Friday, July 30, 2010

The Hangover: Garson, Democrats' new chairman, promises integrity

"The Hangover," my piece on Stuart Garson, the Cuyahoga County Democrats' new chairman, is out now in the August issue of Cleveland Magazine.

Jimmy Dimora was the good-timey, devil-may-care Democratic chairman; Garson's the guy stuck cleaning up the place now that the Party's party is over. The trial lawyer and former fund-raising chair for Sherrod Brown is every bit the reluctant volunteer, but he's ready to do his part to restore voters' trust in local Democrats.

"I'm going to have a very low threshold of tolerance for any ill-toward behavior," he told me, including "anybody who's attempting to use their office to enhance their own financial gain."

My Garson piece appears on the Politically Minded page, one of the many alternating elements in Lake Effect, the magazine's front section. Politically Minded debuted in June with this piece by Ryan Dezember on Kenneth Merten, U.S. ambassador to Haiti, who's from Hudson.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

McFaul sentenced to house arrest, not jail: What do you think?

Guess I was wrong when I wrote that it "looks like Gerald McFaul, who ran the Cuyahoga County Jail for 32 years, is going to jail."

Citing the 76-year-old former sheriff's poor health, visiting judge Fred Inderlied sentenced McFaul on Monday to a year of house arrest. He was also fined $21,000 and has to pay $131,000 in restitution.

That's for two felonies and a misdemeanor. McFaul pleaded guilty to forcing deputies to sell tickets to his clambake fundraisers at the Justice Center on county time, pocketing $50,000 in cash from souvenir sales at the clambakes, and appointing his son as a special deputy.

Cleveland Magazine reader Matt Novak of Lyndhurst is mad. After reading about McFaul's statements at his sentencing -- "That's the way things were done," the ex-sheriff said of his crimes -- Novak wrote to us about Michael D. Roberts' July column on the county corruption scandal.

"I recalled your 'Defense Mechanisms' piece," Novak wrote, "especially the victim stance many of the perpetrators took because they were doing 'what everybody else was doing' and that it was business as usual. Add McFaul to that list. I almost don't know where to begin except to say I'm troubled by the no jail time and the message that sends."

I'm curious what other readers think. So I've set up a poll on the right side of this page. Please vote on the sentence you think McFaul should've gotten.

Peeking at the court docket, I noticed one tidbit I haven't seen reported. McFaul can't drink alcohol during his five years' probation, and he's subject to "substance abuse testing at the request of law enforcement."

So a sheriff who downed extreme amounts of liquor on the job is now exiled at home, forced to contemplate his crimes with sober clarity. It may not have the resounding clang of jailing the jailer, but maybe it's a subtler ironic justice.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Ken Lanci: Style in motion

“Are you bird-watching?” asked a co-worker who spied me, camera in hand, on East 14th Street this morning.

Why, yes, actually. I was hunting for Ken Lanci’s soaring white eagle, as easy to spot in Cleveland this season as a yellow warbler at Point Pelee in May.

The businessman and candidate for county executive dropped more than $200,000 on a six-month bus-ad lease. So Lanci’s ads now decorate 75 of RTA’s 348 buses -- 22 percent of the entire fleet. His smiling, tanned face and his ultra-American red-white-and-blue banners (a symbol of independence from the two-party system) will grace Greater Cleveland’s thoroughfares right up to Election Day. They’ve become the campaign’s signature visual statement, so over the top in their repetitive relentlessness, they’re a giant declaration of seriousness with unintended comic effects.

It’s hard to choose between laughter and disbelief at moments like the one I experienced this morning, when ten minutes’ rush-hour vigil brought me a bigger reward than I’d dared hope for: Not a sighting of a commonplace Lanci ad banner, but a rare, glorious Full Lanci (pictured above), one of five wrap-around makeovers alighting on our streets.

Viewed up close, the Full Lancis reveal several details about the candidate’s sartorial style.

“Lanci’s monogrammed French cuffs and golden tan were enough to make George Hamilton blush,” declares an anonymous blogger on the Cleveland SGS website, which marries a love of local commercial advertising with an affection for multilingual hip-hop and pissed-off cobras. “Lanci is solely responsible for reuniting fashion and politics in the Cleveland area.”

It’d be easy to dismiss the 75 Lancis-in-motion as expressions of a bus-sized wallet and ego. But they’ve given the once-unknown businessman the first essential thing many candidates crave and lack: name recognition. That means voters will at least hear Lanci out this fall when he tries to explain who he is and what he’d do as county executive.

Lanci seems quite aware of this: His video “Who R U?” features an indie-rock-sounding band called The Indies performing a song “about the importance of name recognition,” according to his website. “Who are you?/I think I saw your picture on the bus…” the band sings.

I think the transit-saturation foreshadows Lanci’s next big move: The guy who’s taken over our bus system is already starting to spend some wild multiple of that 200 large to take over our TV screens.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vince Russo, Frank's son, indicted on charges of Christmastime TV bribery

The feds have indicted Vince Russo, son of county auditor Frank Russo, on charges of being an evil, dirty Santa Claus.

OK, so that's not in the indictment exactly. The young Russo is officially charged with bribery and with conspiracy to bribe, extort, and obstruct.

The feds say Russo, 31, gave widescreen HD TVs to two Maple Heights school officials in December 2007. Allegedly, on Dec. 21, 2007, Russo got a "Business 14" to buy a 46-inch Sharp Aquos liquid crystal TV -- selling on Amazon for $1,799 these days -- which Russo passed on to board member Sandy Klimkowski to give to schools treasurer Christopher Krause, who put it in his basement. Klimkowski allegedly got a Vizio. Prosecutors think there's a connection to some of the Maple Heights schools' business transactions in 2007 and 2008.

After the FBI raided the county building and Business 14 in July 2008, Russo allegedly told Klimkowski she and Krause should "get rid of" them. Krause, not quite willing to part with that amazing high-def clarity, stashed his in a Maple Heights schools warehouse instead.

So what's Business 14? If it's the same Business 14 from the MetroHealth corruption cases, it may be Doan Pyramid, raided in July 2008 and mentioned on lots of search warrants since.

What's this mean for Clevelanders who are waiting and waiting to for the prosecutors to indict Frank Russo already? The feds are getting closer to their endgame -- they're amping up the pressure on Vince's dad. They managed to charge Vince three times for giving K&K the TVs -- bribery, bribery conspiracy and extortion conspiracy! (Shouldn't they pick one?)

Can't you see the worried father's breakdown at the 48th minute of the Law & Order episode?

"All right! I'll plead. Just... go easy on my son."

Update, 7/14, pm: Vince Russo pleaded not guilty in court today. "We intend to go to trial and defend [against] these charges," his lawyer, Bill Beyer, told reporters on the federal courthouse steps today. Beyer said there's another explanation for the TVs, which he'll reveal at trial. See the video here.

The indictment suggests that only the Sharp TV came from Business 14, not both TVs. I've rewritten the post to correct that.