Sweeps month is a rotten time to be mayor. In February, Jane Campbell and her kids were targets in a ferocious Channel 19 series on police overtime. This month, it's Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic's turn, with Channel 5 behind the camera.
WEWS has taken up the cause of Christopher Shawn Wright, an Akron man who (we're told) worked feverishly to repair his home, only to have the city demolish it because of building code violations that (we're told) weren't particularly significant.
Plusquellic spokesman Mark Williamson offers a concise summation of Wright's plight: "He had it in his mind that we're the big bad wolf, he's one of the three pigs, and we blew his fucking house down."
In reality, says Williamson, Wright had 32 months to save his home -- far longer than city code normally allows. Though Wright failed to make improvements, he did show a zeal for playing the victim, circulating fliers and calling city council members. He also convinced WEWS investigative reporter Duane Pohlman to help him fight the mayor's office.
When Pohlman came for a showdown interview with Plusquellic, the mayor had a photograph of the house blown up and pasted on posterboard to point out the home's deficiencies. Pohlman wasn't buying, however, and rage could be seen creeping into Plusquellic's face. When Pohlman questioned the date of the photograph, Plusquellic ripped it off the posterboard and flung it to the side. "What the fuck does it matter what the date was?" says Williamson. "That was the mayor's point."
Still, the story has been the talk of sweeps, and 5 has been flooded with calls and e-mails. Plusquellic and his staff wake each morning to a new batch of death threats on the office voice mail, and callers have harassed the mayor at home.
Yet the real tragedy, it seems, is that WEWS knew of the situation before the house was demolished, says Williamson, but waited till after demolition to raise hell with the mayor, so it could get better footage. "If 5's truly on your side," he says, "maybe you should intervene before you bring in the backhoe."
Few things excite Republicans like tort reform -- the euphemism for limiting people's rights to sue anyone who contributes heavily to the GOP. It allows them to serve as the handmaiden for insurance companies, doctors, and manufacturers, who claim that runaway juries and outlandish awards are killing their profitability.
Politically, it's an easy sell: Combine one outrageous example (like the guy who shoots off his ear and then sues the gun manufacturer for not putting a "Do not scratch your head with the barrel while drunk" label on the grip) with a few universal gripes ("Christ, our insurance bill is larger than the GNP of Norway!"), and hope your mock indignation looks authentic.
So it was no shock when Republicans rammed yet another tort-reform bill through the legislature last week. But there was one small problem: Their argument was complete bullshit. According to Jury Verdict Research, a Pennsylvania company that tracks personal-injury claims nationwide, Ohio's judgments are actually declining. The total money granted to injured plaintiffs dropped 18 percent between 2000 and 2002. Moreover, Ohio's median award is well under the national average.
It seems that the real thieves here are insurance companies, which, despite record profits, continue to tell clients that juries -- not their own grubbing -- are behind their enormous rate hikes.
Miss a day . . .
The Plain Dealer has been the foremost chronicler of Cleveland's economic decline. But it's neglected to mention the latest indicator: the paper's plunging circulation figures.
Last week, the Audit Bureau of Circulations issued its latest report on daily newspaper readership. Among major dailies, The PD showed one of the biggest declines, losing 5,609 readers in the past six months.
Though Punch's own data have yet to be crunched, we suspect the loss can be largely attributed to columnist Regina Brett's three-part series "What everybody needs to know about sex," in which she lectured her post-menopausal audience about the dangers of getting pregnant.
Lakewood ups the ante
Lakewood is friend to the thirsty, a paradise of watering holes where a buck gets you a pint, and $10 will get you hammered enough to think you're the Crown Prince of Algeria.
But if Lakewood is the land of a thousand bars, it's also the land of no parking lots; thus outings that start at happy hour often end with a parking ticket. The city has long been gracious in fining motorists at everyday low prices -- until now.
Lakewood has jacked its parking tickets from $6 to $15. (And it jumps to $25 if you don't pay within 48 hours -- an additional whack to those too hung over to remit timely payment.)
"People would always say, 'You know, I don't care if I get a ticket. I'll pay six bucks and stay here all night,'" says Lakewood Finance Director Vic Nogalo. But take heart, Lakewood revelers: Next door in Cleveland, a cheap beer will run you four bucks and the parking tickets start at $25.
Talk to business leaders, and they'll tell you it's not the recession that's bleeding Northeast Ohio of jobs. The real culprit: Cleveland's living-wage law. It requires large companies that do business with the city -- plus some that receive tax abatements -- to pay a minimum wage of $9.34 an hour. "That thing has cost more jobs than anything in the last several years," says county GOP chief Jim Trakas.
