With the city and state in deep economic trouble, with a power company that brought us perilously close to a nuclear meltdown, and with a slew of public officials cozying up to people they're supposed to regulate, you'd think Channel 5's ace investigator Duane Pohlman would have plenty of big game to hunt.
Instead, Pohlman has unleashed his formidable talents on . . . Abercrombie & Fitch.
It seems that the company's clothing catalog contains -- gasp! -- nude photos. The obvious publicity stunt has worked to perfection. The "scandal" has been covered by the Philadelphia Daily News, the Dayton Daily News, The Plain Dealer, and other media. The result: "Abercrombie & Fitch's racy ad campaign is helping sales, sending its stock up 16 percent," reports The New York Post.
So what's an enterprising muckraker like Pohlman to do? Pile on, in hopes of sending Abercrombie's stock past the 20 percent barrier!
Pohlman showed the catalog to parents who were shocked -- shocked! -- to learn that it contained naked pictures. He also went to an Abercrombie store, where he got an employee to offer this hard-hitting quote: "Those chicks are so fly! They're so hot! I'd hit it with all of 'em!" Then he confronted the company's PR person, who hung up on him, allowing Pohlman to mug for the camera and say, "Hello. Hello. He hung up on me!"
The segment also allowed Channel 5 to show the supposedly offensive photos on TV. Hmmm. It seems someone understands that nudity helps ratings as much as it helps stock prices.
Scene recently detailed the East Side Organizing Project's fight with mortgage servicer Fairbanks Capital ("Blind Eye," Oct. 15), which is accused of losing payments, charging unnecessary fees, and doing all it can to drive homeowners into foreclosure.
Just after the story appeared, the activists got a call from Fairbanks' lawyer, says ESOP's Mark Seifert. After weeks of backtracking on promised reforms, the company suddenly changed its tune. It wanted to fly the activists to New York City to talk, pronto. The topic: how to stop the bad publicity.
ESOP accepted -- but only if the discussion would include an agreement outlining changes in Fairbanks' practices. The meeting ended with a "memorandum of understanding" committing to further talks. ESOP leaders believe they could lead to relief for Clevelanders facing unfair foreclosures.
Meanwhile, groups that want Ohio to stop bad mortgage lenders continue to hit roadblocks. Attorney General Jim Petro campaigned on the idea of changing the state's Consumer Sales Practices Act, which specifically exempts mortgage companies. Petro actually called it his "No. 1 priority."
The attorney general agreed to meet with a group of Cleveland advocates last month to discuss the reform, says Charles Bromley of the Housing Research & Advocacy Center. Half a dozen people drove down to Columbus for the meeting.
But Petro failed to show, and the staffers who arrived instead weren't exactly forceful. "We're at this meeting with all these lawyers, and they're all looking at us with dog faces: 'We can't do anything,'" Bromley says. "It's a pathetic reality of how they've failed to stand up for consumers, whether on the Fairbanks issue or anything else."
Bromley says he called Petro's scheduler to arrange a follow-up meeting in Cleveland. He's still waiting to hear back.
Dennis Kucinich launched his presidential race from the floor of the Cleveland City Council, but his latest campaign numbers suggest he isn't much of a hometown show. Of the $3.4 million Kucinich has raised so far, $1.26 million came from contributors giving $200 or more, according to the Center for Responsible Politics. And among those $200-plus donors, only 6 percent live in Ohio.
So where's the money coming from? California, baby! The Wine & Cheese State provided Kucinich with 41 percent of his donations over $200, much of it coming from parties hosted by B-list actors. Kucinich's donations from Cleveland lag fourth behind Left Coast cities Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland.
Why is Kucinich so lackluster on his home court? "California is a much more populous state than Ohio," says press secretary David Swanson.
Um, OK. But the numbers have Kucinich's local opponents a-twitter. Cleveland-area Republicans, desperate for a break against the three-term Democrat, say Kucinich's poor showing here means he's either A) more popular with has-been vegan TV stars than pierogi-and-onions Clevelanders or B) not serious about his presidential bid, because he's saving his Ohio donors to run for the House again in 2004.
"If Dennis really cared about the people of Northeast Ohio, you'd think he'd campaign here once in a while," says Ed Herman, his Republican opponent.
Swanson responded with a list of 39 endorsements from such Democratic luminaries as Karen Pianka, recording secretary for the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, and Lesley De Souza, Parma Heights City Council candidate. "Congressman Kucinich is enormously popular in Ohio," says Swanson.
In other news of our hapless congressman, Kucinich is boycotting MSNBC's Hardball because host Chris Matthews is "biased in favor of corporate interests over the public interests" and the show has a dastardly conservative agenda, according to Swanson.
This, however, doesn't explain why Kucinich recently appeared on Fox News, the official houseboy for all things conservative and corporate.
