Monday, March 30, 2009

30 bottles of booze on McFaul's wall

Mark Puente's story about the interim sheriff's first day in office is as pure and taut as a poem. After the news of Frank Bova's memos banning political activity, solicitations, and gift-taking comes this gem:

After Bova was sworn in Saturday, he found two cabinets stuffed with about 30 liquor bottles. The booze was packed up and delivered to McFaul.

"It is his personal property," Bova said.

Perhaps someone compiled a detailed inventory before shipping the alcohol. Then reporters could file records requests to find out what McFaul drank on the job.

I hope he kept a fully stocked bar. That would be so much more suave than 30 bottles of the same thing.

Any guesses what McFaul's favorite drink might be? I'm torn between Jameson Irish Whiskey and Gordon's Dry Gin.

(Photo, not necessarily representative of McFaul's collection, from Krizalis on

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hagan blasts PD for Kennedy question, "pimp" comment

Tim Hagan blasted the Plain Dealer again at today's county commission meeting. Scroll down (way down) to see the video.

Hagan says the paper has "questioned my integrity" and resorted to personal attacks. "The press is out of control, for the purpose of seeking readership while the paper is in decline," he charged.

Hagan's mad -- understandably -- that editorial writer Chris Evans, commenting on the Medical Mart project on WCPN last Thursday, called Hagan a "pimp leading the dance." Evans has apologized. (Roldo Bartimole, a Hagan critic for decades, cheers the "pimp" line here.)

Hagan's also upset that the PD dared to ask a really obvious and important question: how has Tim Hagan's close relationship with the Kennedy family affected the negotiations with Med Mart developer MMPI and its president, Chris Kennedy?

This is the article that set Hagan off. The PD says one reason it threatened a lawsuit to get the county to reveal its latest agreement with MMPI is that it's "concerned" about the Hagan-Chris Kennedy relationship.

At a meeting a year ago, when an earlier county-MMPI agreement was unveiled, even Jimmy Dimora mentioned Hagan's awkward ties.

“Commissioner Hagan especially, because of his relationship with the Kennedy family, was in a very difficult position,” Dimora said then. "And he stood up for our community and for making sure we got a good deal. Even though [with] friendship, sometimes you try to be lax and easier with your friends, more understanding, he stood the line, which helped make sure that MMPI knew that we were serious and that we wanted to do the right thing for the taxpayers."

That's Hagan's dilemma, his conflict of interest, right there. Of course the PD should ask about it.

I did too, last spring. "The assumption is that I would be compromised in those discussions," Hagan said then. "I don’t want to give that impression. I certainly know people in this town as well or better that we’ve negotiated with." (Today at the meeting, Hagan said Sam Miller and the Ratners of Forest City have given him $75,000 over the years, which didn't keep him from rejecting their Med Mart site.)

"I know Chris Kennedy," Hagan told me last year. "I went to his mother’s 80th birthday party. They’ve been friends of mine for almost 40 years. But the Kennedys no longer own Merchandise Mart, and he’s the president of the company. I don’t think that precludes my discussions with him.

"I think the public scrutiny and transparency of the deal put before the public is proof that I’ve tried to operate in the best interests of community first and foremost."

Which is why the PD wants to see the new agreement!

I think the Hagan-Kennedy relationship has potential risks and potential rewards. Of course it's harder to be a tough negotiator when a friend is across the table. But people who like the Medical Mart could flip the argument and claim: if it weren't for Hagan's valuable personal relationship, the deal would have never gotten done! Update, Sunday: Chris Kennedy says exactly that in a Plain Dealer story: "Who's got the juice in that town? ... We would not invest there if it weren't for Tim Hagan."

One more bit of news: Toward the end of the video, Hagan says he's not running for reelection in 2012.

Update, Friday a.m.: Here's the PD story about Hagan's complaints, with responses from editor Susan Goldberg.

McFaul resigns, Hagan defends him

Check out Channel 3's report on Sheriff Gerald McFaul's resignation. Then read the Plain Dealer's.

