Friday, February 03, 2017

Your Daily Dose

This is Black History Month and consistent with our view that we all need to be thinking globally but acting locally, we want to encourage every one of our readers to attend at least two events this month that recognize black history or culture. We’ll be lenient and say that attending a social justice event can count as one of the black history/culture events.

Attendance at such events is valuable on a number of levels. In this day of social media it is easy in this social media era to deceive ourselves into thinking that the media connection addresses the social needs we have as humans in need of connection. I have been gratified every time I have actually picked up the phone and called someone instead of sending a quick email response. How much truer is that when we actually show up instead of relying upon the electronic as our primary means of connection!

So here’s a quick initial list of events we think worthy of your consideration this month. The first one is Saturday, February 4, and we are perplexed at how we could have omitted it from our weekly roundup feature, This Week in Cleveland. We are talking about the !7th Annual Social Justice Teach-In at Case Western Reserve University’s Tinkham Veale Center 11038 Bellflower Rd. Cleveland 44106. It starts at 10:30 am and runs to 3:30 pm.

The teach-in offers over 30 workshops on local and global justice issues, and aims to provide attendees with enhanced skills to work for social change.

Students can attend this timely event for free. There is a $10 admission fee for others. Sponsors are the Inter Religious Task Force on Central America and CWRU. Get a sense of the day by checking this site.

Also noted for your consideration as a late schedule adjustment is “A Talk with my Daughters: Spiritual Healing for African American Women”. This event is also set to begin tomorrow morning, Saturday, February 4 from 9 am-1 pm at Maple Heights Regional Library, 5225 Library Lane Maple Heights 44137.

The program has a bevy of sponsors, including the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition, National Council of Negro Women, Cuyahoga Section, Girl Trek, New Voices Cleveland, Coalition of 100 Black Women, National Congress of Black Women, Elyria YWCA, Trumbull County African American Achievers, and the Lorain County Negro Business and Professional Women.

A flier we picked up on the event indicates its essence will be  a discussion on how African American women “can channel our ancestors in order to heal ourselves, our loved ones and our spirit relations to help build a better Northeast Ohio”.

We know this is late notice but we are encouraged to share this info because even a similar late notice to Dr. Cassi Pittman’s presentation this past week increased attendance at the event by about 10%.

Our next This Week in Cleveland will appear in this space Monday morning, so if you know of a worthwhile event occurring this month, let us know ASAP.

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Fasten Seatbelt, prepare for Lyft off and Uber-fascinating trip this year

There is so much going on in the civic space right now that it’s hard to know where to focus. Nearly two weeks in, Donald Trump is settling into a pattern of being Donald Trump: he is mercurial to the point of manic, self-referential to the point of obsession. He favors keeping everyone off guard not simply as a way of maintaining a negotiating advantage, but because he is untethered to any deep principles other than “winning”, which he defines as “Heads I win, tails you lose”.

Can his administration, Congress, the American public, the world, any of us, survive four years of being inside the Donald Trump pinball machine? Can we survive four months? That’s not purely a rhetorical question, given that he is rattling sabers in Iran’s direction. It’s hard to think that a Trump administration will ever be normal, but Americans must learn to react to the impulses of this President in a way that does not have us bouncing off the walls every time he pushes our buttons. And eventually we will find a way, first to coexist with the madness, then to contain it, and finally to sequester it, ideally somewhere outside the White House.

Meanwhile, stuff is happening here in Cleveland that demands our attention. Let us remember that the Chief Narcissist won the election not simply because of one campaign, but as a culmination of a series of campaigns and decisions made by ordinary people who at one time felt powerless. They organized themselves and got involved in the political process. After a while they became known as the Tea Party, evoking a call to the American revolutionary spirit. Perhaps we who aspire to a more progressive politics might also find a spark in another proud American tradition, and harness the spirit of the Abolitionists and become champions of freedom and equality.

