Monday, May 22, 2017

CPT | Latest on status of the Q deal referendum drive, Ward 14, Marcia Fudge, Jeff Johnson

CPT: Cuyahoga Politics Today

Confrontation looms as citizen’s coalition files more than Twenty Thousand Signatures to put Q deal on ballot

City Council leadership signals legal strategy to avoid referendum; issue may soon be in court

UPDATE: Today’s lead item was written with the understanding that a citizen’s coalition would file petitions today so that Cleveland voters could decide by referendum whether or not to support the Q deal. Before we posted it, word came to us that City Council leadership, meaning the mayor and those who call the shots in town, had refused to accept the petitions on the grounds that the City has already signed a contract to go ahead with the project and that it would be an unconstitutional interference with property rights to allow for a referendum at this stage.

Council's clerk subsequently received the petitions but the City's position is now clear. The battle lines have now been more sharply drawn and the matter will undoubtedly be decided in court. The importance of Councilman Cummins’ 12th vote in favor of the deal now stands in sharper relief: it is clear that the insiders’ strategy all along was to shut down the people’s right to vote on the Q deal.

I won’t venture an opinion on the outcome of the impending lawsuit, but the brazenness and contempt of our public officials for the voice of the people is evident. I expect that attorneys for both petitioners and the city began weeks if not months ago to prepare for the coming battle.

We have thought for months that the Q expansion deal would heighten interest in this year’s citywide election for mayor and all 17 council seats. Today’s action guarantees it.

CLEVELAND — This morning's filing of over 20,000 signatures of registered Cleveland voters moves into a new phase the very public discussion on whether the public should spend $282 million to expand Quicken Loans Arena.

Proponents of the deal cite the necessity of maintaining the competitive status of the publicly owned facility and the Q's importance as a major driver of local economic activity.

Opponents say by and large they don't oppose maintaining and even improving the arena but have major reservations — economic, pragmatic, and moral — about this deal, which appears to have been agreed to with great nonchalance by city and county officials, most especially County Executive Armond Budish, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, and their respective council presidents, Dan Brady and Kevin Kelley.

While downtown interests are all in for the deal, most city voters are troubled by the sense that these glittering large scale projects have few if any benefits that trickle down to their neighborhoods.

Typically, and this deal exemplifies the process, the little folk have no seat at the table, are not even in the room, and in fact have no knowledge a deal is even being cut until the fancy power point slides have been created and the sleek website designed. Testimony at early county council meetings seemed to suggest that the negotiations were even more of a charade this time, with little if any energy expended by the public's representatives to secure any community benefits.

This might be baffling if it weren't simply the extension of a well-established pattern. Entrenched power has a natural appetite for expansion until it meets resistance. When resistance appears, it is usually episodic, unorganized, inchoate, marginalized, bought off, or otherwise rendered ineffective. 

That business would proceed as usual was no doubt the expectation at the time of the mid-December press conference rollout announcing the deal, which was presented as a fait accompli, all wrapped up and tied with a big red bow in keeping with the festive holiday season. Pictures of the occasion showed participants still basking in the aura of our World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers, contemplating the promise of a new season, the super-sizing of a downtown jewel, and even the cherry on top of an NBA All Star game. Tipped off in advance, the Plain Dealer obligingly had a full color spread celebrating the inevitable success of this project, the latest pearl in a string that included the NBA championship, the 2016 GOP convention, the remaking of Public Square, the Indians' World Series run, and a spate of new hotel and restaurant openings.

But over on the side, a voice could be heard, asking questions, expressing concerns, urging caution, and framing the deal in a larger context.

That voice was dismissed. As I write this, it is showing up at City Hall with 20,000 + signatures calling for a vote, saying we will be heard.

A new phase in the dialogue now begins. Stay tuned.


Speaking of new voices, and petitions, we believe this Q debate is pivotal for our community in ways both macro and micro, communal and individual. When the dust settles, the landscape will be different.

A harbinger of that change may come tomorrow at noon over at the Board of Elections where Jasmine Santana will file to become a certified candidate for Cleveland City Council. She has her sights set on the Ward 14 seat currently
Jasmin Santana
held by Brian Cummins, who is a part of City Council's leadership team and who, by virtue of his very public and critical flip on the Q deal, whereby he became the crucial 12th vote in favor, perhaps claimed the biggest bull’s-eye on his back for incumbent council members.

Santana, at 38, would likely reshape Council chambers in several ways. If elected she would be the first Latina on city council, and the first Hispanic to serve in that body since council was reduced to its present 17 member size. Hispanic leaders with whom we have spoken see her as an agent of change in a City Hall that clearly needs it.

