Monday, May 23, 2011

Wiretap deluge: Dimora trial moved to Jan. 4, thanks to 44,000 phone calls

Jimmy Dimora got what he wanted today: His corruption trial's been postponed from September to January 4, 2012.

I don't think Judge Sara Lioi wanted to give the Big D four more months, but she had to concede this is one huge case. The prosecutors have turned over 44,000 phone calls to the defense, totaling 1,589 hours, from 10 different wiretaps (Dimora's phone, Russo's, Steve Pumper's, J. Kevin Kelley's...). The FBI says 8,168 of the calls are "pertinent" to the case. They gave the defense 352 gigs of digitized documents -- more than a million computer files in all.

Faced with that ginormous workload for the defense, and the new racketeering indictment from March, and some appeals court decisions about similar cases, Lioi gave Dimora's lawyers (and co-defendant Michael Gabor's) four more months to get ready.

To the frustrated citizen who's sick of this corruption case dragging on, who can't stand the thought of Jimmy watching the leaves turn amber and gold from a perch on his infamous party deck, the judge offers this promise:

... keeping in mind the public’s interest in a resolution of this case, absent extraordinary unforeseen circumstances, there will be no further continuances.
Four more months to sift through those wiretaps is surely good news for Dimora and his lawyers, Bill and Andrea Whitaker. But they must know that the long-term forecast is gloomy.

In a case like this, where the defense will argue that the defendant's actions all fall into a gray area -- gifts here, favors there, but no tit-for-tat deals, no smoking gun -- a defendant's own words are the prosecution's most effective weapon. Prosecutors rely on wiretaps to cut through the ambiguity and frame their case. The Whitakers surely know this, since they defended Nate Gray at his 2005 trial, and had to ask the jury not to dwell on lines about greased palms and treating politicians like prostitutes.

So which Dimora quotes will be the prosecutors' money lines, the recordings they'll play at trial and quote in closing argument? I laid my bet in "Life of the Party," my November 2009 Dimora profile. I'm going with this chestnut, which Dimora allegedly uttered on March 31, 2008:

I’m trying to make calls, make a living, help my friends make more money than they already got.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Kucinich confirms he may run in Washington -- or Maine

Leave it to Dennis Kucinich to try something so eccentric, so nearly unprecedented, so ballsy and egotistical that you can't decide whether to admire the little guy or rage at him.

He's just sent out an e-mail confirming that he may move to another state to run for Congress.

Dropping hints about what he'll do if Ohio Republicans carve up his district, he not only name-drops Washington State, he ups the ante by adding Maine -- if only to give the idea coast-to-coast sweep.

It's not terribly different from what his spokesman said last week, but for him to announce he's bouncing the idea around is still a big deal.

Last week I said I didn't buy the idea that Dennis would embark on a nationwide hunt for a new district. I said he might be stoking the rumor for the sake of raising money and making himself more of a national figure. Sure enough, he drops the big tease in a fundraising letter. He's even opened a new e-mail address,, so his nationwide supporters can plead with him to run in their town.

I guess it's also possible that this is Kucinich's version of Sherrod Brown's feint ten years ago. Brown threatened to run against Bob Taft for governor if Republicans carved up his congressional seat. The threat worked; Taft gave the order to leave Sherrod alone.

I'm not sure it'd work as well for Dennis. Even if Republicans in Olympia or Kennebunkport beseech their Columbus brethren to spare them the pain of dealing with Dennis, John Kasich and Co. might zero Dennis out anyway, just to get him out of town.

I'll still believe Kucinich is running outside Ohio when I see it. And I think he's playing a high-stakes game here. If he stays and runs for reelection in Cleveland, Rob Frost or whoever else campaign against him will surely use this flirtation as a stinging one-liner to paint him as spacey, arrogant, out of touch. "Dennis doesn't care about you! He's run for president -- twice -- and when things got tough, he talked about running away to Seattle!" But you've got to give the guy credit for knowing how to surprise and provoke friends and enemies alike.

Here's the text of his new e-mail. Bolds are mine.

My Next Move?

You may have heard some rumors over the past week, so I wanted to set the record straight with you: While I'm committed to representing the 10th District of Ohio, I will not rule out a run elsewhere should my district be eliminated or radically altered through redistricting.

From Afghanistan to workers rights, Libya to climate change, there's simply too much at stake for our voice to be eliminated. We cannot let a group of downstate politicians silence me and our movement - they would like nothing more than to stop hearing our calls for peace over violence and the people's interests over corporate handouts.