The announcement from McFaul's office says his doctor advised him to resign yesterday because of his poor health. But the Plain Dealer notes that the resignation came 30 minutes after a reporter called to ask about cash McFaul got from his employees:

For years, his workers have provided him with thousands of dollars in cash and other gifts for his birthday, at Christmas and before vacations to Ireland and Florida.

Tim Hagan defends McFaul to Channel 3. I hope Hagan is the victim of bad sound-bite editing here, or a slip of his own tongue:

Nobody questioned his integrity or the people around him. ... These accusations that are made without foundation run him out of office. It's too bad that somebody, after all these years, is given this kind of farewell.

Which allegations are without foundation? The tapes that provoked a special prosecutor's investigation? The timesheets that show McFaul was only in the office once a week? The deputy who threatened to kill four cops, but didn't get charged because McFaul's office protected him?

But for a different farewell, here is the Plain Dealer's retrospective on McFaul's career. It's a great story: a near-fistfight with Dennis Kucinich, a police dog's bulletproof vest, an armored vehicle named Big Ben, dumb crooks lured to jail by promises of free cash. As one online commenter says: "Damn, now that's a re-cap."

Update, Friday 3/27, a.m.: Channel 3 also seemed to say that Hagan hopes the special prosecutor's probe of McFaul is "moot" now that he's resigned. Guess not. The Ohio Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigation raided the sheriff's office yesterday.

Update, Tuesday 3/31, a.m.: Hagan backed off his earlier comments about McFaul on WMJI's Lanigan and Malone show this morning. Chip Kullik asked him if he stood by his comment that no one had questioned McFaul's integrity. "No, did I say that?" Hagan answered.

Hagan said he had privately pressed McFaul to resign. "We had 15 phone calls to try to encourage him to understand what was happening," Hagan said. "It looks like he made some serious mistakes."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Politics' spawn: the gerrymander lives in Cleveland!

You knew reducing the size of Cleveland City Council wouldn't be a simple act of good government. Now that council has approved a new ward map, we really know it.

First, when council president Martin Sweeney got the reduction plan onto November's ballot, we heard it would cut council from 21 members to 17. Then, by November, maybe 19, maybe 17. After the election, thanks to the fine print: nope, we're only reducing it to 19. (Henry Gomez's blog post is the only thing I've read that explains some of this sleight of hand.)

Then, councilpeople put in special requests. Ken Johnson wants the Ken Johnson Recreation Center to stay in his ward, so consultants drew one ward that looks like it's eating another. An old "scorpion tail" ward line around Clifton Blvd. remains there because Jay Westbrook and Dona Brady still can't resolve their turf war from eight years ago.

Next, we found out which two councilpeople got their wards chopped up. No surprise, it's not two Sweeney loyalists. It's mavericks Brian Cummins, who may be out of a job, and Zack Reed, who will have to scramble for another seat but may be able to win and stay on council. Bill Callahan, an Old Brooklyn resident, says Cummins got what he asked for, so Roldo defended him and said losing Cummins would be Cleveland's loss.

Sweeney and council's consultant denied redistricting to eliminate critics. (Here is the council majority's argument for the ward lines.) But some of the new lines look weird and raggedy, the classic sign of redistricting for political purposes. Parts of Slavic Village and Old Brooklyn are thrown into one ward, even though Newburgh Heights and Cuyahoga Heights are in between.

Cummins has taken to Brewed Fresh Daily to blog. An image is worth 1,000 words: he cleverly compares three new wards to the freaky lizard shape in Elbridge Gerry's 1812 redrawing of Massachusetts, which led to the coining of the term gerrymander (Gerry + salamander) -- a creepy animal, politics' spawn.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

MMPI v. Forest City: the letters

Here are the documents MMPI and Forest City fired at each other this week about where to build the Medical Mart. Anyone looking for a candid final debate about the pros and cons of the two sites will find it here.

MMPI to the county -- recommending the Mall site
MMPI to Forest City -- rejecting the Tower City site
MMPI's response to PD editorial about the Mall site (click here for the editorial)
Forest City response to MMPI
Forest City consultants' response to MMPI

Lots to read, but I'll paraphrase.

