Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mansfield: "Skip, You Mouthed Off"

President Obama is having his climactic beer tonight with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and James Crowley, the Cambridge cop who arrested him. In honor of the occasion, I'd like to recommend an opinion piece on The Daily Beast by local columnist Mansfield Frazier, whom Cool Cleveland recently photographed looking badass on a motorcycle.

How's this for a great headline? "Skip, You Mouthed Off." Frazier pulled off the tough feat of saying at the same time that 1) unfair treatment of black men by cops is very real and 2) the professor should've cooled off and complained later. And he did it with more humor than any other writer I've seen tackle this story. (Well, maybe Mansfield's tied with the writers of The Onion.)

Mansfield's been on CNN talking about his column with scholar Michael Eric Dyson, who called him "one of the great writers in American society right now, especially on politics and culture" (see below, starting at 1:50) and on NBC's Today Show (see farther below).

By the way, what beers are the president, professor, and policeman drinking? Bud Light, Red Stripe and Blue Moon. Update, 7/31: Gates switched to Sam Adams Light (good Massachusetts beer). Vice-president Joe Biden joined in and had a non-alcoholic Buckler.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Roldo studies Frank Jackson, "caretaker Mayor"

Reporters have a hard time getting their minds and pens around Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. They expect mayors to lead through stirring words, to exude charisma, to embody the city in an exciting way. Then their expectations run up against Jackson, and fail. He is the opposite of all that.

Roldo Bartimole is the latest to take on Jackson, the low-key enigma. For his new piece, "Mayor Jackson: A Mayor for the Times?", he interviews Jackson about his late friend Lonnie Burten, a city councilman in the 1980s. Roldo's piece revives vivid memories of Burten, then judges Jackson as a politician and mayor. He perceptively notes Jackson's lack of ambition, so unusual in an elected official. He notices Jackson's wariness, his "streak of stubbornness," his loyalty to his neighborhood. (I've seen these traits in Jackson too, when I wrote about him in a 2006 profile, "The Populist.")

"He projects a steady hand at the helm, even if that’s the mark of a caretaker Mayor," Roldo writes. I would have expected Roldo to be satisfied with that. He and Jackson have a lot in common. They're both longtime students of how the city runs. Both have populist streaks in their politics. Roldo's journalism is built on facts, not flash, just as Jackson says his leadership is built on tasks, not words.

But even Roldo wants Cleveland's mayor to be the bully pulpit figure that Jackson is not.

"It may not be long, I believe, when Cleveland will want someone who gives them something to look forward to, some spark and flair," he writes. "Someone who will promise more than a balanced budget."

Just when I think Roldo's building up to predicting a dramatic mayor's race this fall, or maybe a kind word for charismatic challenger Bill Patmon, he goes the other way.

"I don’t think it’s this election. I don’t think we can wait too much longer. Cleveland needs a big lift."

Sounds like Roldo's predicting the reelection of the caretaker mayor this year and a swing back to charisma in 2013.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Proposed charter will be on November ballot

The proposal to replace Cuyahoga County's government with a county executive and council will go before voters in November.

The Go Cuyahoga group, which drafted and proposed a county charter, collected enough valid signatures to put it on the ballot, the group and the board of elections said this afternoon. Here is their draft charter.

As of late Saturday, the board of elections had verified 45,776 signatures and rejected 23,270, with about 10,000 still to review. Go Cuyahoga needed 45,458 valid signatures to get the charter on the ballot. (Elections director Jane Platten said the board finished its work today and that final numbers will come out soon.) The county commissioners will have to vote to certify the ballot proposal, but the law says they "shall" do it -- they don't have a choice.

Voters who want reform but don't want a county executive and council will have another option. In November, voters will also decide whether to elect a commission to draft another charter proposal. County commissioners Tim Hagan and Peter Lawson Jones voted to put that on the ballot on Thursday.

Lanigan & Malone on new reform plan: "Absolute insanity"

Lanigan and Malone, WMJI's morning show hosts, talked this morning about Tim Hagan and Peter Lawson Jones' new reform plan. They don't like it.

"Absolute insanity," Jimmy Malone said.

Malone was trying to get his head around Hagan and Jones' decision to ask voters to approve a charter review commission in November. It's meant to compete with the Go Cuyahoga plan, which would replace Hagan, Jones, and Jimmy Dimora with a county executive and council.