But the smart money says the real reason behind Kucinich's boycott is that, back in July, Matthews lit up the congressman for his flip-flop on abortion. You will remember that Kucinich recently switched his lifelong anti-abortion stance, after he discovered it to be a deal-breaker in his quest to become Sweetheart of the Left. So Matthews began the interview with a clip of Dennis saying, "I would nominate any gay to the Supreme Court -- or lesbian or bisexual or transgendered person to the Supreme Court -- as long as they were ready to uphold Roe v. Wade."
Matthews's summation: "In other words, you will only accept judges on the Supreme Court who totally disagreed with you your entire life, until recently, when you decided to run for president and go national."
That led to a bizarre exchange, in which Matthews challenged Kucinich to name a congressperson who wanted to criminalize abortion. Kucinich sputtered, then finally came up with a name, only to have Matthews criticize him for doing so.
"You're desperate. Let's move on here," Matthews said, turning to Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-California). "Congressman Hunter, let me ask you a serious question, because you're a serious man. This was not a serious conversation."
LeBron-Green grudge match
By Punch's reckoning, last week was among the most exciting in Cleveland sports history. Give credit to our city's foremost athletic ambassadors, LeBron James and William Green. Here's how they stacked up in a head-to-head matchup.
Handling the pressure:
· In his much-anticipated debut, LeBron looked Jordanesque: 25 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists, 4 steals against Sacramento. "Believe the hype" was the most frequently uttered phrase around office water coolers on Thursday.
· Green sat on the sidelines in the Browns' 9-3 loss to the Patriots. He saved his running for Monday, when he charged into a happy hour to earn his only stat of the week: .165, his blood-alcohol level upon arrest.
· LeBron launching a fadeaway jumper from the deep corner, a defender in his face, and hitting all net.
· Green, trashed at 6 p.m., weaving down the road in his Cadillac Escalade with a flat tire.
· Kings center Vlade Divac: "He's the real deal." Kings forward Peja Stojakovic: "I never saw him play before today. Unbelievable."
· A motorist who called 911 to report on Green's driving: "He's going to kill somebody. He's off the road. He's bouncing off everything. He's crossing the double line."
Now paying at a theater near you . . .
The Cinematheque is that bastion of Cleveland arts which screens important films from neglected filmmakers -- then offsets its losses by showing cartoons and old porn. Such is the dilemma of the art-film programmer: All the movies that matter most are the ones nobody wants to see.
Now the venerable institution is fighting fiscal stagnation in an innovative new way: by jacking up ticket prices to $8 -- matching the highest price of any theater in town. Director John Ewing prefers to wear the increase as an artistic badge of honor.
"It's kinda cool to be the most expensive, and it's like an opportunity to explain why it's not an outrageous price," he says. "It gets people to think about what they're paying for. My feeling is that movies are still dirt cheap, compared to other entertainment options."
In its 17 years, the Cinematheque has never turned a profit, but has always avoided losses -- Ewing's ultimate goal. "When you consider that we don't have a concession stand, we figure people will still go home with more money in their pockets," he jokes.
Those interested in protesting the new price hike may attend this week's Ohio Independent Film Festival at Cleveland Public Theatre instead. Plenty of tickets are still available -- for $10 apiece.
Bandits in Brecksville
Brecksville-Broadview High's Gregory Tavrell and Patrick Pristas narrowly avoided a trip to jail, but they're giving their buddy one last poke for the road.
The two were put on probation for holding down a 16-year-old classmate last year while Pristas allegedly administered "The Bandit," a fratboy initiation ritual that involves sticking a finger in your buddy's pooter. Pristas and Tavrell claim that "The Bandit" was a wrestling hold a mutual friend learned from a coach. The parents of the victim weren't buying and called police.
"He got a finger up the victim's anus to the first or second knuckle," says assistant prosecutor Thomas Cahill. "The victim became the school pariah and ended up having to leave the school."
Though they were expelled, the butt boys became something of campus heroes, prompting cries of "Free Pristas" in hallways.
John Pelton, who allegedly helped to hold the boy down, is still awaiting arraignment on charges of assault and unlawful restraint, and that feeling in his backside isn't friendly hazing. It's Cahill's foot. He let Tavrell and Pristas plead down in exchange for testimony against Pelton. While no one is likely do jail time, the boys almost won themselves a ride to The Joint, where the meat is gamey and hunters frequently become the hunted. But Cahill says the incident shouldn't be dismissed as an overzealous wedgie.
"This is different from the classic wedgie -- pulling underwear into the buttcrack," says Cahill. "Of course, there is the newer atomic wedgie, where the underwear gets pulled over and onto the head. But that doesn't involve penetration."
The moral of the story? "Keep your fingers out of other people's buttholes," says Cahill.