Locally, a discussion focusing on possibilities of merger and acquisition between Cleveland and its original suburb, East Cleveland, took place Tuesday night on the Case campus. The panelists included Cleveland city councilmen Kevin Kelley and Jeff Johnson, along with East Cleveland councilman Nathaniel Martin. Kelley is president of Cleveland’s council, while Johnson’s heavily gerrymandered ward — which extends from near downtown almost to the city’s far eastern border with Euclid — bumps up against the East Cleveland municipal border in several places. Johnson announced two weeks ago that he is running this year for Cleveland mayor, so it was hard not to consider his every utterance against that backdrop. For the most part he came across as statesmanlike, although there were exchanges with Kelley that were unexpectedly heated. Johnson was honest enough to admit that there are tensions in Cleveland City Hall over the idea of the two cities becoming one. Both he and Kelley tried to be respectful of East Cleveland’s current, if tenuous, autonomy, but Johnson lapsed more than once into an attitude that seemed to say East Cleveland was an out-of-control neighbor whose problems did not stop at the border. He didn’t say East Cleveland had “some bad hombres” but you knew what he meant.

Interestingly, Johnson blamed some of East Cleveland’s distress on Cleveland’s leaders, saying that they had offered no help until acquisition became a topic of discussion. But he himself said there was little that Ohio law permits one municipality to offer in concrete assistance to a neighbor.

For the record, East Cleveland has been in a state of fiscal emergency for about 22 of the past 30 years, including roughly the past six. Most observers see this as largely the result of structural forces that have walloped the suburb, eviscerating its tax base, attended by a drop in its population from a high of over 40,000 to its current roughly 17,000 inhabitants. The problems are daunting on every level, but the City has been able to address none of them successfully because its toxic political culture keeps its public officials at each other’s throats all day long. Unhappy East Cleveland residents have forced the city to hold three recall elections since 2015; two months ago, the recall effort finally bore fruit when both the mayor and the council president were voted from office.

The leadership struggle continues however, and there is presently pending in the Eighth District appellate court a writ of mandamus that contests the legitimacy of the two newest council members.

At present the push to merge has no public champion in either city, so it’s a dead issue unless effective leadership arises, and that must happen, as both Kelley and Johnson noted, in East Cleveland first. Don’t hold your breath, but if you like the nitty gritty of seeing your local public debate from the warmth of your home, or the convenience of your mobile device, you can watch the proceedings in their entirety here or right here, in our previous post.

Meanwhile, the casual announcement on Monday night that Frank Jackson has decided to seek a fourth term has unleashed a flurry of responses that will make this year’s mayoral campaign the most fascinating one since at least the 1989 race that elevated Mike White into the mayor’s seat for the first of his unprecedented twelve years in office over three terms. Jackson, elected in 2005, has equaled that mark and now wants to break it.

He likely won’t have the cakewalk of his prior reelection campaigns. Johnson knows city politics at least as well as Jackson and has the ability to challenge the mayor on a number of issues where the latter has some vulnerability, including for starters, the police department, the minimum wage campaign, neighborhood stagnation, and public transportation policy.

If it were merely a contest between those two, the race might be interesting, assuming Johnson can raise the requisite funds to be competitive. He puts that amount at around $500,000 and thinks he can get it. Frank will have at least twice that much.

But what has suddenly made this race fascinating are two other candidates who announced mid-week. One is former East Cleveland mayor Eric Brewer, who announced his candidacy on Facebook. You can read his opening salvo against Frank Jackson here, but if you eschew vulgarity, you may want to wait a few days until I can summarize it for you.

Brewer’s entry into the race had been bruited about for some time, with many wondering whether he would actually get in the race.  This week’s second announcement was a total surprise to most people. Brandon Chrostowski is running for mayor. His is certainly not a household name. He is a political newcomer better known in philanthropic circles than political ones. He founded and has run a growing operation in the Shaker Square area that provides opportunities for formerly incarcerated persons to re-enter society in a meaningful, healthy ways. In brief, he runs a training center that teaches people all levels from wait staff to top chef, the ins and outs of restaurant industry. They get practical experience working at a top-notch restaurant, EDWINS, tied to the training institute, and typically move on to other top restaurants in Cleveland.

