Monday, March 9, 2009

Cleveland's absence of dark matter

THERE WAS A picture in the Plain Dealer of the remarkable altar of  St. Casimir Church in Cleveland.  It is characteristic of the wonderfully ornate altars of churches, large and small, of Europe.  Although I am not a churchgoer, I have eagerly sought them out, from Notre Dame in Paris to the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua, Italy,  to pay homage to the sweeping architectural and spiritual genius that created these Old World buildings.  

For whatever your interest, you should take a good long look at them in Cleveland.  They might not be around for many more years.   St. Casimir's prominence in the PD this week was the result of a Page One death-watch story  headlined: Nationality parishes fight for survival in Cleveland. 

No city has been more possessive of its ethnic enclaves, all with their parish churches and their own native languages newspapers, that, at their peak, Balkanized the city into a mosaic of rivalries that arguably contributed to its rancorous political stress.  I recall how the late-Mayor Ralph Perk responded during his reelection campaign when I told him that his opponent, Dennis Kucinich, was casting himself as the city's "ethnic mayor".  Perk's expression darkened.  "He did, did he?  Well let me tell you:  There are ethnic mayors, and there are ethnic mayors."  Later, we whizzed along the expressway to a Lithuanian ball where Perk briskly entered the hall to be introduced to the throng as "Our ethnic mayor."  (C0me Election Day, the other ethnic mayor won.)

The demographics were further complicated by the Cuyahoga River that sliced through the city's midsection, separating whites and blacks. Communication between East Side and West Side, as well as the white nationality neighborhoods on the southeast side,  was never very good,  to say the least.  The city stumbled on many counts and nowhere were the rivalries more pronounced than within the  Democratic Party that  dominated the city. Even so,  the party became the touchstone of success - patronage , sly  deals, the glories of political favors that left just enough on the side for the minority Republicans to keep them in their place. The system rewarded the city across the state, providing Ohio over the past half-century with two governors (Celeste, Voinovich) and three U.S. senators (Metzenbaum, Lausche and Voinovich). It also elected the first African-American mayor (Carl Stokes) of a major American city.

So rich in political power was the city that Tom Vail, the top man at the Plain Dealer once thought it would be only proper if the Statehouse were moved to Cleveland.  Not to be outdone, Louis Seltzer, who headed a newspaper empire of Scripps-Howard papers in Ohio as well as a statewide news service for his and  other papers,  saw to it that Jim Rhodes would be elected governor.  Seltzer enjoyed his role of king-maker. 

But everything in Cleveland has come at a big price, often strangling any hope of progressive leadership, if only quasi-leadership.  There has even been a striking kinship between the front offices at city hall and the Cleveland Browns, each regularly trading in a mayor or coach without evidence of  benefits as the residents flee to higher ground beyond the city limits. .   The Plain Dealer has been whiplashing a couple of top Democrats and alleged beneficiaries of the political pot for corruption, but it may be a while, if ever, that anything comes of it. The city's bankrupt school system was handed off to state control in the 90s and later the mayor with recriminations against whatever school board was in place.   The county's Board of Elections had been put under administrative oversight by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner after a series of breakdowns.

Now, a proposal to build  a medical mart and convention center on the site of the old one has been kicked around by several interested parties, and may finally find daylight  in the hands of the county who would co-manage the $425 million project with Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc.  Still, nothing is  ever certain in these squabbles.  

The city remains in distress, and what it doesn't need but is getting  - its share of recession-itus as population and jobs continue to shrink.   

Back to St. Casimir Church on the East side  - one of the city's 51 parishes of the Catholic diocese - and its vanishing numbers.  On the day the PD reporter visited the Polish mass, only 50 parishioners turned up in a church "that could hold a thousand." .  As I  noted earlier,  if you go there, take some good pictures to show to your grandchildren as an historical chapter on the city on the lake. 

In the same edition with the St. Casimir story,  John Mangels, the PD's science writer  offered a  first -rate  piece on the search for clues to something called "dark matter" in the universe in advance of  a workshop on the subject later this week.  Why should anybody care about this mysterious force that has yet to be visually detected by scientists?  The reason, Mangels explains, "is that dark matter is the glue that holds the  cosmos together."

Unfortunately, its binding effects have been of little help in pulling Cleveland together as a briskly functioning city.                                      



Henry Halem said...

One of Pittsburgh's old church's, about the size of St. Casimir I would guess has morphed itself into a restaurant called the Church Brew Works ( I have on more than one occasion eaten there and imbibed on their excellent microbrew which, I might add, is brewed where the alter once stood. The beer is most heavenly and the food is excellent. It is possible that God has a master plan for his churches and St. Casimir is now on his drawing board. A good St. Casimir Pilsner or Ale would be just fine.

Michelle Miragliotta said...

It is obvious that you have no emotional attachment to your faith. My father's family has been a part of that church for over 50 years. It is like a death in the family and a micro-brew is a slap in the face to the many families who have turned to that church to help them get through the ups and downs of their lives. Not to mention the beautiful artwork and amazing treasures that are in that church that are going to be vandalized and stolen by others who have no respect. Many people are hurting right now and have lost a big part of the family heritage and history. A restaurant it not going to replace that!