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.

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