MMPI: The Mall has plenty of room. It's cheaper. The low ceiling under Lakeside won't be all that bad. We'll have a huge "glass curtain" window looking out on the lake! There's plenty of parking close by. We can use tunnels to connect to hotels. 270,000 square feet is enough exhibit space. We'll have higher ceilings and way fewer columns than the current center. We'll only elevate the Mall plazas a little. We'll restore Public Hall, not degrade it. We can book trade shows there within 13 months.

Tower City's site is too narrow. A convention center there would be weirdly tall and thin. We think contractors will run from it screaming. Moving the riverbank could scuttle it all. Your ceilings would be too short. Your view of the river and Flats is ugly. Your exhibit space will be smaller than you think -- you forgot to make room for behind the scenes stuff. Your meeting rooms are lame. Your truck dock is sloped and won't work. Yeah, our site's underground, but yours would be under Huron Avenue! We don't believe your suddenly slashed cost estimates. Cost overruns could be huge. Your site costs too much.

Forest City: Our site is cheaper! We have a contractor who loves it. It's more marketable. Our architects know convention centers and are smarter than you think. Other cities have tall convention centers too. We're just going to move the river's bulkhead -- we can get permission for that in a month. We'll have windows on every floor. Our ballroom is better. Our meeting rooms are fine (or we can change them around).

Why are you rebuilding such a lame, failed old center? You didn't count all the costs at the Mall. None of your parking is on your site. Your meeting rooms are even lamer.

Peter Lawson Jones on the McFaul controversies

Should Sheriff Gerald McFaul go? That's the other big question in Cleveland politics this week.

Right now a headline says, "Jim Rokakis and Peter Lawson Jones expect Sheriff Gerald McFaul to resign within days."

Not so, Jones just told me. He thinks McFaul will wait to see if the special prosecutor's probe gets him indicted. Then he might make a deal and resign, months from now.

But should McFaul resign now? In today's PD, county Republican chair Rob Frost blasts local Democrats for not calling for him to step down.

Jones said some of the "host of allegations" against McFaul "appear to have the ring of truth." Combine his poor health with the scrutiny he's under and the allegations against him, "that would normally lead one to resign," Jones said.

Progress on MMPI negotiations

The Med Mart announcement today wasn't as groundbreaking as I thought it'd be: the county commissioners approved an "agreement in principle" toward a "definitive agreement" with MMPI. No site decision or final agreement. But Fred Nance (the county's negotiator) and Tim Hagan said some interesting things about the project.

Nance's main points today sound a lot like the memo of understanding the two sides agreed on a year ago. "The county will have no responsibility for cost overruns," Nance said, and MMPI will take care of all capital improvements. The new agreement also includes a marketing plan and very specific design regulations, he says.

Nance did address the PD's story about economic benefits. Even if the project only attracts one-fourth of the benefit MMPI projects, it's well-warranted, Nance argued.

"Between the expenditure of the bond proceeds and the interest on them, the public investment is just under a billion dollars," Nance said. MMPI projects the convention center and medical mart will generate about a billion dollars a year in economic activity.

"Say it’s off by 75 percent, [though] I doubt it is," Nance said. "We get our money back in less than 5 years. None of this is science. But the order of magnitude -- this is a no-brainer, a tremendous benefit to the community."

Tim Hagan managed not to raise his voice when he addressed the latest press coverage this time. "We believe very strongly that our investment, our own stimulus package, will benefit [the whole community] in the long term."

Sounds like MMPI's strong letters defending the mall site are the biggest news today. I will post more about them later in the day. I hope to write more about the economic benefits debate -- the "why build it at all?" question -- in a few days.

MMPI defends Mall site

We did just get some answers to the latest questions about the Mall site.

Another letter from MMPI just got passed out, responding to the Plain Dealer editorial yesterday summarizing the questions.

MMPI is putting out a lot of facts in response to Forest City's attack on the mall site. It argues:

-Yes, the Mall site exposition space is large enough, and Forest City's plan would actually have a smaller space.

-The lower ceiling problem under Lakeside Ave. is not as bad as Forest City claims.

-Public Hall won't be degraded, but restored to its original condition.

Update: Forest City did respond, holding an impromptu press conference in the hallway after the meeting and passing out a response to MMPI's letter.

