Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The ABJ: Then, now, and later?

The muted  buzz from the third floor of the Beacon Journal is that the absentee Canadian owner could move it to smaller quarters within  a year - or sooner if it can find a buyer for the proudly towered edifice.

"It's like a  mausoleum," a reporter told  me a few days ago, confirming melancholy reports that have drifted out from others of the emptiness of the place that boasts high up on its front page of being "Informing. Engaging. Essential."

Mausoleum is not an exaggeration.   My source ruefully noted that the third floor is now the home of the news operation, advertising and circulation.  The second floor and mezzanine are vacant.  The first floor has only a guard station and a modest public service counter.  The paper is printed out of town.

The new building rose on the site of the razed Music Hall at 44. E. Exchange St. in the summer of 1930 to accommodate the Times-Press .  In 1938, the owner, Scripps-Howard,  sold it  to John S. Knight's publishing company  and there the building  has remained in powerful hands ever since.

When I arrived at the paper from Columbus in 1967 I was swept up by the lively environment of a  big noisy staff, the endless clattering of teletype  machines (news never stops) and the imposing figure of Jack Knight who often circulated in the news room from his corner office.

I had showed up at my desk with my right hand heavily bandaged from a serious cut suffered in a temper tantrum when  I slammed my fist against a jammed garage door.

Knight stopped short in his rounds, walked over to my desk and said:" I'm Jack Knight  What happened to your hand."

When I told him, he replied:  "Better be more csreful the next time," and walked away.

My years at the paper were more than rewarding.  Neither Knight nor  Ben Maidenburg, the feisty conservative editor who hired me after a contentious sit-down lunch, interfered with my political reporting (Ben merely sulked) , even though we came from different points on the political dial.  Working for these bosses, there was always the respectful sense of belonging to a professional operation.

But as the years passed, new store-trained editors arrived from distant sites  with strange ideas of newspaper vibrancy. Much of it came down to tinkered changes,which are now reflected in many mainstream papers .  No longer was it  the workplace of Knight's personal  family but rather an office  where you showed up at your desk, did the best that you could under the circumstances and prepared to move on.

The internal cohesion and driven competitiveness with other papers  broke apart with hiring freezes,  scrimping and catch-as-catch-can reporting.  Good people left, too many to the Plain Dealer - an exodus to the paper up the road that would have been treason in earlier times.   All that will be left of the soaring Knight legacy will vanish when they turn out the lights at 44 E. Exchange and move on, too.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Re-posted from Plunderbund

By the light of the silvery moon, John Boehner is said to have secretly hatched a plan to deflect growing criticism that his lawsuit against President Obama was costing taxpayers millions of dollars. The Republican Speaker, who presides over a GOP House caucus that has no moving parts, reportedly will cut the pay of court stenos and bailiffs 50 pct. and will pay the janitors nothing. Party insiders say he will announce his bold plan in his keynote speech at an event honoring Ayn Rand at the Koch Brothers’ tax-free private estate on one of their French Alps.

From Alex, a pledge to tutor Bryan Williams

 Summit County Republicans must be feeling  a lot more secure about the vitality of their party now that their chairman, Alex Arshinkoff, has assured them that he will personally tutor  the new kid on the block who will be presiding over the party's  executive committee.

Well, not exactly a new kid is Bryan Williams,  who seems to have never   been  more than a phone call away from one political job after another.  But it sure sounded that way when Arshinkoff, no more than 12 years Williams' senior, told the Beacon Journal he fully expected his protege to  "do fine" in the new committee position, to which he was elected last week.  Unanimously, of  course.

"I'll work with Bryan for four to six years," Arshinkoff breezily told the paper.  "Let him learn the ropes.  He'll be good chairman."  (Four to six years? He's not going to med school,  folks. )

The time frame for Williams' OJT  was fertile in telling us something about Arshinkoff's own future as the party chair, which he has tenaciously held for 36 years while seeming   like so many more. Six more years with the title would place him at age 65, a time to retire.  Maybe.