The practical approach to problem-solving evidenced by Chrostowski’s enterprise has extended over just the last two years to establishing nearby residential centers for workers as well as a retail establishment. Chrostowski told me in a brief get-acquainted interview that he has thought long and hard about Cleveland’s issues and thinks his practical approach could work wonders for the city. He would also make neighborhood development a key part of his campaign.

Some other well-known politicians are known to be mulling entry into the race. Ward 2 councilman Zack Reed has promised a decision in the next several weeks. Term-limited state representative Bill Patmon is already in the race according to some reports; he had success eight years as a last-second filer in his state race, but that will approach will likely confer him no advantage if this race.

Whether Reed, Patmon or anybody else tosses a hat into the ring, it seems certain that the quartet of Jackson, Johnson, Brewer and Chrostowski guarantees the most exciting race in at least a generation. More importantly, the peculiar makeup of the race holds the promise that this will be a race about issues and ideas, of performance records as well as personalities. If that’s the case, the election may prove transformative.

How surprising after what we endured the past two years on the national scene! How appropriate this of all years, when the community is celebrating all year the careers of the Stokes brothers. It was 50 years ago, in 1967, when Carl Stokes became the first black person to be elected mayor of a major American city. The following year, older brother Louis was elected Ohio’s first black Congressman. 

Those two elections changed Cleveland a far better place politically and civically in countless ways. But the city has not enjoyed a robust political culture in many decades. The unique blend of veteran politicians, transplants, and newcomers among those already in this year’s race will make, we are certain, this year’s contest exciting on many levels from start to finish.

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The Proposed Merger of Cleveland and East Cleveland. How could this hap...

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Danger is on our side of the Wall

An article in the March issue of Atlantic magazine is must reading for anyone interested in opposing the regime of Donald Trump that is now assuming control over the machinery of the US government and the political and civic cultures that support it.

The huge and wonderful demonstrations — both organized and spontaneous — that have taken place over the past ten days have been heartening. They feed the spirits of those who wonder what is happening to our country at the top. But such demonstrations may not be the most effective ways of protest and resistance. They certainly cannot be the only ones.

What the Atlantic article — How to Build an Autocracy — offers is an understanding of the threats we are facing from Trumpism. Most vitally, it places those threats in the context of worldwide trends. September 11, 2001 was the day all Americans came to understand with tragic immediacy that the USA was not invulnerable to massive attacks from foreign terrorists. Author David Frum makes a compelling case that the threat to America’s democratic institutions and culture will not come neither with such startling clarity nor from abroad, but rather from an erosion of values that has already have begun around the globe and is infiltrating our society now.

If this were happening in Honduras, we’d know what to call it. It’s happening here instead, and so we are baffled.

I won’t say more here, both because the piece is somewhat lengthy [audio version here] and deserves to be read on its own terms, but mostly because also a close reading will offer an understanding of both the threats we face as a nation and a realization that we must thoughtful in what must be done to resist and defeat this incursion from within. 

Incidentally, Frum is no wild-eyed pointy headed liberal. He once served in the White House as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

This Week in Cleveland

In all probability there has never been an administration off to as a chaotic a start as these first ten days of the Trump administration. It’s as if a set of grandparents, weary from doing so much upkeep on their grand old home, took in their irresponsible son’s seven year old to help them with the housekeeping. Instead of taking out the trash and helping to clear the table, the energetic towhead takes great delight in wreaking havoc: he puts metal in the microwave, sticks forks in electrical outlets, pours grease on the banister so he can slide downstairs faster, cuts holes in the screen doors, and invites the neighborhood motorcycle gang over to mingle with the Tuesday night dog park gathering of Rottweiler owners.

