminished transportation options, and too often denied opportunities because of these circumstances or past conditions.

If you don't believe in the people you profess to be helping, then guess what: whether you are on a public, private or nonprofit payroll, whether you work in the ‘hood, in corporate, or in Congress, you are less than honest in what you do, and the people — be they addicted, infirm, or just stuck at the bottom of the ladder — know it.

A smart truck driver I know likes to remind me of a verse from the Gospel of Luke. It may be the only one he knows, but it should give comfort to those who may be see Brandon’s resume as slight:
"He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much..." [Luke 16:10].
Chrostowski's campaign has been ground level in message and method. He sensibly would fire Flask and McGrath, who epitomize the indifferent or hostile shadow of public safety in Cleveland lurking behind the police chief. He would establish a series of job training centers around town that would focus on making residents more employable. And his third priority is to address public school performance and to accelerate Cleveland's lagging pace towards becoming a universally savvy tech community.
Chrostowski is not an ordinary politician. He voted for neither Trump nor Clinton. But he has taken an old-fashioned approach to campaigning, crisscrossing the city with a dedicated team targeting likely voters. He tells me he's been in every ward knocking on doors.
Mike White used a similar approach in 1989 to finish a surprising second in the primary and launch his twelve-year mayoralty. It would be good for Cleveland if Chrostowski can follow that route and help to end one.

# # #

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Judge Jean Murrell Capers, 1913-2017

Jean Murrell Capers, born January 11, 1913, more than a year before the start of World War I, died peacefully this morning at Judson Manor in University Circle. She was 104.

Judge Capers, at Delta Sigma Theta event, Cleveland OH
[THE REAL DEAL PRESS, September, 2015]
Clear eyed and sharp until the end, Judge Capers will be remembered as a unforgettable blend of the assertive and the elegant, the meticulous manner and the feisty attitude, a gentle spirit with a sharp tongue, and perhaps most of all, for her indomitable will and spirit. She was a feminist and role model before either term had currency, a pioneer attorney, city councilwoman, and, ultimately, Cleveland Municipal Court judge.

She is survived by her sister, Alice Murrell Rose. A close family friend advises that that a memorial service will likely be announced in due course.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

BREAKING NEWS: Ohio Supreme Court issues order to Q expansion deal litigants

Court orders parties to file responses by this Friday

More Late-breaking News: Eric J. Brewer, Tony Madalone, Robert Kilo file more signatures hoping to get on ballot for Cleveland's Sept. 12 mayoral primary

The litigation to determine whether the voters of Cleveland are entitled to have a referendum on the Quicken Loans Arena expansion deal may be headed to a fast-track decision by the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Court this afternoon gave Cleveland Law Director Barbara Langhenry and Cleveland City Council Clerk Patricia Britt less than 48 hours to respond to a motion filed by five Cleveland voters on behalf of the more than 20,600 citizens who signed petitions asking for a chance to vote on the Q deal.

The Supreme Court case was initiated by Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson [through Langhenry] and Council president Kevin Kelly [Britt’s boss] last month. Jackson and Kelly, who both support the Q deal, filed the mandamus action, alleging that they did not know whether the referendum petitions should be accepted by the council clerk because the city charter provision ordering their acceptance was in apparent conflict with the fact that the city had already proceeded to act on the legislation the petitioners want to overturn.

The five Cleveland voters, acting on behalf of the petition signers, filed a motion with the Supreme Court on June . They want the Court to throw out the original suit. The petitioners argue the suit is “collusive” litigation cooked up by Jackson and Kelley to delay any referendum vote until after this year’s citywide municipal elections. Jackson and Kelly are both up for reelection, and all 17 council races are contested. Both the mayoral race and possibly as many as 14 of the council seats are slated for the September 12 primary.

Political observers suggest that were the referendum to be on the same ballot as the municipal elections, the increased turnout could very well jeopardize the reelection chances of the mayor and those council members who voted in favor of the Q deal.

The timing of the Court’s eventual ruling on the merits of this case thus becomes almost as important as its eventual decision. Generally speaking, the County Board of Elections orders ballots printed about 45 days in advance of an election. Should the Court rule that Britt must accept the petitions, and her office then finds at least 6,000 or so of them valid, city council would then either have to reverse its vote or put the issue before the voters. Theoretically, at least, if the Court were to rule in the voters’ favor in the next ten days or so, the referendum could come during the primary election, for which early voting starts August 15.

It would be speculation to infer that the Court’s order to all parties to expedite their responses to pending motions indicates a leaning in favor of one side or another. But it does seem to indicate the Court’s awareness that that the extraordinary remedies being sought by the parties have time-related consequences.

It should be noted that while the Jackson/Kelley argument that a referendum would impair contractual rights — the city signed an agreement with Cuyahoga County authorizing it to proceed with construction within hours of Jackson’s signing the enabling legislation — the County hasn’t yet issued the bonds to finance the work, undoubtedly because the potential for a referendum vote creates an uncertainty that bondholders would be unlikely to accept. This reality would seem to undermine the validity of the city’s already tenuous argument that the deal authorization was an emergency measure. All parties knew before the ordinance was passed that the referendum process provided for by city charter would be invoked.