The radio guys focused on how the charter review commission would be chosen: people who want to be on it will have to collect 10,000 signatures by August 20. [Update, 8/5: The secretary of state now says they'll need 5,000.]

"How are we supposed to know anything about these people to vote on them?" Lanigan asked. "The idea sounds good until you find out they need 10,000 signatures."

The charter commissioners will all be politically connected, Malone said. No one else will be organized enough to circulate that many petitions. "It'll cost money," Lanigan added.

"They must be afraid of reform," said Chip Kullik.

Lanigan and Malone, one of Cleveland's top-rated morning shows, often invites local politicians on the air as guests. This morning, Malone sounded exasperated with frequent guest Tim Hagan -- "who I still consider a friend," he said. The hosts said they were surprised to see three other politicians they admire -- Frank Jackson, Dennis Kucinich, and Jim Rokakis -- on the list of supporters.

It sounded like they'd read the spitting-mad editorial in Sunday's Plain Dealer, which lists the supporters of a charter review commission, assumes the worst about their motives, and labels them all "co-conspirators in confusion."

Malone tried to explain what happens if both reform proposals pass: how we might vote next year on a county executive and council and vote on whether to wipe out their jobs before they start. (Here's my attempt to explain it last week.)

Malone added he isn't endorsing the Go Cuyahoga proposal. "I'm not saying Bill Mason's plan is the answer," he said. "I really don't know. But this is so confusing."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dueling reforms: Hagan, Jones place charter commission on ballot

County commissioners Tim Hagan and Peter Lawson Jones voted today to give the Go Cuyahoga reform proposal some competition.

Voters will decide in November whether to create a commission to write a charter for the county -- at the same time they may be asked to approve the proposed charter Go Cuyahoga has already written!

"I think it's necessary because a real reform process should be open and inclusive, not behind closed doors," Jones said at the commissioners' meeting today. Jones and Hagan repeatedly contrasted Go Cuyahoga's charter-writing effort, which involved a small group of local political and business leaders meeting privately, with the openness of a charter commission.

Jimmy Dimora returned to work today, taking part in most of the commissioners' meeting. However, he left before the charter commission vote. He told reporters later that he didn't want the effort to be hurt by any accusations it was his idea.

Here's what's going to happen now: People who want to be on the charter commission -- which would be Cuyahoga County's version of a constitutional convention -- have until August 20 to collect signatures to get on the ballot. In November, county voters will vote yes or no to the question, "Shall a county charter commission be established?" At the same time, they'll choose 15 people for the commission. The commission will meet in 2010 and write a new charter.

Meanwhile, the proposed charter written by the Go Cuyahoga group, which would create a county executive and county council, may well be on this November's ballot too. Jones and Hagan clearly want voters to say yes to a charter commission and no to the county executive idea.

But what if voters say yes to both? Lawyers may have to sort that out. (Here is the section of the Ohio constitution that deals with writing charters.) Jones said, "The product of the charter review commission must be placed on the ballot ... in 2010," which would be "at the same time as the changes proposed by the Zanotti-Mason-Republican plan go into effect."

So if I understood Jones right, if we approve a charter and a charter commission this November, we could end up in a weird form of limbo. We'd vote on candidates for county executive and council in a September 2010 primary, then vote on them again in the November 2010 general election -- at the same time we vote on whether to approve a newer charter that wipes out their jobs before they even start!

Here's a law that says some more about charter commissions. Up to 4 of the 15 charter commission members can be currently elected officials.

Harriet Applegate, local head of the AFL-CIO, spoke in favor of the charter commission at the commissioners' meeting today. Letters supporting it were signed by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, county treasurer Jim Rokakis, and several other local elected officials.

Dimora returns to work, says he's taken his case to Congress

Jimmy Dimora returned to work today, participated in most of the county commissioners' meeting, and told reporters later that he has written to Congress, asking it to investigate the investigation of him.

His comments, at a press conference late this morning, were mostly a tamer version of his dramatic statements two weeks ago, when he accused several local figures and entities of conspiring against him.

Today, Dimora said he and his lawyer sent a letter on Friday or Monday to the House Judiciary Committee, asking for an investigation into whether the U.S. Attorney's office was investigating him for politically biased reasons. He distributed copies of this 2008 report by the Judiciary Committee, which examines allegations of selective prosecution of Democrats in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and other states.

