Thursday, October 24, 2013

Lanci buys Scene's cover

"There's a little piece of me," Ken Lanci told me not long ago, "thinking about starting my own newspaper."

No, the millionaire mayoral candidate hasn't bought Scene. At least, not yet.  But he did buy Scene's cover this week. 

About 44,000 copies of this giant Ohio-flag-colored fist are flying out of newsboxes and racks this week. "Surprise! There is a mayoral election on November 5th," the cover announces, as if the scrappy alt-weekly is publishing a cover story about the mayor's race. "Vote Lanci," it says, as if the paper is endorsing Frank Jackson's challenger.

But no, the actual Scene is writing about The Plain Dealer's owner.  

The alt-weekly sold a four-page wraparound ad, including the cover, to Lanci's campaign.  In it, Lanci calls the mayor a failure, slams The Plain Dealer, decries double-dipping and the state of the schools, defends himself against the charge he's a carpetbagger, and endorses himself.  

Or, to be precise, "The Lanci Tribune Editorial Board Endorses Ken Lanci for Mayor of Cleveland."

The ad is classic Lanci: flashy attention-seeking, blunt-force attacks on his opponent, a chutzpah-filled claim that Jackson is a "millionaire" (horrors!), thin-skinned lashing-out at critics in the media, and a confidence that a charity he supports, expanded to 550 times its size, will cure what ails the Cleveland schools. 

I expect no less from the guy.  More questionable is whether this fits Scene's character. 

The paper has been selling its cover a lot lately, but the deals have merely been annoying -- a sticker-ad marring the cover art -- or innocuously craven. Scene's young, nightlife-loving target audience is unlikely to object to a fake cover about Cleveland Beer Week.

Clearly, Scene's ad reps and publisher are getting desperate.  They know alt-weeklies can go out of business.  

Editorially, the paper seemed to bottom out a year or two ago, when it inaccurately predicted Bill Mason would be driven from office by scandal and then changed editors twice in a few months. This year, it's clawing to make a comeback, producing a strong Ariel Castro story 24 hours after his arrest and going where The Plain Dealer didn't go -- well, until today -- on the resignation of the art museum director.  The page counts seem to be bouncing back too.

But shouldn't a rebellious alt-weekly avoid a sleight-of-hand that suggests a millionaire political candidate can buy its endorsement?  

What sort of political coverage of the mayor's race will Scene offer up now?  "Premiere edition," declares the "Lanci Tribune."  Will the paper bite the hand that feeds in the next issue?  Or keep quiet about the mayor's race?

Update, 10/31: Nothing about the election in this week's Scene, though one of its writers definitely feels free to tweet his opinion on Lanci.

Update, 11/5: The mayor has bigger ideas: he unfurls a banner ad on's front page on Election Day.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Lanci on mayor's race: 'Everybody I know thinks I'm crazy for running'

"Everybody I know thinks I’m crazy, for doing this, for running, for spending the money," says Ken Lanci. "They don’t think I have a chance."

But Lanci, Mayor Frank Jackson's challenger in the Nov. 5 election, thinks the state of Cleveland's neighborhoods gives him a shot at taking over City Hall. The millionaire printing company owner and philanthropist is covering the town with bus and billboard ads proclaiming, "Together we can do better." Some are installed upside-down, to get attention.

Lanci's an eccentric, supremely confident guy. He's livened up an otherwise sleepy election season with his his very orange tan, his very expensive car (a Bentley, personalized license plate "Seraph"), and his curious campaign promises (lake cruise ships, asking bikers such as the Hell's Angels to fund youth boxing).

His critique of the mayor is simple and blunt: Lanci calls Jackson a failure on crime, education and jobs. What's his alternative?

My profile of Lanci, "Million-Dollar Challenger," in the new issue of Cleveland Magazine and online now, digs into why he took on Jackson, his ideas on schools and crime and cops, the near-death experience that inspired his runs for political office, and the ink he shows off to voters.  ("So you've never had a mayor with tattoos," he said to a woman in the Lee-Harvard shopping center as he rolled up his sleeve...)