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Ink Strain

Mayor White hits The PD with a preemptive strike.

Many things improve with age: wine, cheese, a man's ability to snooze with the television at full volume. Some things do not. Take the now well-chronicled feud between Mayor White's office and The Plain Dealer. If onlookers thought White's decision against seeking a fourth term in office would settle things down, they were mistaken.

The continuously deteriorating dynamic between the two sides became even more apparent last week. First, mayoral mouthpiece Brian Rothenberg appeared at a confab put on by the Society of Professional Journalists to discuss the mayor's barring of PD reporter Mark Naymik from the May 23 press conference announcing Hizzoner's decision. Giving Naymik the heave-ho was pretty indefensible, so Rothenberg shrewdly changed the subject to why The PD has it in for White. He cited mistakes the paper promised to correct but then repeated, as well as a natural-gas deal the mayor announced to minimal coverage, while a similar deal in the suburbs got big play.

This didn't fly with the reporters in the crowd, who pelted Rothenberg with their experiences of being blown off by the mayor's press office. The PD's Michael Sangiacomo became so enraged, he stormed out of the room.

Then there was the Case of the Curious Faxes. On Tuesday, the mayor issued a statement saying The PD had accused him of being anti-Catholic. At issue was the mayor's decision to charge parking for a reception Wednesday night for a new Catholic bishop. A week earlier, city council had passed a measure waiving the fee at the city's Willard Park Garage for anyone attending the event.

White vetoed the ordinance, noting that other religious groups have been extended no such breaks. Joe Cimperman, however, said White's decision was retaliation for the councilman's frequent criticism of the mayor's parking privileges.

Somehow, this all became The Plain Dealer's fault. "Today I was accused by The Plain Dealer of being anti-Catholic," read a mayoral statement, which was released a good 12 hours before the offending PD story hit the streets. No longer would the mayor wait for an article to actually appear in print before striking back.

Yet someone in the mayor's office apparently thought better of the preemptive strike. Forty minutes later, another "corrected" fax showed up. It said that it was Council President Mike Polensek and Cimperman who had accused White of being anti-Catholic. Ah, much better.

Asked to explain what happened, the mayor's press folks said they'd have to look into it. Apparently, they're still looking.

PD Editor Doug Clifton offered one of his characteristically loquacious responses to the mystery: "Nothing the mayor does of that nature surprises me."

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