Dimora said he would not take a leave of absence, as Hagan and Jones called on him to do last week. However, he did absent himself from one vote today, Jones and Hagan's decision to ask voters to create a charter review commission. Dimora said he did not want that proposal to be attacked as his idea instead of Jones'. "I had nothing to do with it," he said.

Dimora acknowledged that contractor Steve Pumper, charged with bribery conspiracy in federal court last week, is a friend and neighbor of his. Dimora reiterated his innocence and accused his former associates facing federal charges of lying about him in exchange for lighter sentences.

"People in trouble have done some serious things," he said. "I haven't. I have done nothing wrong." He said his former friends were receiving "less jail time if they tell a good story."

Dimora insisted that the county acted fairly and impartially when it took some of the actions mentioned in last week's charges against Pumper, such as a loan for Pumper's company GreenSource and a real estate deal Pumper allegedly called Dimora to try to advance. Stung by accusations that the county had become a patronage hiring hall under his watch, Dimora noted he proposed and implemented a buyout that shrank the size of the county staff: "There are 2,000 less employees today than when [I] started."

Dimora's press conference, in the office of county administrator Jim McCafferty, began near the end of the county commission meeting. Dimora had participated in some of that meeting, voting on most items of business, but he left just before Jones proposed creating a charter review commission. After Jones and Hagan voted to do so, citizens concerned about the corruption investigation began to speak. McCafferty interrupted a 17-year-old speaker from Solon to tell reporters the Dimora press conference had already started.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

State budget deal winners: racetracks, Columbus Dispatch

If you'd like to know how the state budget crisis got resolved, the Plain Dealer's story today is OK. But I got a lot more out of the very clear explanations in the Columbus Dispatch's four stories.

It's not easy to make budget battles clear and exciting, but lawmakers' decisions affect thousands of people. For weeks now, the Dispatch has used its home-field advantage to explain it all clearly and vividly.

Today, "Keeping Score" explains who won and lost: Racetracks and food pantries were winners, prisons and libraries did "better than feared," while losers included mental-health services, colleges and universities, and hospitals.

This story quotes advocates about how the budget cuts will affect mental health and addiction treatment as well as libraries. The lead story explains how Gov. Strickland and the Republicans made the deal. "This is in the budget?" catches all the random stuff that got slipped into the budget bill (like, protection for teachers who lead kids in the Pledge of Allegiance).

I'm going to bookmark for my state politics news from now on.

The Plain Dealer's front page did note one bit of news the Dispatch almost missed: after a long battle, tax credits for the state's film industry passed as part of the deal.

Update, 7/15: The PD came back today with some Day 2 stories, including their own interesting piece about random stuff in the budget bill. They figured out that the Pledge of Allegiance bit was aimed at the Oberlin public schools, which have a policy of not saying the Pledge.

Also, corporal punishment is now officially banned in Ohio schools. Turns out a few scattered schools in the state were still paddling!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Go Cuyahoga charter effort turns in 79,000 signatures, but may need more

Go Cuyahoga, the effort to enact a charter for a new Cuyahoga County government, turned in 79,255 signatures to the Board of Elections this afternoon. But their press release says they may need more, and they'll continue their petition drive.

Meanwhile, commissioners Tim Hagan and Peter Lawson Jones announced yesterday that they plan to offer a competing proposal for restructuring the county on the November ballot.

The Go Cuyahoga group wants to replace the county commissioners with an 11-member council and a county executive who would appoint several county officials who are now elected. It wants to put its proposed charter (click here to read it as a Word document) on the Nov. 3 ballot.

"Our work is the result of over 20 years of analysis," Parma Heights Mayor and Go Cuyahoga organizer Martin Zanotti told me this afternoon, referring to previous studies of possible county reforms. Zanotti said the proposed charter, developed this year by a group of local politicians and businessmen, would reorganize the county around the goals of "jobs, equity, and economic development."

The law says the group had to turn in at least 45,458 signatures by July 13. Now, the board of elections has until July 21 to examine Go Cuyahoga's petitions and decide whether 45,458 of its 79,255 signatures are valid. If they aren't, the group can embark on a second round of signature-gathering, with a Sept. 4 deadline.

“We expect that we will need more signatures," county prosecutor Bill Mason, a Go Cuyahoga member, said in the press release, "but today is a positive step toward putting this charter on the ballot."