It would be a swell argument -- if it were true. Thus far, the law has only raised wages for about 100 employees, according to the research group Policy Matters Ohio. And only one company, Container Compliance, has backed out of a tax-abatement deal because it couldn't afford the pay hikes.
"No one is going to say that this law has changed the economic landscape in a huge way," says Zack Schiller, research director for Policy Matters. "They ought to take a look at reality."
The funny part: Corporate leaders already know this. "We are often asked for data to support our position," Carol Caruso, vice president of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, told the living-wage board in February. "As is evidenced by the relatively low number of cases you have reviewed, not many companies are impacted."
Fresh off a five-day stint at London's famed Vidal Sassoon Hair Studios, Beachwood stylist Angie Saparno walked into the Cleveland Hair Show at the Convention Center and was appalled by what she saw. So many unshapely manes -- and on the heads of Cleveland's finest hairdressers, no less!
"My first thought was I really, really hope no one walking past here realizes these people are hairdressers," she says with a sigh.
Saparno's own hair, an updated black bob with a neo-retro twist, drew its own stares. Luckily, two guys from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy were on hand to set the fashion record straight. "Love it," one of them told her.
The dating lame
'Tis the season for making lists that rank cities on their various attributes, be they pollution or livability. This week's edition: Why you won't get laid until you move to Austin.
The list is brought to us by the fine people at Axe Deodorant Bodyspray, makers of cheap perfume and really bad commercials. Using criteria such as percentage of singles, number of coffee shops, and sales of flowers and jewelry, the company came up with the 80 Best and Worst Cities for Dating.
Topping the list are the usual suspects: Austin, Colorado Springs, and San Diego. Not surprisingly, Cleveland finished a pitiful 67th.
But if it's any consolation, dudes who spend their time compiling statistics aren't known for being smooth with the ladies. So Punch advises you to please disregard the previous three paragraphs.
Uncle Sam needs your kid
Did you know that school districts are required to provide the names, addresses, and phone numbers of high school juniors and seniors to military recruiters? It's a provision of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act that the President doesn't seem anxious to talk about.
Parents can have their kids' names withheld from recruiters -- but only if they state that wish in writing to the school district. How many parents are aware of this isn't clear. Districts are required to notify them, but no one knows if the word is getting around.
The Cleveland School District sends home a notice in September, according to a spokeswoman. But as of early May, not a single parent had requested the exemption.
Following the imam
Sherifa Zuhur, a top scholar of contemporary issues in Islam, taught at big names like Berkeley, Harvard, and MIT. She's published seven books and filled in for Condoleeza Rice at the War College.
Nevertheless, after only two years, CSU is giving her the boot. Her students are baffled. The official word is that her contract was only temporary, but insiders suspect that supporters of Imam Fawaz Damra are behind it.
Damra, leader of the Islamic Center of Cleveland, was released from his part-time teaching gig after PBS aired a speech in which he likened Christians and Jews to pigs. Nevertheless, he still has a strong following at CSU.
Elbowing out a feminist professor who stands against everything Damra preaches may make some folks feel better, but it won't bring him back. A religious studies prof who asked not to be named said that despite Damra's renouncing of his colorful speech, the department would not consider rehiring him.
Stealing hometown news?
Anybody who reads the paper and watches local TV news knows that talking heads routinely swipe stories from their ink-stained colleagues. In the news biz, it's known as "rip and read."
But one Plain Dealer reporter says that ABC Primetime Thursday took the practice too far. In a letter to Jim Romenesko's popular media-gossip website, Plain Dealer medical reporter Harlan Spector says that the TV show pirated his story about the Augier family, which has three autistic sons. Spector wrote a series last fall called "Captive Sons." Primetime aired its version of the tale two weeks ago.
To make his case, Spector stacks sentences from his story against ABC's. For example, Spector points out that he wrote, "Sophia asked the pediatrician why Marcel didn't talk or socialize." ABC rendered it: "They took Marcel to the pediatrician."
Grand larceny it's not.
John Meyersohn, an ABC News producer, believes that Spector's claims of proprietary prose are a bit grandiose. "We first began researching this remarkable story last fall -- before Spector's Plain Dealer series ran -- after it was pitched to us by a former ABC News producer who is also a family friend of the Augiers," Meyersohn wrote.
"Spector's 'side-by-side comparison' of his reporting and ours is frankly laughable. Of course we both reported that the Augiers took their sons to a pediatrician . . . that they were heartsick to hear the autism diagnosis . . . that they worried their unborn daughter might be autistic as well. These are the basic facts of the story as any good reporter would tell them, not exclusive information."
Look for Spector to trademark his next big scoop -- entitled, "Malaria is bad."