Jimmy Dimora was at the meeting, looking glum and not talking except to vote. (Maybe he's feeling sick -- someone made a joke about him and Hagan being "on the disabled list" for a charity basketball event.)

Med Mart announcement today

An announcement about the Medical Mart and convention center is coming this morning.

[Update: I was wrong about this part --]{It'll be the county commissioners' decision about where to build it, or the announcement of a development agreement with MMPI, or both.}

I'm live-blogging from the commissioners' meeting room, where Tim Hagan and Peter Lawson Jones just convened their Thursday meeting, then went into executive session to discuss a "land transaction item" -- they're receiving a report about the Med Mart project.

We know the commissioners want to build on the Mall site -- today's Plain Dealer story makes that clear. MMPI sent letters to the county and Forest City yesterday, making the case for the Mall site and against the Tower City site. I just got the letters, and they're very persuasive and definitive.

My questions today:

-Will anyone from Forest City put up a fight at this meeting?

-Will Hagan rip into the Plain Dealer again?

-Will Jimmy Dimora be here today? (He didn't come out for the quick start to the meeting.)

-Will anyone address the PD's skeptical report this week on the convention center's economic benefit projections?

-Or the remaining questions about the Mall site that came up in the Cleveland Planning Commission meeting this week?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sheriff = Santa?

Jimmy Malone, the morning radio host, has a great talent for political satire. I've appreciated it since 2005, when I asked him who Cleveland's perfect mayor would be, and he replied, "Nate Gray. Because that would cut out the middleman." (Gray, ex-mayor Mike White's ex-best friend, was about to go on trial on 45 charges of political corruption.)

You've got to read Malone's op-ed in today's Plain Dealer, a hilarious rewrite of the famous newspaper article, "Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus." Malone assures Virginia that yes, there is a Cuyahoga County sheriff, even if he never comes to work.

If you don't remember how the original goes, read it first, then read Malone's update. He doesn't change much of the text -- which makes it even funnier.

If you don't get all the Sheriff McFaul jokes, click here.

Bonus McFauliana: The PD's best photo gallery ever -- McFaul's Jan. 5 reaction to reporter Mark Puente's first exposés of his office, including McFaul poking Puente with his cane!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cleveland vs. Detroit: What we take for granted

I got back from a weekend in Detroit to see this story, which almost wasn't news: Frank Jackson and Tim Hagan had a nice talk about Cuyahoga County acquiring the convention center site from the city of Cleveland.

Hagan had suggested that the city just deed it over for free. Jackson replied it was a valuable asset, so county should pay for it. But they'll work it out. They had a pleasant chat, and they're confident they'll have a deal by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, Detroit may give up ownership of its convention center too -- but only after an ugly, dirty, ridiculous, YouTube-worthy, crazy fight.

Cobo Center is getting old and out of date. Not as far gone as Cleveland's convention center, yet. But it costs $15 million a year for the city to keep up. It will probably lose its biggest event, the North American International Auto Show, if it doesn't undergo a major renovation. But the city can't pay for the work. It's flat broke.

So the state legislature, metro Detroit's three counties, and Detroit's mayor came up with a plan to transfer Cobo Center to a regional authority. But Detroit City Council voted against it. They don't want the center to give up preferential hiring and contracting for Detroiters.

Two councilwomen are playing the race card to attack the plan. Barbara-Rose Collins (whom voters threw out of Congress 13 years ago amid scandal, and who occasionally wears a tiara to council meetings) started ranting about "European rulers" at last week's city council meeting, then sang "Onward, Christian Soldiers"!

They're suing Detroit Mayor Ken Cockrel, Jr., a good guy who calls for regional and racial cooperation. People outside Detroit who want to help the city are recoiling, appalled.

Compared to Detroit's convention center battle, Cleveland's looks remarkably civilized. That reminds me of a few things about Cleveland politics that we take for granted.

Detroit and Cleveland are very similar -- 1920s boom towns, manufacturing capitals, formerly among the nation's biggest cities, scarred by racial tension, now shrinking from industry's decline. But today, Cleveland rarely sinks into the battles between city and suburb, black and white, that wound Detroit over and over.