That's a sign that the group knows many of its signatures may not be valid -- because of incomplete information, signers not being registered to vote at the address they give, all sorts of reasons. This is common in petition drives. A very similar effort in 2004 turned in 74,000 signatures -- yet so many were invalidated, it fell sort of making the ballot by 2,700 signatures in the first round and 153 signatures short after the second round.

The charter plan may face competition. Hagan and Jones said yesterday that they plan to put a competing proposal for restructuring the county on the November ballot. Their plan isn't written yet, though Hagan said he agreed that some elected county officials should be appointed instead.

Hagan and Jones argued against an executive-council form of government, with Jones saying a county council elected by districts would encourage parochialism instead of regionalism, while Hagan questioned the $175,000 salary proposed for a county executive.

"We will offer options in terms of county government restructuring," Jones said. "We could not in good conscience permit [the charter proposal to go on the ballot] unchecked and unopposed."

Mayor Jackson talks at Landerhaven

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is heading to Halifax, Nova Scotia next week to try to attract shipping traffic for the city's expanding port, he told a crowd at Landerhaven yesterday.

The mayor was interviewed by Leon Bibb of NewsChannel 5 at the event center in Lyndhurst as part of its Corporate Club speakers' series.

Jackson told Bibb the trip to Halifax is part of an effort for Cleveland to partner with deep sea ports and become more competitive in the worldwide maritime market. Cleveland's port, Jackson argued, could become an alternative for freighters that get stuck in a "traffic jam" on the East Coast. "We'll be more efficient, less costly, and more effective," he said. The port is working on a half-billion-dollar plan to expand and move from downtown to the foot of East 55th Street.

Other highlights of the mayor's talk:

-Jackson criticized the Go Cuyahoga reform effort, saying it was "designed to take advantage of" the FBI investigation of the county government. Bibb asked Jackson if he liked the current form of county government. Jackson said he likes "any form of government that will work."

-Several times, Jackson defended his quiet approach to leadership. Bibb asked him what he thought of the idea that the mayor should be a "cheerleader" for Cleveland. (I call it the bully-pulpit theory.) Jackson played around with the word "cheerleader" for the rest of the talk.

"I don't cheerlead," he said. "I will promote something I believe in." But he's more comfortable dealing with tasks: the "not glamorous," the "nuts and bolts," the "mundane," he said. Then "one day you wake up and things are as they're supposed to be." He focuses on work, he added, not "what sounds good."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dimora a no-show; Hagan, Jones call for him to take leave of absence

Jimmy Dimora didn't show up at the county commissioners' meeting today, and his colleagues, Tim Hagan and Peter Lawson Jones, called on him to take a 60-day leave of absence.

"We believe that the work of this county is important, and to be distracted during the most difficult economic times that we're confronted with is really a strain on our staff," Hagan said. "We would hope the public understands we are doing everything we can to do their work."

Speaking at a press conference after the meeting, Jones and Hagan both expressed their anger about Dimora's alleged conduct. Hagan criticized Dimora's statements at his press conference last week. It sounds like Dimora has lost their confidence and patience.

Jones said he and Hagan decided to ask Dimora to take a leave last night after reading the federal charges filed yesterday against Steve Pumper. The former contractor is accused of bribing Dimora with $97,000 in cash, gifts, and work on his home in exchange for at least eight official favors. Pumper issued a statement yesterday admitting wrongdoing.

"If the allegations .... are true, then we have all been betrayed," Jones said. "We have been betrayed as colleagues. We have been betrayed as long-time friends and associates of Jimmy Dimora."

Hagan called the conduct alleged in the filing "abhorrent" and "disgusting," though he said the allegations should be judged in court. "Peter and I know we have to maintain some decorum here. We've indicated how angry we are. We are very angry, believe me," Hagan said.

Hagan also criticized Dimora's claim last week that the federal investigation is politically motivated.

"The integrity of the federal court and federal prosecutor should not be in question," Hagan said. "Those who serve, whether at the United States government or Cuyahoga County, are public people who serve with real integrity in purpose. ... We need to be very careful, in my view, of guilt by association and wild comments. This board -- at least the two of us -- will refrain from conversation and comments that we think diminish those who serve."

Later, I asked Hagan if those comments referred in part to Dimora's press conference. Yes, he said.

