In the storied tradition of Ohio degeneracy, few years measure up to 2004. The past 12 months have seen a former mayor pass out naked in someone's driveway, a House speaker resign amid a corruption scandal, and another mayor convicted of bribery -- only to be replaced by a woman who once whacked her boyfriend.
Damn, Ohio, you're good.
Alas, none of this is worthy of an Art Modell Award, widely regarded as the Buckeye State's most prestigious fake honor. To achieve Modellism, as Art is fond of saying, "is not merely to chart new waters of ineptitude, or till fresh soil of depravity. It is to do so with consistency, lest one be considered a one-hit wonder, like that band Right Said Fred, whose CD I still have, in case anyone wants to borrow it."
So when we convened for our fifth annual black-tie affair, a veritable Who's Who arrived at the parking lot of Value World on Lorain, where they dined on a resplendent buffet of white bread and Colt 45. They were here to praise, to honor, and to throw small automotive parts at this year's winners. (Plain Dealer columnist Regina Brett, it should be noted, has a very good arm.) For to secure a Modell in 2004 is to achieve a certain human supremacy -- and perhaps put you in line to become the next governor of Alabama.
Without further ado, we present to you the master race:
Media Geeks of the Year
In a pitched battle with two-time Modellian Mike Trivisonno, the always formidable Sam Fulwood III, and 2004 Rookie of the Year Bruce Drennan, Channel 19 withstood all comers.
When this team was first assembled, few so-called "experts" gave it a chance. GM Bill Applegate was dumped by the parent club in L.A. News director Steve Doerr used to be a senior vice president at NBC, until clashes with management left him slumming in Cleveland. Assistant news geek David Eden earned his bones by writing for Barney and lying about winning a Pulitzer. T&A anchor babe Sharon Reed lost her job in Philly after allegedly asking a rival, "Have you ever had a street fight, bitch?" on an internet website.
Working as a unit, however, they soon developed an offense as powerful as the Browns'.
Unlike other stations, Channel 19 understood the first rule of news: It's far more interesting when you just make it up. And so it did.
When Mayor Campbell refused to speak to station reporters, they were filmed pulling on locked doors after hours to prove they'd been "Banned From City Hall." There were stories about high-end boutiques selling used underwear, tales of Marilyn Monroe alive and living in Cleveland, and the famed appearance of Reed, sans clothes, participating in alleged artist Spencer Tunick's public installation, which basically involved naked people lying in the street. It was all in the name of art, which is why the station waited five months to air the segment during sweeps. As everyone knows, you can't cover art in the summer. That's so gauche.
By year's end, 19 was soaring in the ratings, going from its perennial slot in the deep cellar to the first rung of the basement steps. The competition cowered in fear.
"They're like the nerdy kid in high school who never got any attention," Fox 8 spokesman Kevin Salyer told Scene. "All of a sudden he gets a mohawk and a couple of piercings and tattoos, and a few people look at him. But the bottom line is, he's still a loser."
Envy, as we all know, is the ultimate sign of respect.
Slacker of the Year
Times had grown tough for the West Side congressman. He was nearing his eighth year in Washington, yet he was tired of colleagues mistaking him for a weird-looking high school kid and asking him to caddy. He wanted more from life than wading through water hazards to retrieve Dick Gephardt's Titleists. He never seemed to remember his swim trunks.
But unlike the rest of us, Dennis was brave enough to seize the day -- or, more important, the government money.
He decided to become president.
It wouldn't be difficult. Dennis was a master of disguises. He had already gone from race-baiter to earnest liberal, anti-abortion Catholic to pro-choice New Ager. Surely he could look presidential. All it would take was a navy blue suit and an American-flag lapel pin.
The announcement brought a tidal wave of support. "Look what the cat done drug in," gushed the Fayetteville, Arkansas Neighborhood Shopper, the first of many endorsements from America's most prestigious periodicals.
Through the miracle of campaign finance laws, Kucinich was able to sponge $2.9 million in federal money. He used it to attend vegetarian fondue parties in L.A., make repeated visits to Hawaii to court the all-important islander vote, and hold dating contests with women from New Jersey. When you have millions in government money to burn, even ugly guys can get chicks. It was a testament to this country's greatness.
Dennis stumped on an anti-war platform. As president, he would be too busy sitting on his ass to do anything, much less invade new countries. His record in Congress was proof.
But this campaign wasn't about Dennis. It was about raising the progressive banner within the Democratic Party. His growing clout was evident at the Boston convention, where he secured a coveted daytime speaking slot. It was a fiery, moving address, until the three janitors who witnessed it called security.