And while ethnicity is no reliable predictor of change or politics — some of City Hall's most ossified fixtures are African American — Santana's election would likely mean that persons of color would hold a majority of council seats for the first time in history.


Speaking of color, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge made several ear-catching statements over the weekend. One of the most intriguing was her reference to the commonplace but erroneous assumption that black members of Congress represent only black people. She noted that her district was at 50.1% just barely majority black. She repeated that statistic later when she suggested she might be the last black person to represent the 11th District.

Fudge was participating in a community conversation sponsored by the Western Reserve Chapter of the Links in conjunction with their 30th anniversary.

Finally, the petition challenging the legality of Councilman Jeff Johnson's right to run for mayor owing to his 1998 conviction is on the agenda for tomorrow's 3:30pm Board of Elections meeting.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

CPT: Cuyahoga Politics Today: Jeff Johnson and Dan Gilbert

Jeff Johnson and Dan Gilbert: Peas in the same pod?

CLEVELAND — Roldo Bartimole, who even in his senior senior status remains by virtue of his long institutional memory and his ability to follow the money the scrivener scourge of the local ruling class, recently revisited some of Cleveland's sordid political history. It was an effort to provide context to Brent Larkin's weird column last week. Larkin expressed a false empathy for the struggles of Councilman Jeff Johnson to distance himself from his extortion conviction nearly 20 years ago. But halfway through the piece he abruptly switched to his true topic, a direct assault upon the SEIU and the Greater Cleveland Congregations.

SEIU and GCC just happen to be the leading voices in the ongoing struggle to achieve justice and equity for this city's poor and largely minority residents.

Nobody stands in opposition to the desires of our local oligarchy to recreate our shrunken city into a hip burg with cool eateries, a bustling downtown, a high tech vibe, an immigrant magnet, and world-class entertainment venues.

But some of us do look around and see people working two and three jobs trying to make ends meet, amidst Third World infant mortality, thousands of vacant and abandoned structures, a malnourished public transportation system, public schools under relentless attack from private profiteers, real job opportunities separated by insurmountable barriers to entry, and a police force infected with a rogue and reckless deadly virus that has been out of control for generations.

All that makes some of us wonder whether Clevelanders should pay to transform an arena far newer than just about all of our shelters.

We need to have real change in our community, not just the ‘transformation’ of a serviceable public building. When will we stop rearranging and painting the deck chairs and have a real conversation?

• • •
A sit-down I had yesterday with an aspiring young office seeker has surprisingly led me to have some sympathy for Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert. With the light afforded by Roldo's column, I can now appreciate how Mr. Gilbert could have come to town and, after observing how the elites here operate, said to himself, “I can excel at this game.”

He was right! We soon gave him two casinos for life, in our hunger and low self-esteem excusing his promise to build a fabulous new casino on our crooked river.  We bestowed adulation upon him when he first dissed our home boy LeBron for taking his talents elsewhere and then later embraced the return of that enhanced talent in a way that further filled the Quicken coffers.

Given that sort of uncritical and generous treatment, along with the renewal of our regressive sin tax for his sports fraternity, why wouldn't he think that we would happily fork over another $282 million or so just to keep him around another seven years?

GCC and its burgeoning alliance are saying "Let's slow down. Let's be equitable. Let's talk about this."

Whoever advised Gilbert not to have that conversation should be put on irrevocable waivers.

Dan Gilbert has the clout to convene, directly or otherwise, the dialogue of community powers responsible for creating the ecology he so comfortably slid into. He cannot be pleased that GCC and others are raising a ruckus, but he would be wrong to blame them for giving voice to the voiceless. His upset should be directed to his peer group and their political intermediaries, who clearly were caught unawares that even gravy trains have cabooses.
Unless there is a community dialogue that can forge a new and true community partnership, proponents of the ‘Q Transformation’ will likely hear their plan end with a Referendum Serenade that is familiar to basketball fans everywhere: "Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na, Hey, Hey, Hey! Goo-ood Bye!”

Not the best theme song for the Rock and Roll Capital of the World!

• • •
P. S. Tonight in Boston, game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals! GO CAVS!!!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

CPT: Cuyahoga Politics Today

Challenger emerges in Cleveland’s Ward 3

CLEVELAND — The list has dwindled to two.

Logan Fahey
Social entrepreneur Logan Fahey pulled petitions last Friday to enter the Ward 3 Council race, becoming the first open challenger to the incumbent Kerry McCormack, who was appointed last April to succeed Joe Cimperman after the latter resigned to head up Global Cleveland.