Hagan said he and Jones plan to never allow Dimora to be the deciding vote on an issue before the board. If the two disagree on something, they just won't move forward. "Commissioner Jones and I will vote in the majority on issues before this board," Hagan said. "Neither of us will vote in a majority with Dimora [alone]. Why? Because we're doing the investigation."

The county's internal inquiry into all the contracts mentioned in the federal charges and subpoenas will continue, and broaden to include yesterday's filing, Hagan and Jones said. David Lambert of the county prosecutor's office, the commission's counsel, is involved in that effort. An outside attorney, Richard Blake, may be officially hired at next week's meeting.

The two commissioners said they had meant to ask Dimora to go on leave in person today. But with Dimora a no-show, they had to communicate their request to his staff. They haven't heard back yet. "Peter and I are as surprised as anyone that he didn't show up today," Hagan said. They are suggesting a 60-day leave, Jones explained, because a commissioner can be removed for abandoning his job if he is absent for more than 90 days straight.

A Fox 8 reporter asked Hagan and Jones: "Your anger, your exasperation, has it pushed either one of you to consider resigning yourselves, because you just don't want to be associated with this any longer?"

"We are not Sarah Palin," Jones said. "We aren't bailing."

"It's crossed my mind," Hagan said. "Why put up with it? But on the other hand, public life is an honorable thing. And I'm not going to let this define my service to the community."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

More corruption charges implicate Dimora

More bad news for Jimmy Dimora: Steve Pumper, former official for the companies D-A-S Construction and Green-Source Products, is charged with conspiring to bribe Dimora and conspiring to obstruct justice.

The filing alleges that Dimora accepted cash, gifts, and construction work totaling almost $100,000 from Pumper in exchange for using his influence as county commissioner to do at least eight separate favors for him, including help obtaining more than $3 million in county loans.

As with last month's charges against Kevin Kelley and others, the charging document does not name Dimora, but it describes a "Public Official #1" whose description matches him. For instance, the feds charge that Pumper built a roof over a patio at PO1's house in 2004 or 2005 and a barbecue shelter for him in 2007. That matches the times when Dimora and his wife took out permits with the Independence building department declaring that they, as the homeowners, were building a patio roof and a barbecue shelter.

WKYC TV 3's website has posted a statement from Pumper, released through his attorney. "I accept full responsibility for my actions," Pumper is quoted as saying. D-A-S' statement says the company itself is not a target of the investigation.

The charges claim that Pumper gave Dimora about $33,000 in cash between early 2007 and May 2008, and paid "on numerous occasions" for "entertainment, dinners and drinks for PO1 and his friends and family," including 12 Cavaliers tickets worth a total of $3,180. The feds also say Pumper did about $61,000 of work on Dimora's home without billing Dimora or getting paid from 2001 to 2007. "From time to time, PO1 asked for invoices; however, PUMPER did not expect PO1 would pay full value for the work," the charges say.

Pumper is also charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice. On May 23, 2008, the filing says, Pumper gave $2,000 in cash to Cleveland building inspector Bobby Cuevas. That day, FBI agents interviewed Pumper about the cash he gave Cuevas and also asked him to cooperate in a public corruption investigation. (This is the link between the city and county corruption investigations that the Plain Dealer has been hinting at for almost a year.)

The filing says:

On or about May 23, 2008, and only after PO1 became aware of the investigation, PO1 made the first in a series of small payments for the work DAS performed in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2007, to make it appear that PO1 did not intend at the time the work was done to be influenced and rewarded in his official position by PUMPER.

It was a further part of the conspiracy that POI and PUMPER planned to explain the fact that PO1 had not paid for any of the work DAS had performed on his residence by falsely claiming that DAS had not yet completed the work.

Allegedly, Dimora paid DAS $600 on May 23, $723.30 on June 30, and $4,000 on October 22. The last payment came after the July raid on Dimora's office.

Here's a nice detail about Pumper's alleged cover-up: the day after the FBI confronted him, Pumper is said to have thrown his home computer's hard drive into Lake Erie!

The charges allege that, in exchange for the cash, meals, entertainment, and work on his home, Dimora helped Pumper and DAS in several ways. Here are some of them:

-Dimora allegedly agreed to assist Pumper in getting a $24,000 contract for DAS at the Courthouse Square project in 2004.