Alas, America was not yet ready for a Kucinich presidency, opting instead for a retarded guy from Texas. But Kucinich returned home to a hero's welcome, as crowds gathered to see if he had any of that $2.9 million left, hoping he would buy them some lunch meat.
"Sorry," he told the teeming masses. He was leaving for San Francisco. There was vegetarian fondue to eat.
Such are the burdens of a great leader.
Scientist of the Year
Science is boring and hurts your head. The only people who understand it are guys you try to avoid at parties.
But Cuyahoga County Coroner Elizabeth Balraj has found a way to put the fun and adventure back in forensics -- by just making it up. (Is there a recurring motif here?)
When a guy previously hospitalized for suicidal thoughts decided to pound a tasty 12-ouncer of antifreeze, she ruled it a murder. After all, he hadn't topped it off with a refreshing splash of ginger ale, the only way antifreeze is properly served at the finer establishments around town. Surely this was a sign of foul play.
And when an elderly man suffering from dementia died from pneumonia 16 months after claiming a Cleveland fireman knocked him down, she ruled it a homicide. What could be more fun than watching a fireman's career hang in the balance while he sweats bogus murder charges? Now that's entertainment.
Balraj understands that evidence, autopsies, and tests can be painfully dull, which is why you never see guys on CSI: Miami sitting at their desks doing paperwork for an entire episode. Far easier to simply blow it all off and call everything a murder, allowing the intrigue to rest on its lees like a fine Cabernet. Under her definition of science, every death is a potential Lifetime movie.
Crime Fighter of the Year
Most people join the police department to catch bad guys, help old ladies, and accumulate frequent-flier miles from Donutland. Cleveland officer Daniel Jopek was a bit unusual: He liked to shoot people in the back.
Critics totally harshed on him. Dude, have another apple fritter and chill, fellow officers said. But Jopek was merely expressing his individuality.
The first guy he shot committed the heinous crime of double-parking. Jopek and his partner said the guy tried to run them over, so they shot him in the back. Witnesses said otherwise.
Then-City Prosecutor Sanford Watson launched a thorough inquiry. He was pioneering a new crime-fighting technique called "telepathic investigation," whereby he never actually talked to the main witness, thus preserving valuable city resources. He ruled the shooting self-defense.
Then Jopek shot a guy in the back for reckless driving. Unfortunately, Watson had been promoted to safety director. The new city prosecutor, Anthony Jordan, used old-fashioned investigatory techniques, like actually leaving his desk.
The evidence showed that Jopek was lying like a congressman from Mississippi, concluded Jordan, who further noted that repeatedly shooting guys in the back was, like, totally inappropriate.
Alas, County Prosecutor Bill Mason's office was too busy trying to find the real killer of guys who drink antifreeze and failed to get an indictment.
But there's a happy ending to this saga: Jopek was recently called up by the Marine Reserves. Come January, he'll be flying off to beautiful Iraq, where the sun shines bright, the ammo is free, and there's never a shortage of people to shoot.
Love Machine of the Year
Cleveland State professor John Wilson was among America's preeminent psychologists. The first to publicize post-traumatic-stress disorder, he traveled the globe schooling aid workers and counseling war victims.
Then one day he flew to Portland to assess the psychological damage done to a plane-crash survivor. But upon arrival, he decided it would be more fun to grope her. After all, he was an esteemed scholar; surely every woman thought of him as totally hot. That's just good science.
Back at his hotel room, Wilson unleashed a flurry of romantic overtures that can only be described as "damn near Shakespearean, with subtle hints of Grisham." Wilson told the married woman he was "great in bed," she would later say, and offered to provide the phone numbers of Croatian women who would attest to the wonders of his mighty sword.
He "said he wanted to be my tiger," added the woman, and assured her that he could provide "the best sex I ever had."
No finer poetry has been uttered since the last Sigma Chi kegger at Kent State.
Oddly, the woman was unmoved by Wilson's highly original and fetching wordplay, and ratted him out to the Ohio Board of Psychology instead.
Wilson summoned a brilliant defense, alternately claiming that it never happened and that he was too drunk to remember. He also said he was suffering from narcissistic-personality disorder, which meant that he was so in love with himself, he wasn't responsible for his actions. (After subsequently winning the Pulitzer Prize for Bullshit, he repeatedly thanked himself in his acceptance speech.)
Sadly, state regulators weren't buying; they suspended his license. Wilson surrendered it for good last spring.
Today, the world-famous psychologist can no longer travel the globe being world famous. The canon of pickup lines is much the worse for it.
Yet his loss is Cleveland's gain. He'll now be spending more time at CSU, where impressionable young women can learn the sweet language of love at the feet of the master.
