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.

• • •

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.