Meantime, Williams, with the boss's powerful blessing, is a fellow who can't lose these days. You may recall he caused quite a stir when he resigned from the State Board of Education after the ABJ revealed in December 2013  a conflict of interest in which he was also wearing the lobbyist's hat of a client group that,  among other things,  ran a vocational charter school.  He also sits on the Summit County Board of Elections.  Republicans tell me that he  is the heir-apparent to the party's chairmanship when Alex retires in the next millennium.

Plenty of time for Williams to learn the ropes, don't you think?

By the way, what exactly do executive committee chairmen do?

Friday, July 25, 2014

This is part of story by Joseph on Plunderbund  You can read the rest on Plunderbund...

BrennanYesterday we wrote about the BWC settlement and how David Brennan’s law firm, Brennan, Manna & Diamond, had been paid over $4.5 Million so far to handle the case.   The unbid contract was awarded to Brennan by Mike DeWine, who went to controlling board multiple times to get approval for  the 11 payments ranging from $65,000 to $700,000 over a three year period.
And if we’ve learned anything from the ever-growing pay to play scandalinvolving AG’s office, law firms don’t get huge unbid contracts from DeWine unless they are huge campaign donors.   Brennan, Manna & Diamond are no exception.   In Ohio, lawyers and firms seeking work from the state can’t donate more than $1,000 to a candidate.  To circumvent these limits, lawyers instead donate money to ORP or to the Summit County Republican Part where long-time DeWine friend Alex Arshinkoff, the party’s chairman, funnels the cash right back to DeWine’s campaign.
Campaign finance reports show that 17 lawyers from Brennan’s firm have given a total of $149,500 to the Ohio Republican Party’s State Candidate and Execute Committee Funds, and to the Summit County Republican Party’s State Candidate Fund since 2010.    The Summit County GOP, under Arshinkoff, has moved over $400,000 to DeWine’s campaign in that same time period.    The Ohio Republican Party has been doing the exact same thing.
The average yearly donation from lawyers at Brennan’s firm is about $4,700, well over the $1,000 limit for campaigns, with large donors like Anthony S. Manna giving up to $12,000 in a single year.

With DeWine, geographic handouts are critical

When the late Chuck Noll, the iconic coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers,  was once asked   why he called for an onside kick  that had failed in the team's loss, he crisply replied that winning football games do not depend on geography.

Ah, but Atty. General Mike DeWine,whose trained seals are in a defensive mode these days, do think geography is quite important in awarding debt collection work to companies with little or no experience in return for generous campaign contributions.

The AG's spokesman, Dan Tierney, put it in a way that only a few people could understand  by saying the winners of the lucrative debt collection business were picked on the basis of  "skills and geographic diversity," the Associated Press reported.

That odd explanation  described how DeWine's office chose Hudson businessman Pete  Spitalieri even though his newly formed company had no experience in such  work. The  only geographic relevance we could see in this mutated pay-to-play episode was Spitalieri's proximity to Summit County Republican Chairman Alex Arshinkoff, who opened doors to DeWine's office to close the deal.  

And we thought elephants could tolerate heat...

When President Truman asserted that "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" he could have been thinking of politicians like the current brand of Republicans.  We spotted this timely cartoon in National Memo that makes the point:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ray Kapper, remarkable at 78

 Ray Kapper will have a birthday tomorrow.  No. 78.  You wonder how this remarkable guy will spend the special day.

Sitting across from him at lunch the other day, I had to ask myself how he has survived a couple of heart surgeries, a ripped ankle and doubtless  more common  infirmities to arrive in enthusiastic  condition to talk about,  among other things,  his work with First Tee, the youth development program with an injection of golf.

When I asked him later about this title, he paused on the phone and responded with a trickle of humor: "Godfather ...I like to stay behind the scene."  Or something like that.

Ray is an old-school politician who would be the first to admit that he doesn't have a firm grip on the English language.  More like a Damon Runyon character.  But he's been damned successful with an elegant watch and Cadillac because whatever he tries in life, it's with a full burst of vitality. He has what a lot of politicians don't have: a firm grip on whatever endeavor he's engaged in.