Criminal Mastermind of the Year
State Treasurer Joe Deters was a rising star in the Ohio Republican Party -- which is to say that, unlike his colleagues, he possessed a fourth-grade reading level and could operate a vending machine without assistance.
Deters believed that if one applied private-sector tenets to government, the people's business would run much more efficiently. So he sold his ass to the highest bidder. Competitive bidding, as we all know, is the foundation of smart commerce.
It just so happened that the winning bid came from one Frank Gruttadauria, the famed stockbroker who swindled $125 million from elderly clients after deciding that the Nasdaq offered less growth potential than embezzlement. Gruttadauria donated $110,000 to Deters' campaign fund and slathered the treasurer and his assorted yes-men with another $10,000 in gifts and rides aboard his corporate jet.
Deters repaid Gruttadauria by giving him state investment contracts. After all, anyone capable of stealing $125 million surely possessed cunning financial instincts.
Yet Ohio's antiquated laws forbid bribery -- or at least the kind you get caught at. Three of Deters' yes-men were convicted in the pay-for-play scandal. But the treasurer was allowed to skate. He had no idea what was occurring in his office, he claimed. He was a high-powered state official; he couldn't be troubled with such trifling matters as work.
Besides, the wise executive always sacrifices his underlings. It's called leadership.
Sadly, Ohio voters didn't understand his bold attempt to privatize government. They thought it looked a whole lot more like bribery. So Deters was forced to relinquish his office and run instead for Hamilton County prosecutor, where he wouldn't have to worry about indicting himself.
The pundits saw it as a fall from grace; Deters knew it to be a smart business play. By becoming prosecutor, he wouldn't be restricted to taking bribes from stockbrokers. He could expand his market share to crack dealers, rapists, and the more upscale chop shops. It was a win-win situation.
Jimmie Hicks Jr.
Closet Homo of the Year
When Cleveland Heights decided to create a domestic-partner registry, it was a largely symbolic gesture. The registry offered none of the marital benefits typically granted to breeders. In fact, no one seems to really know what it did, beyond sending homos the basic message, "Hey, you guys are all right by us."
But Minister/Councilman Jimmie Hicks Jr. knew better. Allowing homos even a facsimile of marriage would bring darkness to the fashionable suburb. They would settle down, buy homes, and paint them in far more arresting colors than breeders ever could. Soon, there would be an outbreak of advanced gardening. Someone might even erect a tasteful gazebo.
Hicks vigilantly campaigned against the measure. If the city granted official sanction, he argued, everyone would turn homo. The temptation would be too great -- even for Jimmie Hicks. And since he harbored a modest ability to accessorize, he would likely have to purchase a mail-order boyfriend from Croatia, which could run upwards of 800 bucks.
Still, Hicks was an elected official; he would trust his faith in a public vote, he vowed.
Regretfully, the people of Cleveland Heights didn't trust Jimmie Hicks. They approved the measure by a comfortable 10 percent margin.
Being a man of God, Hicks promptly reneged on his word and sued.
The litigation is expected to cost the city $100,000, yet it's a small price to pay. Hicks was merely exercising his constitutional right to force everyone to agree with Jimmie Hicks. After all, if people don't stand up for their rights, it's only a matter of time before everyone can arrange an elegant fruit-and-vegetable platter.
W.R. Timken Jr.
Executive of the Year
Inheriting vast power and fortune is not as fun as you might think. There is a great deal of paperwork. Sometimes your secretary calls in sick and you have to fetch your own dry-cleaning.
Such were the tribulations of W.R. Timken Jr., heir to the Timken Co. empire. Though his company had $3.8 billion in sales, he knew that it would require government welfare to survive, lest he actually have to be good at business.
So a few years back, he sidled up to another trust-fund kid named George W. The two men enjoyed each other's company and would spend their summers helping each other figure out the big words in the comic books they read. They shared common interests: Both sucked at business, and neither liked to work. They also had a fondness for initials.
One day, George announced that he wanted to be president. W.R. raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help him purchase the job in 2000.
Though he couldn't actually spell "favor," George knew how to return one. Over the next few years, W.R. received $45 million in new military contracts, most of which were no-bid.
Critics squealed. "These guys preach self-reliance, but they're on the public dole," said Lorain Congressman Sherrod Brown. He obviously didn't understand business. Were he aware of the rising cost of lobster bisque or the expense of retaining quality domestic help, he would understand W.R.'s suffering. Which is why George allowed Timken Co. to pay no federal income tax in 2001 and 2003.
The welfare allowed Timken to build new factories in China, while simultaneously plotting to close three plants in Canton. As the noted textile manufacturer Mahatma Gandhi once remarked, "If we cannot take from single mothers and give to the truly needy, like W.R. Timken, what's the point of having a damn country?"
No truer words were ever spoken.