-The filing says Dimora "used his influence to assist PUMPER in obtaining a County loan and an extension on the loan" for the DAS project at the Parkview-Allerton Apartments on E. 13th St. "Although the County granted the extension in March 2008, the extension was not used because other funding was obtained." The document later says DAS got two loans of up to $1 million each.

-Dimora is said to have supported Green-Source's applications for $1 million in county loans for its building on Ivanhoe in Collinwood in 2008.

-Dimora, the feds say, talked about getting Green-Source public contracts and getting an unnamed public employee, "PE4," hired by Green-Source as a consultant. (Another Green-Source executive vetoed hiring PE4.) Allegedly, he and Pumper talked about Dimora possibly becoming a Green-Source consultant after he left office.

-Dimora set up meetings between Green-Source and county officials at Delmonico's Restaurant in Independence so that Green-Source could try to obtain work on the county's juvenile justice center project, according to the filing:

On or about March 31, 2008, PO1 had a conversation with PUMPER in which PUMPER asked PO1 what he was doing. PO1 replied in a jocular manner, "Oh what the f-k, I'm doin' nothing, I'm trying to make calls, make a living, help my friends make more money than they already got." Later in the conversation, PO1 told PUMPER that POI was trying to arrange a meeting for the next day at Delmonico's Restaurant with the architectural and design services contractor ("the architect") for the JJC.

On or about April 1, 2008, PUMPER, PO1 and the architect met and POI promoted Green-Source to the architect. ... The architect told PUMPER that the architect would work with the Green-Source design team in an effort to use Green-Source products for the JJC.

The charges are contained in an "information," not a grand jury indictment, usually a sign that the defendant has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the investigation.

I've put in a call to Dimora's attorney, Richard Lillie.

Here is the U.S. Attorney's press release. You can read the entire charging document as a pdf by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Poll shows support* for reform

*Kind of.

Check out the Plain Dealer front page today and you'll see a sidebar with some eye-popping poll results. It says 75 percent of Cuyahoga County voters would definitely or probably vote to approve a new charter for county government.

That convinced the Greater Cleveland Partnership, which hired the pollster, to support the county charter petition drive with $100,000.

But I can see at least three reasons to attach big asterisks to the results.

The first reason is right in the 2nd paragraph of the story:

"Slightly more than half of the 400 people surveyed... said they favor the Go Cuyahoga reform plan. The approval rate jumped to 75 percent after respondents were asked seven questions that outlined the plan's goals."

The "slightly more than half" number is the one I'd trust. Polls commonly start with a neutral question, then ask leading, one-sided questions to see if they change people's minds. It's a way of testing possible campaign messages.

But during an election, the other side will counter with its own message. Fund-raising will determine which message voters hear more often.

So imagine how that "slightly more than half" figure would decline if another poll used just one of the common arguments against the reform plan: "Opponents say the new county charter would concentrate too much power in the hands of one person, who would appoint almost all other officials in the government. Now how would you vote?"

(The proposed charter would replace the current county government with a county executive and 11-person county council. Here is the proposal as a Word document.)

Another reason for skepticism: only 13 percent of those surveyed were black, even though Cuyahoga County is 29 percent black. Attracting black voters is one of the reformers' biggest challenges, since most black political leaders in town, including U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, oppose a charter.

Brent Larkin, who's read the poll, reported in his Sunday column, "Among black voters, results differed only slightly from the total numbers." But the reformers will have to work hard to hold onto black voters' support if Jackson and Fudge hit the airwaves to urge a no vote.

Finally, getting on the ballot can be as hard as winning on Election Day. Go Cuyahoga has until Monday to get 45,458 signatures. (If some of those signatures are ruled invalid, they would have a chance to collect more.) Parma Heights Mayor and Go Cuyahoga leader Martin Zanotti says he's confident the petition drive will succeed. But a similar county charter effort in 2004 turned in 74,000 signatures -- yet so many were invalidated, it fell 153 signatures short of making the ballot.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Dimora "attacking my integrity," says Zanotti

How does Martin Zanotti feel about making it onto Jimmy Dimora's enemies list?

"Why he brings me into his conspiracy theory is beyond me," Zanotti said yesterday. "The only reason I can assume Jimmy is doing this is because he was trying to get at county reform by attacking my integrity."