The grandparents are of course dismayed, but perhaps they have only themselves to blame. They knew the kid was an undisciplined miscreant who liked to pull the hair of his girl playmates,  and beat up or cheat anybody who was smaller or weaker than he was. They had seen how anybody he didn’t like or respect he would call out of their names. And they knew he couldn’t sit still for more than three minutes without throwing a tantrum. Still they were surprised at how quickly any semblance of tranquility fled as soon as their son left for four weeks in Hawaii after making the boy swear on a Bible that he would be good while Dad was gone.

It’s exhausting to think about the madness we may be facing over the next four years. Let’s focus on what might be done about that later and turn our attention to what’s happening in Cleveland this week. Think globally, act locally.

Monday was relatively quiet, especially after weather forced cancelation of the protest march over the President’s sloppily written and thoughtlessly presented Executive Order barring entry into the USA from seven countries (it’s been rescheduled for this Friday from 4p-5p at Market Square, West 25th Street and Lorain Ave.).

Tuesday boasts an abundance of local events. For starters, representatives of the Cavaliers are expected to attend this morning's weekly meeting of the United Pastors in Mission in search of support for expansive public financing of improvements to Quicken Loans Arena. [We have an article on that controversial issue that we will appear in this space shortly.]

Dr. Cassi Pittman
We have been for some time in the midst of an era where issues of race, class and culture bubble up everywhere, making vital the need for thoughtful analysis. So we are especially interested in hearing the thoughts of Dr. Cassi Pittman when she speaks today on the Case Western Reserve University campus on “The Impact of Racial and Cultural Affinities”. Pittman, an assistant professor of sociology at Case, received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2012 before returning to this area and joining the Case faculty in 2014. Pittman grew up in East Cleveland and attended school there before matriculating at Hathaway Brown School. 
Pittman will speak at 11:30am in Crawford Hall, 10900 Euclid Ave., Room A13. The program is sponsored by Case’s Social Justice Institute.

Interwoven with issues of race, culture and demographics are questions of  governance and finance. In Cuyahoga County, this interplay is seen most frequently in the area’s first ring suburbs, where a recurrent problem is how cities adjust to population shifts, and changes in the job and housing markets. Maple Heights is the third city in the county to be declared in a state of fiscal emergency. The state-appointed Maple Heights Fiscal and Planning Commission meets this afternoon, Jan. 31 at 3pm in the city’s Senior Center.

Of perhaps wider interest, over the past year, as East Cleveland has dealt with its financial woes and the disintegration of its political establishment, opinions have perhaps polarized over whether the city should merge with Cleveland.
The League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland is sponsoring a forum on the issue tonight that will feature Cleveland City Council president Kevin Kelley and Ward 10 Councilman Jeff Johnson, along with East Cleveland mayor Brandon King and council president Nate Martin. Since this event was originally scheduled, Johnson has announced he is running for Cleveland mayor this year while East Cleveland’s former mayor and council president were recalled by the voters in a special election last month.
Will the merger happen? Should it happen? How could it happen? Ideastream’s crack reporter Nick Castele will moderate the program at 7pm tonight at Case’s Tinkham Veale Center, 11038 Bellflower Rd.

One development we have noted with pleasure of late is the increasing outreach of several community organizations. The Black Professionals Association Charitable Foundation last year initiated a Leadership Speaker Series featuring several former Black Professionals of the Year. Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson kicked off the series last fall followed in short order by nationally known businessman and author George Fraser.
Marketing and communications guru and magazine publisher Alexandria Johnson Boone is tonight’s speaker. Her topic: “Express Yourself: Elevate Your Personal Brand from Average to Amazing”.
Boone will speak tonight at 6pm at Burke Lakefront Airport, 1501 N. Marginal Rd.

Finally, Case Western is certainly bustling this week! This Friday, the University holds its 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation featuring Margot Lee Shetterly as keynote speaker. Shetterly is author of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, made into a motion picture currently screening at local theaters. 
The event, which is free and open to the public, is Friday, Feb. 3, at 12:30 p.m. in the Tinkham Veale University Center, 11038 Bellflower Rd.  A book-signing and reception follows her talk. To attend, register at