It's not that Cleveland is a racial utopia. It's definitely not. (Just look at how often local news stories attract ugly comments from readers with racial grudges.)

But in Cleveland politics, racial divisiveness is ultimately a losing strategy. Leaders who appeal to our better instincts deserve some of the credit. Geography deserves some too -- the simple fact that the Cuyahoga River has been our racial dividing line, not the city limits.

Detroit's racial geography lines up roughly with political boundaries. The famous 8 Mile Road is not just the boundary between Detroit and the suburbs, but between one county and two others. So politicians in Detroit and the suburbs who think along racial lines can play the race card and win re-election. Kwame Kilpatrick, the recently disgraced former Detroit mayor, was infamous for this.

But Cleveland's mayors -- Frank Jackson in 2005, Jane Campbell in 2001, Mike White in 1989 -- win office by attracting votes from black and white and from both sides of town. City council presidents need east-west coalitions to survive. County-wide candidates, too, know a multi-racial coalition is the easiest way to victory.

Just after Frank Jackson was elected, I asked him how he might improve race relations as mayor. Here's what he said:

I don’t think it’s really about improving race relations as much as it is carrying out what you said. If I look at what I do in the city of Cleveland not as black, white or Hispanic, or East Side or West Side, but look at it as doing it for Cleveland, that’s a message from me. If you do not play up the issue of differences or what divides us, then it will tend not to be as prominent.

We're fortunate most of our leaders think like that. I wish more Detroiters did.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Mayor speaks up about shooting

Last week I wrote that speaking up to reassure Cleveland after ugly crimes is not Mayor Frank Jackson's style. Henry Gomez of the Plain Dealer has noticed that too -- see his blog post, where he notes that Jackson broke character to make statements about the West 89th Street murders.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Nice work if you can get it

Looks like Carl Monday has uncovered another example of patronage in county government -- another politically connected person getting paid to do not much at all. Channel 19's infamous hidden cameras follow Pat O'Malley's brother, Kevin O'Malley, as he washes his car, buys baked goods and shovels his driveway on county time. He allegedly works at the county archives, but the county archivist can't explain his whereabouts.

I've met plenty of smart, conscientious county workers. They must get pretty angry about working when others don't.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

State of the City: final thoughts

So how did Frank Jackson's State of the City address go?

First, a note on style: The mayor is not an inspiring speaker and won't ever be. Today, like always, he's got no ringing phrases, just substance.

His first point, about the budget, was the most important and impressive. Despite the economy, despite Cleveland losing population, he's still balancing the budget without layoffs and without reducing services. Though revenue is down 2.4 percent, he said, general fund expenditures are up 3.5 percent. How's he pulling that off? Some of it is a hiring freeze, a 10 percent cut in overtime, a 3 percent cut due to energy efficiency.

He said he started a five-year financial plan when he got into office, looked for spending cuts, and worked ahead. This is a big, underrated accomplishment. Compare that to Mike White, a bully-pulpit mayor who gave great speeches but left a financial mess for Jane Campbell to clean up.

The second biggest point was his call for a regional approach to education. He's talked about this before, but never so clearly. His vision of a county-wide or region-wide levy that would raise money for all local districts could do a lot to bring city schools more funding and reduce the problem of high property taxes nudging people from Cleveland to outer suburbs.

Not so impressive was his reaction to the foreclosure and vacant homes crisis. He talked about how many homes the city has demolished. But the problem is so large that Cleveland needs a better-planned strategy to tear more down faster and decide what should become of the vacant land. The county has its own programs for this, and Jackson needs to team up with them.

On safety, he didn't specifically address the Perk Park shooting (though he did last week). It's not his style to react much to the latest news. He stuck to the big picture: violent crime, he said, is down two years in a row.

No mention of the coming fight about the domestic-partnership registry. He's going to have to address it, if it ends up on the ballot this fall when he's running for re-election.

I think Jackson hasn't left much room for a challenger to take him on. Someone can go at him for his leadership style and say he should have a longer list of accomplishments, especially in economic development. But voters know the economy is beyond a mayor's control. So I think Jackson's message that he prepared the city for hard times will resonate in the fall.

