Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Berea Mayor Kleem’s amazing survival skills

This blog’s 2011 award for Most Unlikely Political Survivor goes to Berea Mayor Cyril Kleem. He came back from memory loss, medical leave, and two small-town-weird investigations to trounce his opponent in the Democratic primary yesterday.

Until this winter, if anyone outside Berea had heard of Kleem, it was probably because he was one of the guys Jimmy Dimora couldn’t corrupt. The 37-year-old mayor is the second cousin of Ferris Kleem, best known as the guy who allegedly bought Dimora a hooker. Cyril Kleem shows up briefly in prosecutor’s court filings as Public Official 7 – but, as with Ed FitzGerald’s PO14 cameo, that doesn’t mean what you think.

The charges say Dimora and Frank Russo tried to get Ferris Kleem to nudge his cousin toward the worker’s comp organization of their choice. But Cyril didn’t change Berea’s worker’s comp company. Now he’s trying really hard to let everyone know he and his crooked cousin are estranged. They even had it out in public at the Berea City Club this fall.

The mayor’s troubles started a couple of months ago. Olmsted Falls asked the Cuyahoga County’s sheriff’s office to investigate why a “mystery truck” owned by Berea turned up in Olmsted Falls on Christmas Eve. Who was the man who ran back to the truck and sped away when spotted? A Berea cop said he thought he saw Kleem’s car parked at City Hall next to the spot where the truck had been.

Kleem said he wasn’t the guy
and that cell phone records and the timing of the police officer’s shift proved it. But the mayor also said his memory of Christmastime was spotty because of his medical conditions — lupus, arthritis, and figromylagia — and depression and suicidal thoughts brought on by his medicine. He said two medical leaves had set him straight and insisted he was fit to serve. The next day, city council president James J. Brown announced he was running to unseat the mayor.

A month later came a second investigation. Berea police confirmed they’d contacted a good friend of Kleem’s because of a tip about a possible break-in. The woman said she saw someone inside her house Jan. 6 and thought it might be Kleem, but she wasn’t sure. Kleem called it a false, dirty campaign rumor. The police soon closed the investigation. Now the word is the two inquiries involved the same woman's current and former homes.

The Plain Dealer called Kleem’s behavior “bizarre” and endorsed Brown. The Sun paper stuck with Kleem, saying he had a record of accomplishment in Berea and a better vision than his opponent. The voters must’ve agreed and decided not to hold the mayor’s health problems against him. (Here's a letter from a supporter claiming Kleem wiped the floor with Brown at their debate.)

It sure makes for more drama than the biggest race for mayor yesterday, over in Parma. That race made almost no news, and in the end, the Parma political establishment came out on top once again. State Rep. Tim DeGeeter, protégé of current mayor Dean DePiero, won the Democratic primary, beating county councilman Chuck Germana by about two to one. It’s the third time DeGeeter has followed DePiero up the career ladder – he also succeeded him in the state house and Parma city council. The Plain Dealer says DePiero and Ted Strickland recorded robocalls for him.

So when DePiero and Bill Mason leave office, their political faction (call it a machine if you like) won’t retire with them. They’ll become the wise men in the background, while DeGeeter will become the go-to guy in the southwest burbs.

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