I called Zanotti for two reasons. One was to get an update on the petition drive for a new county charter. The other was to see how the Parma Heights mayor would respond to Dimora's recent accusations against him.

Zanotti is pushing for a new county government, and he's dissed Dimora while doing it. So Dimora lashed out at Zanotti during his angry comments last Thursday and this Monday. Dimora, whose April 2008 Las Vegas trip with J. Kevin Kelley is a subject of the federal criminal case against Kelley, prodded the media to look into whether Zanotti had gambled with Kelley as well.

"Marty Zanotti admitted to one trip, to Las Vegas or Detroit, he’s not sure which, with Kevin Kelley," Dimora said at last week's commissioner's meeting. "I think if pressed, if the media cares about that, it would be more than one trip. It could be many trips over the years, along with other Republicans, along in the car ride."

I asked Zanotti if that was true. "I have gone to Detroit on my own with a group of guys a couple times," he said. "One time, a few years ago, Kevin Kelley went with us to Detroit."

Zanotti later said Kelley (the former president of the Parma school board) might have joined him in Detroit "once or twice." He said he thinks Kelley came to Detroit to meet him and his friends from Johnson's Island, where Kelley had a second home.

"I wonder what those conversations were like?" Dimora asked Thursday. "I wonder if there were gaming chips exchanged? I wonder who paid for the meals?"

So I asked Zanotti: Did anyone other than you pay for your trip, meals, or gaming chips? "Not in a million years," Zanotti replied. He said he didn't make any deals about public business with Kelley during the trip, and that none of the others he traveled with were public officials.

At his Monday press conference, Dimora accused Zanotti of joining with former state Republican chairman Bob Bennett and current county Republican chair Rob Frost on the county reform effort.

"I've met Rob Frost one time for 30 seconds," Zanotti responded. "I wouldn’t know Bob Bennett if walked up to me and hit me with a two-by-four."

Zanotti predicts reformers will submit 70,000 signatures by deadline

Parma Heights Mayor Martin Zanotti predicts the county reform effort will gather more than enough signatures to get a proposed charter on the November ballot.

"We expect to submit 70,000 signatures by the deadline," Zanotti told me yesterday.

The county reform group, now called Go Cuyahoga, wants to replace the current county government with a county executive and an 11-member county council. If it turns in 45,458 valid signatures by Monday, July 13, then county residents will vote on the proposal on November 3. (If they turn in 45,458 but some get declared invalid, they'll have until Sept. 4 to gather more and make up the difference. Zanotti's goal of 70,000 suggests they want to build up a cushion and get certified in the first round.)

Here is the proposed charter as a Word document.

Zanotti says Go Cuyahoga has 35 to 50 volunteer petition gatherers and another 35 or so paid signature-gatherers on the streets. The group hired National Petition Management, a petition-signature-gathering company, about two weeks ago. It's using a $100,000 donation it received last week from the Greater Cleveland Partnership (the regional chamber of commerce) to help pay NPM. That was a big help to the reformers, who had raised only $20,000 as of June 9.

Zanotti wouldn't say how many signatures they've collected so far. But the petition drive seems to be gaining momentum. I saw a couple of signature gatherers at the Waterloo Arts Festival on Saturday. This morning, a bunch of NPM workers were gathering signatures outside the county administration building and Justice Center.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Jeff Johnson: I'm neutral in mayor's race

Jeff Johnson, who's campaigning to return to city council, sent me an e-mail responding to my post about Bill Patmon.

I knew Johnson and Patmon used to be political allies and speculated they might support each other this year as Patmon runs to unseat Mayor Frank Jackson. Not so, Johnson says.

"I have no interest in getting involved in this year's Mayor's race," Johnson writes. "I have shared with both Bill and Frank that I will neither hurt them or help them."

Johnson, who served in Jane Campbell's mayoral administration, did acknowledge that Jackson and council president Martin Sweeney do not consider him an ally. "I am not part of any joint effort with Bill to bring back or create a political bloc to challenge the power brokers of Cleveland City Hall," he writes. "I don't consider myself an enemy of Jackson or Sweeney, despite their anticipated effort to stop me from winning the City Council position in Ward 8. I will answer whatever they choose to bring against me."

Johnson says he's running for council as an independent voice. If elected, he says, "I will use my experience and aggressive approach to policy development and issue advocacy to assist in finding solutions to our many problems in Cleveland."