More on schools

An exchange about schools got more interesting answers from Jackson.

These Q&As usually have some single-issue questioners. One asks what the mayor's doing to expand Cleveland's school voucher program for sending kids to private schools.

"Not much," the mayor says. That comic understatement again.

"If we go out for a levy," he explains, "Why would someone vote for that if they don't have a child in the public schools, if they have to pay tuition for someone to go to a private school?"

Passing a school levy is a distant dream for Cleveland, ever since voters shot one down in 2005 by a two-to-one margin. "I would like to have that [a levy] done for the whole county or the whole region, but that's not the case right now," Jackson says. A minute later he adds: "I'm not talking about a regional school district," but he is talking about regional funding, regional standards, and regional curriculums.

Once everyone's on the same level, he says, he'll be "the biggest fan of vouchers." He adds that no one should have to pay tuition and school taxes -- the voucher fans must love that! -- "but we're not there yet."

Q&A with the mayor

Now Jackson's taking questions from the audience, as all City Club speakers do. This is usually a mixed bag of good questions and bad, good answers and bad.

Talking about how to help the newly unemployed, Jackson says he also needs to help people who have barriers to employment. It is a Jackson signature -- he says, yes, I'll do that, and I'll also go farther and include the people who are usually left out.

In the speech, he quoted his 2005 campaign line, that he should be judged by whether "the least of us" are better off because of what he does. Here he restates that, but in a way that is a less stirring: "The pace is not set by the quickest, but the slowest, because I can't leave anybody behind." Maybe it's me, but I felt like the room was suddenly a tad uncomfortable -- that line plays into the common criticism against Jackson: too slow, too quiet! (He sort of tried to recover, saying, well, things need to move at a bunch of different speeds.)

Also, someone asked if the mayor knows how much money we'll get from the federal stimulus package. It's not nailed down yet. "We will get our share. And when we get it, we are prepared to spend it." It sounded funnier the way he said it -- he often understates for comic effect -- and the crowd laughed. The city has set up an internal structure for a quick turnaround, he says, so it can start projects as soon as the money comes.

Jackson on schools: disappointments, regional cooperation

Jackson turns to education and gets candid about things not going well: "Dr. Sanders" (the schools CEO) "and I are both disappointed that we're not farther down the line in providing quality education for all our residents."

Instead, the mayor mentions a few Cleveland schools that are prospering: John Hay high school, the single-gender academies, the Ted Ginn Academy. "Innovative strategies in place and already working in some of our schools should become routine in all of our schools."

He then calls for regional cooperation on education. I've heard him touch on this before, but not in this much detail.

"Education is a regional concern. It should be apprached in the same way, with the same vigor, as a regional economy." Students in all schools in the region should learn the same things and be held to the same standards, he says.

He calls for regional education funding, procurement, collective bargaining, accountability standards, and curriculum standards.

I hear that as a major challenge to everyone who wants regionalism for only one reason, to make it easier to do business (though Jackson talked about regional economic cooperation too).

Opportunity Corridor and the Inner Belt Bridge

So far the crowd's favorite part of the speech was when the mayor identified four infrastructure projects as really important to our economy: a new Inner Belt bridge, the Opportunity Corridor, the West Shoreway and (this one's new to me) the riverbed road.

That's good, because everyone wants a new Inner Belt Bridge. Most every commuter I know is scared of the current bridge, now that the state has had to lighten its load, though few feel they can easily avoid the bridge.

Years ago, Jackson was not enthusiastic about the Opportunity Corridor, the proposed boulevard to connect I-490 and University Circle. The fear was he might kill it if it took out a single home in his old ward. Now he's behind it -- good news for the city.

Same with the West Shoreway, which was a Jane Campbell/Chris Ronayne vision. Jackson's commitment to the lakefront plan has been questioned sometimes, but here he's embracing a big part of it.

(Update: In the Q&A, Jackson explained his ambivalence about the Opportunity Corridor. He said he doesn't want it to bisect the southeast side and isolate any neighborhoods, as freeways have done in other parts of the city. A valid concern, though I think the boulevard would make a now-isolated part of Cleveland, the "Forgotten Triangle," much more accessible. Here's my essay about why the Opportunity Corridor should be built, from December 2004.)