So, no, we're not going to quietly fade away, and let the corporate interests and status quo have its way. Instead, we're gearing up for a long and difficult campaign in 2012 - wherever that may be. I know it's worth it, and I know we can prevail. But I'll need your help. Can you donate $25, $50, or $100 dollars today?

I've been approached by supporters across the country - from Washington to Maine - to explore options outside Ohio should redistricting force me out of my current district. It has been truly humbling to see the support that has been expressed for me to continue my work in Congress. Right now, my efforts and focus remain on representing my constituents in the 10th District and fighting for peace and justice, but as we plan for our movement's future, I will consider all of these ideas to keep our voice in Congress.

And I say the same to you right now. Do you have a comment or idea I should consider? Is there a option you would like me to explore? If so, let me know by clicking here:

Thanks for being with me.

With respect,
Dennis Kucinich

To read "The Missionary," my profile of Kucinich, click here.

Friday, May 6, 2011

How’s the Medical Mart going?

From the downtown library’s windows, you can see it all: bulldozers clearing the land for the new Medical Mart and tearing the old convention center out of the ground. Only a block-long stretch of Lakeside Avenue still hangs in the air, like a bridge, stripped clear.

In 2½ years, the Medical Mart and convention center, Cleveland’s $800 million hope, will fill in that hole and that plot of land. Will it succeed?

I’ve been wondering about that again this week after reading a couple of articles about the project.

“Medical mart’s tenant list only tentative,” the Plain Dealer’s front page announced yesterday. There’s no news in that headline; MMPI, the Med Mart developers, made it clear in January that their tenant list was based on non-binding letters of intent.

What’s actually new is that the PD called the tentative tenants and got one to (apparently) violate a nondisclosure agreement and spill the terms of its deal. Here’s the story’s second graf:

"Basically they offered us a free showroom for three years and a $20,000 cash incentive to build the showroom," said Jerome Alicki [of Michigan furniture company Industrial Woodworking Corp.]. "I couldn't see any reason not to do that ... I thought if I say no to this, the CEO is going to fire me."

Well, we can’t say MMPI didn’t warn us. Here’s what its vice-president, Mark Falanga, told Cleveland City Council in February 2009, as quoted in my Inside Business story from that year, “Affairs of the Mart”:

We believe we will need to subsidize those showrooms heavily to get them to try something new. … It's going to take many years for this to ramp up, for Cleveland to prove itself to the medical community.

I figured “subsidize heavily” meant “really cheap rent.” But no, it means what it says, at least in Industrial Woodworking’s case: If you move in for free, we’ll help you build the showroom.

There are two ways to react to news like this. One is to say we shouldn’t start judging the Medical Mart until it opens in fall 2013. They told us it’d be a slow start-up, and they’ve got plenty of time to fill the place with good tenants and conventions.

The other is to say, uh-oh. Two days before the PD story, Med City News’ Brandon Glenn published a analysis that asked, “Is the healthcare industry really buying into the medical mart concept?” That’s always been the essential question, the project’s biggest risk.

Glenn looks at New York, where a competing medical mart project fizzled, and at Nashville, where Cleveland’s remaining competitor is struggling to attract tenants and financing and the local business weekly is growing skeptical. It may be good news that our competition is flailing — but it doesn’t mean our project will succeed. Glenn asks whether it’s a sign that the whole concept of medical marts isn’t taking off.

Here in Cleveland, Glenn links to my report that MMPI’s January tenants list included only 5 percent of the companies it targeted on its 2009 prospects list, and only 1 percent of the medical conventions it hoped for. (It’s signed a few more tenants since January, but won’t say who.) Only three tenants are listed on the NASDAQ or the New York Stock Exchange, Glenn notes, and two of those are local, Invacare and Steris.

The medical mart remains a promising idea, for plenty of reasons. The mart concept works well in other industries; MMPI’s long success in Chicago is evidence of that. And today, hospital administrators have to travel across the globe to shop for equipment and furnishings; wouldn’t they rather see it all in one place? Medical manufacturers already market their wares at health care conventions, shipping their sales staff and heavy equipment from town to town. Wouldn’t they rather lease a single showroom, next to a convention center, in a city known for its leading medical centers, where customers can also go see the equipment in action?

But so far the idea’s hardly catching fire. “The early results from Cleveland, Nashville and New York suggest an industry uncertain of the benefits that the untested medical mart concept could hold,” Glenn writes. “And Northeast Ohioans need to begin thinking about what happens next if you build it, but not very many people come.”

It’s too early to hit the panic button, even if there were a panic button to push. We’re committed to the project and the business risk -- the hole in the ground is proof of that -- and we’ll at least get a new convention center out of the deal. That’s the built-in Plan B. A state of the art meeting place with windows facing the lake will surely win back some of the convention business lost by the damp, leaky, column-cluttered, 79-year-old hall we just tore out.