Democrat, city councilman, unsuccessful mayoral candidate (which left a bruise on his soul), Akron service director.  The latter title, more than one witness will tell you, added up to him being the best service director the city has ever known..

A lasting memory from my reporting days:  I walked into his office at City Hall after a heavy overnight snow storm. He had been up all night  and was now on the phone to one of his guys with unmistakable commands.

"I want those streets cleared as quickly as possible," he demanded.  "People have to get  to work this morning.  Got that?"

Don't get me wrong.  Ray and I have had our differences, none of them lasting.  But I never questioned his commitment to a better city.

The reason for the lunch?  A couple of months ago I had met him at a political event.  Hadn't seen him for awhile.  "We have to go to lunch," he said. '"I'll call you."

You hear that kind of casual promise quite often from a lot of people you never hear from again.

Weeks passed.  One evening our phone rang.  It was Ray.  He said he had not forgotten that we would share lunch.  He felt a  little guilty about waiting so long to call.  But he had made a promise that he didn't want to break.  That's Ray.

I, of course, accepted the invitation.  Like the old days. Besides, who, after all,  would dare  turn down a Godfather?

For the 78th time, Ray, Happy Birthday.


With Team DeWine, experience hardly matters

Didn't get into the Arshinkoff/Spitalieri/DeWine Bermuda Triangle in preceding post, saving the best for last. In assessing the Ohio attorney  general's magical powers of choosing the ablest private  firms for his collections agency,  legal experience can be trumped by political contributions.

As the Dayton Daily News reported, a veteran debt collections agency that had worked  with five previous attorneys general was bypassed in the awarding of lucrative work to a company that was formed only two days before DeWine set out to take care of his contributors. He chose, instead, CELCO, bossed by Pete Spitalieri, the Hudson guy who was channeled into DeWine's  world by Summit County Republican chairman Alex Arshinkoff, who has long enjoyed Spitalieri's generous contributions to Team Arshinkoff ($23,000).

That ain't the end of this, Folks.  The  Daily News reported that  CELCO's  proposal to win the job  "acknowledged the company had no experience handling collections accounts.''

Got that? Unqualified.

Although DeWine has engaged in mental jujitsu to dodge the issue, one of his spokesman said the winning firm was determined by "points" assigned to each supplicant.   With Arshinkoff doubtless adding them up on his special pocket calculator.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dayton Daily News: Arshinkoff a pay-to-play DeWine figure

The Dayton Daily News investigative  report on Atty. Gen. Mike DeWine's  elaborate campaign fund-raising scheme widened the narrative of the AG's  money machine by mentioning Summit County Republican chairman and lobbyist  Alex Arshinkoff as one of the varsity enablers. Who knew?

Still, it shouldn't surprise anyone.  Arshinkoff has long - and I mean long - prided himself in his ability to  lay piles of campaign money at the doorstep of this GOP pol or that one. The rule of politics Alex once breezily said, "is all about money."  He so impressed DeWine  that he once served as  the AG's  liaison  in northern Ohio .

Did I say lobbyist?  How about $10,000 a month  representing the University of Akron to Gov. Kasich?

In her telling report, the paper's prize winning investigative reporter Laura A. Bischoff
wrote that DeWine, despite his denials, has been  "actively  involved" in the lucrative debt-collection process in which special counsel appointees could pocket princely sums from their work with hundreds of thousands of dollars returned to his political coffers.

She wrote:  "A review  of his calendar shows  he has met routinely  with debt collection attorneys, vendors and their lobbyists, many of them with close ties to DeWine's political  operation."

How close?  Bischoff disclosed  this untidy plot device in which DeWine emailed top aides  on Feb. 20, 2011:

 "Please call Debbie Walsh in Alex arishnikoff (sic) office.  He wants to bring in Pete spiteleri (sic) ...The issue is collections.  So figure out who needs to be in the meeting."

Spitalieri is is a well-connected Hudson businessman, Republican contributor  and Arshinkoff's close friend.  They didn't plan to play ring-around-the-rosie at the meeting.

