2017 – A terrible year for democracy here

by Roldo Bartimole

(Plain Press, January 2018)                      As we slide toward the end of 2017 it’s hard to see this as a year of progress or advancement. Quite the opposite.

Yes, Cleveland elected the familiar, if not exciting, Frank Jackson for a record four-year, fourth term. A Cleveland caretaker mayor. Not the first nor the last to be sure

There is not much to be cheerful about. We continue Cleveland’s stumbling way.

It was a dispiriting year. One that gave us a quick glimpse of possibilities. Then snatched it away.


That made it more depressing and debilitating for civic possibilities.

Cleveland’s 17-member City Council is all-Democratic. It rules, however, about 100 percent Republican on most economic issues.

Bought off by the same old names to rule Cleveland for decades. The powers to keep Cleveland colonized. See Sam Allard’s piece (Kevin Kelley’s Community Chest: How a Cleveland City Council Campaign Fund Rewards Allies and Stifles Dissent at clevescene.com) about the same old names buying City Hall for corporate Cleveland.

And this doesn’t account yet for donors to the mayor’s campaign.

Government purchasers.

Hell, the same old names from the 1980s-1990s: Ratners, Carneys (they go back to the ’60s if not ’50s…) the major league team owners, the developers, the familiar law firms, the DeGeranimos, the Council ticket long-term punchers—John Zayac and Mary Anne Sharkey and even friendly Jim Rokakis, who should know better—who does know better.

They all have their teeth in the meat of city dollars.

Our downtown government is bought and paid for.

A vote shortage should be a warning to Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio and national Democrats.

The telltale warning of Cleveland 2017 – the dismal turnouts of voters in the mayoral elections—some 13 percent in the primary and a paltry
22 in the general that produced Jackson’s record fourth term.

The most depressing aspect of 2017, however, was the what-could-have-been. It turned out to be the BIG SELLOUT.

The bullet killed community activism. For how long we don’t know.

It was the distinguishing emblem of a civically ill city.

The one distinctive move could have renewed the spirit that makes a city a community.

The defining event: subsidy of Quicken Arena, of course, to not only cost the city and county tens of millions of dollars but the sense of community that it so sorely needs.

We all know by now the story of the Quicken deal and how City Council, Mayor Jackson and his law department, along with others, killed hope.

It all started with a sweetheart deal for Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that could cost more than $250 million with interest on bonds let by Cuyahoga County for $140 million. The County, city and news media quietly neglect to say that we are still paying on 1990 arena bonds and will have to shell out next month (Jan. 15) some $8-million or so city and county subsidies to bondholders.

That’s the financial costs. Not insignificant.

But what about the civic cost?

When citizens balked at the arena cost without some payback for taxpayers, three groups decided to test community reaction. The arena deal represents a gift to billionaire Dan Gilbert, Cavs owner. It will be a big money-winner for the billionaire phony.

The blowback by citizens was remarkable. In a short time, volunteers collected more than 20,000 signatures to put the deal to the voters. A remarkable achievement. Only to be sold-out.

The corrupters took charge.

The signature gatherers – the Greater Cleveland Congregations, the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus and SEIU members—collected and carried boxes of signatures to City Hall; Council President Kevin Kelley refused to accept them. Council Clerk Pat Britt was in hiding as usual.

To show resolve, some petitioners held out their hands in protest, demanding arrest if the boxes were not accepted. They should never have left but they did. Arrest would have been the proper response and a politically powerful show. It was the first retreat.

Council leadership, Jackson and Law Director Barbara Langhenry thwarted the petitioners with a silly law suit of one part of city hall against another.

The legal gimmick worked.

Not that simply, however.

It took high-level “civic” pressure on the Congregations to get them to fold and withdraw the petitions citizens had worked hard to gain.
(Fred Nance of Squires law firm and a traitor to real civic action ends up with a no-bid $325,000 contract on the new bonds. That’s how this community plays with governance.)

The pressure on the church leaders has never been truly revealed.

Another media failure by the Plain Dealer. Wouldn’t it be interesting to put Nance under legal questioning on this?

It must have been heavy pressure for such a betrayal. The deceit damages the church group’s reputation. It destroyed a long-awaited surge of civic action, absent from Cleveland for decades.

This stain will be hard to eliminate. It has to stand with the city’s most disgusting swindles.

A civically dead city cannot thrive.

Further, by withdrawing the petition on its own, the Congregations group severely damaged its reputation as a community advocate.

Why would any real community group work with it again?

2017 proved to be a very bad year for ordinary Cleveland and Cuyahoga County citizens.

We will pay a heavy, sad price for decades. That’s in dollars not just spirit.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the blog: Have Coffee Will Write on December 13, 2017. For more articles by Roldo Bartimole, visit the blog at: havecoffeewillwrite.com.



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