• • •

Meanwhile, the campaign watching continues with reports that three mayoral contenders — former East Cleveland mayor Eric Brewer, 2009 mayoral candidate Robert Kilo, and businessman Tony Madalone — each met today’s noon deadline to file additional signatures to qualify for September’s primary. They must now await petition checks to determine whether their names will appear on the September primary ballot alongside those of Jackson and five other previously validated mayoral candidates: Cleveland Councilmen Jeff Johnson and Zack Reed, state Rep. Bill Patmon, social entrepreneur Brandon Chrostowski, and Dyrone Smith.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

EIGHT candidates file to enter primary against Frank Jackson

Choose your metaphor: politicians and would-be politicians smell blood in the water and are primed to attack a man they perceive to be vulnerable after being the dominant fish in the pond. Or voter discontent with the status quo is so widespread that Minnie Mouse could have secured enough valid signatures. 

Either way, it is clear that Frank Jackson's stewardship as Cleveland's mayor over the past twelve years will be dissected and vivisected mercilessly over the summer leading up to the nonpartisan September primary that will reduce the field to two finalists for the job Jackson would like to retain for a record fourth 4-year term. 

The top two primary finishers will face off November 8.

I write this in transit 30 minutes after the Board of Elections released what is likely to be the most hotly contested mayoral primary since Carl Stokes first ran in 1965. Four candidates have had their petitions validated by the Board so far. They are social entrepreneur Brandon Chrostowski, Cleveland  councilman, Jeff Johnson, State Rep. Bill Patmon, and Dyrone Smith, likely the least known candidate in the race. Election officials are checking the petitions of the last minute filers: former East Cleveland mayor Eric J. Brewer; incumbent Jackson; Robert M. Kilo, who previously challenged the mayor; businessman Tony Madalone; and Cleveland councilman Zack Reed.

Fasten your seat belt after you bolt your chair to the floor. The ride to Sept. 12 is likely to contain more than a few twists, turns and loops.

Absentee voting starts August 8, a mere 40 days away, a schedule favoring the best-known and most organized candidates.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

BREAKING NEWS: Business leaders seeking end to impasse on Q deal

Talks may be on tap as civic leaders regroup in wake of referendum petition filing

CLEVELAND — The Real Deal has learned that civic and business leaders have made overtures to the Greater Cleveland Congregations that may result in negotiations that could allow the expansion of Quicken Loans Arena to go forward.

At this point no one will speak authoritatively for fear of jeopardizing the possibility that a negotiated settlement might be found to end the current impasse. No dates have been set, no negotiators identified, no pre-conditions established. But movement is afoot.

Although both the County and the City of Cleveland have approved the deal, serious questions remain whether the project can go forward. GCC formed a coalition with political and labor organizations that also oppose the deal on multiple grounds. The coalition gathered more than 20,600 petition signatures of Cleveland voters calling for a referendum on the deal.

The city technically refused to accept the petitions when they were presented on Monday, but when GCC leaders adopted a resolute stance that was evocative of 1960s southern civil rights demonstrations, city officials agreed to receive the petitions for “safekeeping”.

Whether or not the petitions are ever officially accepted and forwarded to the Board of Elections for certification, and the issues put before the voters, the coalition that gathered them has made its strength known.

The coalition had 30 days to submit about 6,000 valid signatures from registered Cleveland voters to force a referendum on whether the Quicken Loans deal passed last month by Cleveland City Council should remain in force. By submitting more than three times the number required by the city’s Charter, the coalition demonstrated the immense unhappiness on the part of ordinary Clevelanders over financing the proposed expansion of the Q and cast doubt on the project’s survival.

Deal proponents want the County to issue bonds on June 1 to finance the project and to commence work as soon as the NBA playoffs end for the Cavaliers, which would be June 18 at the latest.

It is unknown exactly who has reached out to GCC leaders or who might have seats at the table. That may become clear over the next several days as talks likely have to begin soon if the Cavaliers’ June 19 project start date is to remain intact.

GCC has maintained all along that it is not opposed to the Q’s expansion but that any deal involving public financing should be fairly negotiated and include well-defined community benefits. These benefits would include the establishment of a Community Equity Fund to underwrite effective jobs programs, create east and west side mental health centers, and invest in neighborhood development. The size of the fund, and how it would be administered are yet to be determined. GCC leaders have disavowed any interest in controlling the fund.

Until now, there has been no willingness on the part of the Cavaliers, city or county public officials, or the business and philanthropic community to give even token credence to the GCC position.

Off the record conversations with civic leaders suggested that some civic and business leaders saw negotiations as the prudent path to finding some sort of middle ground that would allow the deal to go forward and avoid the contentiousness of a referendum campaign. The momentum for such talk likely accelerated after Monday’s confrontation, including the flimsiness of the city’s response.

The talks will likely have an undercurrent of urgency, given the desired construction timetable, and the likelihood that legal questions regarding the city’s obligation to process the petitions will remain unresolved and potentially court-bound.

But for Cleveland residents who feel their neighborhoods have been neglected in favor of downtown and select other interests, news that a community equity fund may lead to some much neighborhood transformation has to be cause for at least guarded optimism.

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