Only councilmen Tony Brancatelli in Ward 12 and Brian Kazy in Ward 16 remain without at least one declared opponent on Board of Election records for either the September 12th primary election or the November 7th general election. The filing deadline for Cleveland's council, mayoral, and judicial races is June 29.

Council races are nonpartisan, meaning that if fewer than three candidates file for a seat, there is no primary contest in that race.

Potential candidates often pull "blind" petitions, meaning their names do not appear on the election board's rolls unless and until they file with the required number of signatures. This is generally done for strategic or tactical reasons. For instance, as we noted last month, while former councilman Joe Jones is circulating petitions to regain his old seat in Ward 1, his name is not listed with the Board of Elections.

Ward 3 includes the downtown district, which means it's fertile ground for campaign donations. It also includes the Tremont, Ohio City and Flats neighborhoods, as well as a portion of Clark-Fulton and the Stockyards.

Fahey pulled petitions to run for the Strongsville Board of Education in 2015 but does not seemed to have filed for the election, possibly because he had or was moving into Cleveland. We were unable to reach Fahey for confirmation by our deadline.

• • •

With so many candidates running for Cleveland City Council and to challenge Mayor Frank Jackson, many will place a greater premium on this year's Democratic Party endorsements. While most incumbents generally get endorsed as a matter of course, given that Ward 2's Zack Reed and Ward 9's Jeff Johnson are each running for mayor, there will be at least two open seats. And widespread anger with Ward 14's Brian Cummins' waffling on the Quicken Loans financing deal, coupled with rising determination of Cleveland's Latino population to reestablish its presence on council, is fueling speculation that Cummins may not run for re-election. That would be a cruel irony, given that Cummins' reason for supplying the important 12th vote for the deal was to sustain his leadership position and benefit his ward's status in the pecking order. [See this excellent piece by Sam Allard for a full discussion of Cummins' professed angst.]

Cleveland members of the Party's executive committee will meet July 8 to endorse in this year's primary races. With early primary voting starting in mid-August, the endorsements will be closely watched, as they may the first public signs of the relative strengths of major candidates in the mayoral and high profile council races.
• • •

Monday, May 15, 2017

Blaine Griffin to be sworn in tonight as Ward 6 councilman

Leaving mayor’s cabinet after 12 years, taking cut in pay to fulfill longtime dream

CLEVELAND — Blaine Griffin, who has been a Frank Jackson loyalist since his appointment as Cleveland’s Director of Community Relations in 2006 — he ran the mayor’s re-election campaigns in 2009 and 2013 — will be appointed tonight as the new Ward 6 Councilman, after winning pro forma approval from Council’s Democratic Caucus earlier today.
Griffin will replace Mamie Mitchell, who is stepping aside for health reasons. Mitchell was appointed to the seat in 2008 and won elections in 2009 and 2013 to keep it.

Griffin’s appointment has been in the works for some time. It likely would have come sooner but Mitchell’s vote was needed for the controversial Q deal. It would not have been seemly for Griffin to come from the executive side of City Hall and immediately cast a vote for the deal.

Ward 6 is one of Cleveland’s most diverse wards, encompassing the East Side neighborhoods of Fairfax, Larchmere, Little Italy, Woodland Hills, Buckeye-Shaker and parts of University Circle, North Broadway, Slavic Village and Union-Miles.

All council seats and the mayoralty will be on the ballot this fall. A sizable number of challengers are eager to take on virtually every incumbent. Griffin’s most formidable challengers are likely to be John A. Boyd and Josh Perkins McHamm. At least five others had pulled petitions to run for the seat as of last Friday. Boyd, who lost to Mitchell in 2013 by about 750 votes, has already taken aim in social media posts at “outsiders” controlling the seat via appointment. McHamm, who has a construction background, is likely to be the best financed candidate in the race.

Griffin bought a home in the ward in 1999 and has long desired to serve on council. He takes a sizable pay cut to do so now. He ran for the seat in 2001 but was soundly defeated by Pat Britt. He has since become a seasoned public official and politician, running numerous campaigns. He currently serves as vice chairman of the County Democratic Party.

You can read his official bio here as posted on the city’s webpage.

• • •

Fallout from Q deal will be enduring

A different sort of transformation may be end result

Win or lose, the principals in the controversy over whether the public should fork over $288 million dollars to enhance the profitability of Quicken Loans Arena for its principal tenant and operator have collectively ushered in a new day.

Not since the Kucinich years has the business community encountered a challenge as serious as the one currently being mounted by citizens who object to the corporate subsidies being demanded by wealthy private interests.

