Tuesday, May 21, 2013

32 Years of Roldo’s Point of View now online

You can’t tell Cleveland’s story of the last five decades without a word from Roldo Bartimole.

He’s the city’s original alternative journalist, icon-smasher, press critic and radical muckraker. Whether you think the white-haired, reedy-voiced reporter is Cleveland’s conscience or the town crank, he’s a necessary corrective to 45 years of boosterism and power-elite conventional wisdom.

“I don’t have a lot of heroes. Roldo Bartimole is one,” Esquire writer and Cleveland native Scott Raab tweeted last month, when his hero turned 80.

Now, Roldo's life's work has been liberated from library shelves. The Cleveland Memory website has recently scanned and posted the entire 32-year print run of Roldo's Cleveland politics newsletter, Point of View.

The generation of Clevelanders who know Roldo through his Cool Cleveland columns can read him as he takes on his great nemeses of the '70s, ’80s and ’90s: George Forbes and George Voinovich, The Plain Dealer and Alex Machaskee, Forest City and Dick Jacobs, sports team owners and their sweetheart deals.

My quick dig in Cleveland Memory's Roldo archive turned up gems:

“Buying Peace the Private Way,” June 26, 1968 – Roldo breaks the news that businessmen paid black militants $40,000 in summer 1967 to help prevent a repeat of the Hough riots.

“Resign Now,” April 26, 1980 – One of Roldo’s many screeds against George Forbes.

“Sohio Forbes/Shoves,” April 4, 1981 – The story behind the legendary photo (above) of Forbes physically throwing Roldo out of a meeting of city councilmen at the Bond Court Hotel.

“On to the 90s: White, Westbrook break old guard,” Nov. 25, 1989 – Roldo captures the moment when new political characters stepped up to replace Forbes and Voinovich: Mike White, Jay Westbrook, Jim Rokakis, Pat O’Malley, Mike Polensek, Jeff Johnson.

“Saying Goodbye,” December 2000 – In Point of View’s last issue, Roldo looks back on 32 years of combat against Cleveland’s political and economic powers. 

I’ve blogged about Roldo before – here’s a post about how downtown looks through his eyes, and one about his emergence as a critic of Mayor Frank Jackson. I’ve just posted two articles about him from Cleveland Magazine’s archives:

“Knight Errant,” May 1972 – In which Roldo describes his journalistic vows of poverty and comes close to calling himself a socialist and anarchist.
       (shortlink: j.mp/Roldo-KnightErrant)

“Last of the Great Muckrakers,” September 2000 – Michael D. Roberts’ profile of Roldo, which explores his single-minded devotion to his work and reveals the origin of his unusual first name (“the hero of… a cheap Italian novel”).
       (shortlink: j.mp/Roldo-Muckraker)

(photo by Timothy Culek, Cleveland Press, from clevelandmemory.org)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Angry Lanci says mayor has “consistently failed”

Ken Lanci was mad. Really mad. Breathing heavily into the overamped mike mad.

“Let’s be honest: the quality of the residents’ lives is declining,” Lanci said. “Things are getting worse, not better.”

The hot-tempered millionaire announced he’s running for mayor against Frank Jackson today. His event, at his printing company building in AsiaTown, had a very different vibe than his 2010 campaign for Cuyahoga County executive. Then he was the turnaround specialist; now he’s the angry challenger.

“The voters of Cleveland will have a very stark choice,” Lanci said. “They can vote for mayor who has not delivered and consistently failed, or they can vote for a new direction, a new approach, a new day.”

Anyone who thinks real mayors use the bully pulpit to lead have their man in Lanci. He’s the big-stick podium-pounder personified. Those tired of Jackson’s introverted demeanor will get what they ask for in the fall election. Lanci runs as hot as Jackson runs cold.

Today, Lanci delivered the most overly intense political speech I’ve seen in town in more than a decade. He stalked through it, mad as hell at the state of Cleveland, then choked up as he thanked his late mother for being “the first woman to ever love me,” then swung back to anger.

Cleveland residents’ current quality of life “is unacceptable to me,” he said. “It is absolutely unacceptable.

Sometimes the speech was effective. Lanci tore into Jackson’s record by quoting his pledges about education, safety and jobs from his 2006 State of the City address. He cited statistics to argue Jackson hasn't delivered.

Lanci went at Jackson especially hard on the Cleveland schools. The mayor is sure to run on the promise of his twin victories on school reform and the school levy last year. But Lanci is running on the results of the last eight years: the district met none of the state’s 26 standards in 2012.

Inevitably, Lanci used the mayor’s most underwhelming catch phrase against him.

“I think Frank Jackson is a good man. I also feel that he has done his best. However I feel that being involved in city politics for 30 years has given him a sense of, ‘It is what it is.’”

Ooh, some in the audience responded.

Lanci spoke from a stage in the middle of his Consolidated Graphics’ printing room. Several employees in work shirts sat atop the big Heidelberg Speedmaster presses for a better view, while dozens of people wearing Lanci stickers, dressed in everything from suits to business casual to working-class plaids, milled about between the rows of machinery.

African hand-drumming announced Lanci’s impending arrival onstage. The event seemed planned with acute awareness of the challenges facing a white challenger to a black mayor in a black-majority city.

But the invite list, while diverse, seemed filled out with a motley crew of gadflies. Black on Black Crime’s Art McKoy and black-trades activist Norman Edwards topped the list of recognizable figures. A guy sporting a New Black Panther Party jacket and pin managed to plant himself right behind Lanci during the candidate’s post-announcement press conference.

There, reporters asked for specifics lacking in Lanci’s speech. How would he bring more jobs to Cleveland? How would he change the schools reform plan?

“I can create more jobs by seeking out companies to come to Cleveland,” Lanci said, repeating the mantra of most businessmen-turned-candidates.

He didn’t critique the mayor’s plan for the schools. Instead, he said, “I can create a culture in the schools about caring, love, and opportunity. I’ve been in the schools 18 years. I’ve funded programs that do work.” (His campaign flyer mentions Project Love and Purple American, for at-risk teens.)

What makes Lanci run?

A lot of people wondered that when the orange-tanned businessman ran for county exec as an independent, spent $1 million of his own cash, covered the county with roving bus ads, and won 11 percent of the vote. A lot of people, especially Jackson supporters, will surely ask why he’s running now and why he moved from Brecksville to an East 12th Street apartment to do it.

A young Fox 8 reporter provoked Lanci: “To anyone who would say that you’re a guy who just has a lot of money and likes the attention, what would you say?”

Lanci responded by talking about his 2007 heart attack. “At 57 years old, I died. Through the grace of God, he brought me back. What did I need to come back for?” His answer: to use his talents to give back to the city.

Jackson should be able to dispatch this challenge by running on a few favorite themes: Others talk, I work. I have a plan; what’s his plan? He didn’t live here; why’s he a candidate? But if you want an aggressive challenger to the mayor, you’ve got him in Lanci, a temperamental opposite with drive and funds and fight to spare.