"In his first 16 months in office," Bischoff wrote,"DeWine met four time with Arshinkoff and Spitalieri  in his office, lunched with the two men at Spitalieri's property in Hudson and held a conference call with them, according to DeWine' work calendar.  DeWine said he doesn't recall meeting that many times with Spitalieri..."

Bischoff told me there was no point in calling Arshinkoff.  "He hasn't returned  any of my calls in more than 10 years,"  she said.

In a campaign year, this story will grow.   But in the event that the Beacon Journal editorial writers might possibly read it, will  they hesitate in damning DeWine's opponent, Democrat David Pepper, for raising pay-to play questions?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

DeWine ministry: Faithful to the AG's mission!

Re-posted from Plunderbund (Updated) 

When I think of Mike DeWine, I think of God-given goodness.

(Bear with me, folks.)

When I think of Mike DeWine, the over-achieving Republican attorney general of Ohio, I think of random acts of kindness, of rainbows, of the morning dew glistening in the break of day, of the yellow brick road of Oz, of....

At least , that's what Mike DeWine wants me to think. But he's been around long enough for me to have second thoughts, that his political career invokes something much less warmly engaging than his current public mythiness despite friendly editorial embraces from  Ohio's  mainstream media that levitate him. (See update below)

A few days ago, for example, the papers reported another DeWine foray into the private lives of same-sex married couples.  He wants to disrupt their bonds, challenging (with a 41-page brief) the  ruling by a federal judge that Ohio's law banning such marriages is unconstitutional.

So much, then, for random acts of kindness.

For DeWine, his further quest for  Biblical  correctness was hardly terra incognita.  His insistence on installing his own ministry in the AG's office has been widely reported.  He has joined a group of like-minded attorneys general in challenging employer-covered contraceptive insurance  under the Affordable Care Act.  Not a day passes that Mike isn't  out in the middle of the trench warfare that has been consistent with his pledge since he ran for the office to rid satanic  Obamacare  from the vanishing soul of America.


So consistently wrong  has his political intuition  been that he blindsided Mitt Romney by flip-flopping his endorsement of Mitt to his theocratic pew mate and perennial presidential candidate, Rick Santorum. (Some power couple!)  DeWine's  betrayal of Romney was obviously driven by his erring conclusion that Santorum would win the Ohio primary.  He didn't. No sharing the winner's circle  for DeWine, who was thought to have dreams of a promotion  to U.S. attorney general.

So much for rainbows.

You should also note that DeWine's ministerial life  includes a stint of teaching  a government course at Cedarville University, an evangelical Baptist  school in southwestern Ohio that, among other things, allows only women to teach Bible classes to  female students,  as Biblically inspired. It also has had a number of skirmishes with faculty over faith-based issues.   .

 You have to put some of his odd behavior in the context of his landslide defeat by a liberal  Democratic congressman, Sherrod Brown, who evicted Mike from the U.S. Senate with nearly 56 pct. of the vote in 2006. The AG must still feel the pain.

Meanwhile, DeWine  is now being accused by his Democratic opponent this year,  David Pepper, of  pay-to-play tactics by awarding lucrative state legal business to law firms that just happen to channel money into his campaign  treasury.

DeWine's apologists insist that there's no connection.  But the practice is and has been quite common by AGs over the years, so why deny it?.

So much for the yellow brick road.

So much for goodness.

So much for  the wholesome commitment to public service by our attorney general.

UPDATE:  In Dr.Phil tones, the Beacon Journal on Sunday editorially offered DeWine some feathery-friendly advice to "help himself from further questioning"  about his management of campaign contributions from law firms that are awarded business by his office.  The paper displayed some concern that a lingering issue  - of which the AG says he knows nothing - could be an "important opportunity" for him to "show the leadership" that he has so often displayed on other issues. (Leadership?  Vigorous opposition to same-sex marriages?  Demonic opposition from Day One to Obamacare?  Both of these occupy much of his time these days.)

The BJ editorial page has often had a soft spot for DeWine and just recently bedeviled DeWine's Democratic opponent, David Pepper, for complaining about the AG's backlog of rape kit tests.

The paper recommended a better paper trail on special counsel work for the AG, a sort of how-to on preserving his otherwise goodly career.  No further questioning here.