Med Mart: Jackson plays it safe

The mayor just mentioned the Medical Mart and convention center, but he didn't say much.

"The remaining questions around the project must be resolved so we can move forward," is all he said about the site decision. (Update: Across town, an engineering firm assured the county commissioners today that the Mall site is sound, and that a new convention center can be built on the old one's foundation.)

Jackson made the case that a "high quality state of the art" MM/CC will help the city's hospitality industry and health care economy. That got applause, but I think the crowd was applauding the project more than Jackson.

Mayor talks crime, health care, vacant homes

Here's the part of any State of the City where the mayor goes through the laundry list of issues he's working on.

Not only is violent crime down two years in a row, he says, the police have shortened their response time and increased the number of cops on the street.

He says he's also talking with the major hospitals to improve access to health care, in part by increasing the use of city clinics for providing primary care and allowing EMS to transfer non-emergency cases to the clinics.

He mentions homelessness, promising he's focused on permanent homes, not just shelter.

When he gets to the huge problem of vacant homes in the city, his rosy picture is not as impressive. He says the city has demolished 2,300 structures since 2006, while the private sector has taken down 900 more. But that New York Times Magazine article I mentioned says there are 10,000 to 15,000 vacant homes in the city!

What I didn't hear is a plan to cooperate with two other big new projects in town to deal with abandoned homes: county treasurer Jim Rokakis' new land bank and a federal program the county is administering.

Mayor pitches self as budget hound

"Cleveland is bucking the national trend," Mayor Frank Jackson says to start his State of the City speech.

That might sound surprising on a day when the New York Times Magazine is posting another story about the foreclosure crisis here, but Jackson mentions the ways Cleveland is doing better than most cities. Crime is down two years straight, he says. At a time when credit is tight, the city is investing in neighborhoods, he says. (Update: He later explains the city has provided development loans to businesses.)

He quickly nods to the deep recession, but says he got Cleveland ready for the tough times.

"The work I have done for the last three years has prepared us for this moment, " he says.

The city ended 2008 with a balanced budget and is "on track to balance the budget in 2009 without layoffs or reduction in services," he says, the first applause line of the day.

He lists a bunch of line-item budget-cutting he's worked on since taking office, from saving energy to a hiring freeze to collecting delinquent taxes. "Without this work, I'm convinced that Cleveland's future would be in doubt," he says.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Live-blogging State of the City

I'm going to live-blog from Mayor Frank Jackson's State of the City address today. It starts at 12:30. Please stop by during or afterwards.

Here's what I'll be listening for:

The mayor will talk about how he's balanced the city's budget without layoffs -- the question is, will that still be true a year from now?

When he talks about the convention center and Med Mart, will he embrace the Mall site? (If the county commissioners are smart, they'll have briefed him on the pivotal engineering study, to be revealed to the public this morning.)

Since last week's murder in Perk Park has unnerved so many people, will he talk some more about safety downtown?

Will he embrace the city's new domestic partnership registry, to try to stop the petition drive being organized to repeal it?

Will he say anything bold enough to make believers in the bully-pulpit theory of city leadership warm up to him?

Will he leave any opening for someone to run against him this fall?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Reform and recall

Yesterday I wrote about The Professor's discovery that he can't start a drive to recall Jimmy Dimora. He's so frustrated, he's talking about taking a time machine back to Ohio's constitutional convention of 1912. But there's one lesson our anonymous instructor hasn't thought of.

The Professor has done a great civic service: he's stumbled upon another way that our antiquated county government lacks checks and balances. And he did it at the same time a bunch of people are talking about writing a charter for Cuyahoga County, which would take effect in 2011 (too late to help his recall-Dimora movement, but still...)

Ohio's constitution prevents us from recalling county officials because counties are "creatures of the state." The counties all have the same structure, which the state created -- except one. Summit County has its own charter. And it turns out that our neighbors in Akron and Green and Cuyahoga Falls can recall their county officials -- their charter says so.

If and when the groups looking at Cuyahoga County reform publish a draft of a charter, I'll let you know if it includes a provision for recall.