Monday, November 17, 2008

Fast times at Cuyahoga High

THE WAR-LIKE can't-miss headline in  Sunday's Plain Dealer declared: CORRUPTION PROBE REACHES CITY HALL.   It drew  the reader into a commendably exhaustive report on how some city and Cuyahoga County  officials manage to get by on public  salaries while serving their personal needs for luxurious lifestyles.  According to the PD, the Federal investigation has involved 175  probers and produced about 200 subpoenas that target  County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora and Auditor Frank Russo, both top bananas in the county Democratic Party,  as well as contractors who are practiced in dealing with the county's front offices because, well, that's where the money is. As reporter John Caniglia so aptly summed up the alleged ignoble doings of the major players:

"The unstated subtext of the subpoenas is clear:  how did public officials earning less than a successful plumber afford the high life, complete with gambling trips, $100 dinners at expensive steakhouses, jewelry, elaborate swimming pools and  $900,000 vacation homes?"

How indeed!  If there is a reasonably honest explanation for all of this, I and a lot of others would like to know about it to upgrade our own lifestyles.   

Having spent more than day or two covering the dingy Cleveland political scene over the years, I have been conditioned to find the PD's report quite necessary, but, alas, less shocking.  The elaborate political network that has creatively shaped the steady decline of the city itself has largely involved Democrats, mostly because there are more of them in the county. But it didn't mean the Republican cadre in the same neighborhood would be totally excluded from the largesse. Nor did the pols meet with much resistance  from the corporate board rooms.  The titled managers felt secure enough to exit the city each night and return to their leafy enclaves on the fringes out east.  

It was the sort of collegiality that once  led the moneyed class to rush to the defense of City Council President George Forbes, who was indicted for bagging money from churches and others in need that wanted official permission to hold street fairs.   A nun was among the character witnesses.  George, as shrewd a politician as the city has ever produced,  was cleared of the charges.  And at another point, a chairman of the county Democratic Party shared law offices with the vice-chairman of the county Republican Party.  Not that anybody really saw anything suspicious about the arrangement.  

And wasn't it that same vice-chairman, Robert Bennett, recently retired as the GOP state chairman, who saw to it that $17 million in new electronic voting machines were installed by the county Board of Elections only to find that the entire system was dysfunctional with long lines, screwed up ballots and rigged counting methods by a couple of folks who were convicted of criminality,  even by the county's standards. Bennett, who was appointed the county election board chairman by then-Secretary of State and Republican gubernatorial candidate  Ken Blackwell,  and the other three members resigned under fire in 2006  when  Blackwell's Democratic successor, Jennifer Brunner, took over administrative control of the board.  In a   press release the Ohio GOP complained that  Bennett was the victim of  a "left-wing" plot.  

Only one politican challenged the way things were done in the political arena over the years, Dennis Kucinich, a brash fellow and quite confrontational.  He narrowly escaped a recall as mayor after the establishment, including his political enemies and the media, attempted to slam-dunk him into Lake Erie.  You may have heard of Dennis, now a congressman.  I know of no evidence that connects him with the local deep money pool.    

There's more about the political environment that is creatively  fashioned from ethnic, political, racial and mercantile conflicts, but I'll stop for now and let the PD continue its hard work.  

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