Back in the mid-seventies, the long-standing dominance of corporate interests was temporarily stymied by the determined will of the city’s ‘Boy Mayor” — the diminutive Kucinich was elected to his single two-year term at age 31. His refusal to sell the municipally owned electric plant to its private rival led to a stand off that resulted in local banks pushing the city into default by refusing the routine roll over of some city bonds.

While Kucinich was ultimately vindicated by the revelation that the Illuminating Company had conspired to run Muny Light into the ground, the corporate community nonetheless molded that shameful behavior into a business-friendly narrative of the city’s turnaround, namely, the ushering in of a public-private partnership that began with the Voinovich years.

For the last 40 years, this public-private pas de deux has been relentlessly cited as justification for the siphoning of hundreds of millions of dollars in support of projects the business community favored but was unwilling to pay for. And while we now can boast of an attractive downtown, with a thriving food scene, a hip entertainment district, and a growing residential market at our core, it has come at a heavy cost to many local neighborhoods that once symbolized the heart of what made our city unique. There has been no trickle out and no trickle down.

To be sure, what we witness today in Cleveland’s devastated neighborhoods cannot be laid entirely at the feet of our leading civic citizens. Larger forces — including globalization, technology, the war on drugs, deindustrialization, the 2008 financial meltdown, population flight, and state disinvestment — have all contributed to the growing inequities that can be seen in hollowed out neighborhoods and even some parts of our first ring suburbs.

But civic and corporate leaders can be cited for their repeated failure to come up with innovative responses to mitigate the effects of these larger forces. Brick and mortar as first and primary response is not the solution to Cleveland’s problems.

Cleveland’s downtrodden and neglected residents and neighborhoods have found champions in the form of some activist civic organizations, principally Greater Cleveland Congregations and the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus.

GCC in particular is proving itself to be a worthy ally of Cleveland’s masses. It is well organized, sufficiently resourced, clear-eyed and dogged. Predictably, its leaders have been mischaracterized and demonized, no doubt a backhanded tribute to the fact that their spiritual underpinnings have not made them weak-kneed sisters. And while they may have made some tactical missteps in seeking to initiate a dialogue with the city’s movers and shakers, their adversaries have made the more fundamental error of refusing to engage. The Cavaliers and their public partners — the city and the county — have consistently sought to stonewall GCC and to work around them by allying with more pliable partners that have demonstrated no interest in changing the status quo.

The refusal of the Cavaliers, the weakness of our elected officials, and the failure of the business community to exercise any leadership, has led the city to a dangerous precipice. The likelihood is great that GCC, CCPC and their union allies will in the next week or so turn in far more than the minimum 6,000 valid signatures necessary to force a referendum by Cleveland voters on whether the city should commit a minimum of $88 million for an expanded sports arena. Few doubt that if the issue goes on the ballot, the current deal will die. And that referendum campaign would unfold without the mayor or a single one of the 12 council members who voted for the deal enthusiastically campaigning for it. They will mostly be trying to change the subject in hopes of getting re-elected.

It would not serve the community if public officials or the Cavs resort to the courts and find a way to nullify the referendum effort. The Jackson administration used a similar extra-ballot tactic last year to kill the $15 minimum wage campaign, running to Columbus to get an anti-urban legislature to pass a bill killing the initiative. The mayor was right to oppose that legislation, but his tactic eroded a good portion of his political capital. His inability to forge an emotional connection with voters and his pipefitter’s approach to problem solving are not going to sustain another end around.

Cleveland’s philanthropic and business leaders with a long-term stake in this community — we don’t put Dan Gilbert in that category — are going to have to step up and address the community’s critical neighborhood needs if the Q deal is to go forward in any fashion. They may not want to deal with GCC, but they have lost their leverage to mandate who gets to sit at the table.

In normal times, civic and business leaders could have sat on the sidelines as the World Champion Cavaliers seduced out of touch legislators and their chief executives into accepting this lopsided deal, which, truth to tell, is actually a convenient hostage to force the kind of discussion about equity this community has long avoided.

The real question is what kind of community do we want to be? What do we value? If we can’t get the right answer to that question, then another world title or two won’t really matter much. If we don't have it now, then when will we have it?

We have some reason to believe that a few civic and business leaders are looking for ways to create a meaningful dialogue that could render the referendum moot. But time is short.

Perhaps city leaders could emulate local hero and leader extraordinaire LeBron James: subordinate egos, put team first, keep eyes on prize, and act with urgency. We think that approach could get a reasonable deal struck in the time it will take to vanquish either the Celtics or the Wizards. Then we could truly be All In.
• • •