For now, all we can do is watch the spending, plan for how to hold MMPI accountable under worst-case and moderately bad scenarios, market the town and the project, and hope that the venture works, the health care industry warms up to the Medical Mart and the risk pays off. The county council has pledged to give monthly updates on the project, while the PD promises weekly reports. Stay tuned.

My June 2009 story, "Affairs of the Mart," is proving to be a good guide to the promise and risk of the Medical Mart project and what needs to happen for it to succeed. You can read it here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Kucinich to Seattle? Not so fast

It started Monday with a blog post from Seattle's alt-weekly, The Stranger. "Weird Rumor of the Day," read the headline. Now it's on the Plain Dealer's front page. Could Dennis Kucinich really move to Washington State to run for Congress?

Here's Eli Sanders' post on Slog,'s blog:
I'm posting this rumor mainly because it comes from someone with a long track-record in, and deep knowledge of, Washington State politics.

This person notes the recent time Dennis Kucinich has been spending in Washington State, notes that Kucinich has likely been redistricted out of a job in Ohio, and reminds that this state has a brand new district opening up in 2012.

The rumor is that Kucinich may be lining up a run for WA-10. It's a crazy rumor. But, my source adds: "He's just crazy enough to do it."
D.C. bloggers jumped on the rumor. Kucinich's spokesman, Nathan White, fanned the flames. Here's the answer White e-mailed to the Plain Dealer, Talking Points Memo, The Stranger, and anyone else who asked:

After people found out that Congressman Kucinich's district could be eliminated ... [he] received requests from people in twenty states, including Washington State, encouraging him to move and run in their area.

Congressman Kucinich appreciates the interest expressed in his public service. As he has repeatedly said, he fully intends to remain in Congress; he just doesn't know in what district he will run. In the meantime, he is devoted to serving Ohio's 10th district as it currently stands.

Sanders even catches White possibly dropping a hint by hyperlinking the words "in what district he will run" to this article about Dennis' recent appearance on Bainbridge Island, Wash.

Sounds like he's interested, huh? And at first glance it seems plausible.

Sure, district-shopping three time zones away would be a kooky, ballsy move, even more carpetbagger-y than Hillary Clinton or Robert F. Kennedy moving to New York to get into the Senate. But Dennis has had one foot in Washington State and California for nine years now, heading west to raise money from left-coast lefties so he can "run for president" and win re-election with ever-thinning margins at home.

And because Washington state's deadlines fall much later than Ohio's, the PD calculates, he could even take two shots at Congress next year: Ohio's Democratic primary in March, then, if he lost, Washington's in August.

But let's take a closer look at one more thing White told Talking Points Memo.

White pointed to Kucinich's quotes in a recent Daily Show interview in which he and comedian John Oliver discussed the possibility of him leaving the state to run elsewhere in a parody of LeBron James' "Decision" special.
Um, yeah. So is this a joke?

It's not like Seattle, Olympia, and Co. have a shortage of ambitious homegrown liberals. They don't need to import a Clevelander whose anti-free-trade voting record plays way better in the Rust Belt than the tech-savvy home of Microsoft (as this blogger points out).

Maybe Kucinich and his spokesman see the value of flirting with the rumor. It helps Kucinich look like a national figure and could stoke excitement and donations in Puget Sound zip codes.

So, at the risk of biasing Cleveland Magazine's weekly poll, I'm voting no. I say he's not going to run in Washington. Once the Republicans eliminate his district, I think he'll run in the Democratic primary against either Betty Sutton or maybe Marcia Fudge.

The really interesting question is, what does Dennis do if he loses?

The usual ex-congressman move, becoming a K Street lobbyist, is so not him. Neither is following his brother Gary's journey from politician to car salesman. Lots of Cleveland liberals want to buy a reliable compact car from someone they trust, but it's safe to say that's not the life Elizabeth imagines for herself and Dennis.

I've been wondering about Kucinich's backup plan ever since he fixed up and moved into a house he bought a couple of years ago -- not in Washington State, but in Washington, D.C. It's not the typical move of a congressman threatened by redistricting. It's the move of a guy who thinks he's got a permanent place in American politics, whether he holds onto a seat in Congress or not.

What will Dennis do if he's an ex-congressman in 2013? I say part-time traveling activist, part-time chairman of a peacenik nonprofit, part-time MSNBC commentator. You heard it here first.

To read "The Missionary," my profile of Kucinich, click here.

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.