Nothing has gone right at Classic Park, Eastlake's minor league baseball stadium. When it opened in 2003, then-Mayor Dan DiLiberto said it would cost just $15 million, none of which would come from taxpayers.
But DiLiberto apparently earned a doctorate from the Barbara Byrd-Bennett School of Statistics. He neglected to mention that Eastlake could barely pay the bills it already had. And just two years later, the full tab has risen to $48 million -- with residents on the hook.
So when new Mayor Ted Andrzejewski (pronounced "Ted") started chirping about $4 million in federal transportation money recently earmarked for the stadium, Punch was skeptical. The highway and transit bill is Congress' pork playground, where money burns like GPCs on parish bingo night. Could Congressman Steve LaTourette, the Painesville Republican who secured the cash, be simply bailing Eastlake out?
His website says the money will be used for the "construction of a transit facility to improve access and traffic at Eastlake Stadium." Surely, Punch figured, LaTourette could explain which transit facility that would be. All he'd have to do is point.
But apparently his finger is injured, or perhaps he's got something to hide. Multiple calls to the congressman, his chief of staff, and his spokeswoman went unanswered for more than a week. Punch even sent a singing telegram. A staffer told us it was "a little pitchy, dawg."
So we called Andrz . . . We called Ted. The mayor had already bragged that the money will pay down stadium debt. All Punch wanted was an idea of what transportation needs the money would cover. Three million for a parking lot, one million for kickbacks. That sort of thing.
But when we finally got Ted on the horn, he refused to comment. So we asked council members, but they didn't know, and suggested we call the finance director. But he wouldn't call us back either.
Best guess: Another $4 million of your money, dear reader, has just disappeared into the brisk Ohio wind.
When Tanya Labbe found out she was pregnant with twins, she and her boyfriend decided it was time to buy a van. On a friend's recommendation, they went down to Riverfront Automotive, a used car lot in Cuyahoga Falls owned by Anthony Hodel, who recently folded his car-warranty business, leaving hundreds of consumers with broken cars and unpaid bills ["Platinum Tony," October 12].
Riverfront gave Labbe a $1,000 trade-in for her '89 Crown Vic. She put $100 down on a '98 Chevy van and agreed to finance the rest.
But three weeks later, Labbe still hadn't received her payment book or her title. When she called Riverfront, a woman said the bank wouldn't approve financing until her boyfriend got his suspended license back, she says. Then a week later, she claims, Tawny Barber, Hodel's girlfriend, called to say Labbe had been refused financing. If she didn't bring the van back by noon that day, Barber told her, she'd be charged with grand theft auto.
The next day, Riverfront's lot was empty. Hodel had abandoned ship.
"There's no cars. There's no furniture in there," Labbe says. "We have the car, nobody to pay, nobody to call, and nobody's contacted us."
So Labbe called the bank, only to discover she'd truly been played. She had been denied financing because Riverfront never sent the bank proof that her boyfriend had a full-time job. "We gave that information to them when we walked in the door," says Labbe.
The icing on the cake: The van wasn't even Riverfront's to sell. The state title bureau says it has a lien on it.
As usual, the forces of justice seem wholly uninterested in investigating Hodel's latest scam. Cuyahoga Falls cops told Labbe to find a lawyer and sue. Good luck with that.
What would Jesus report?
St. Ignatius' "What Would Jesus Say?" exhibition -- an artful display of slurs like "Homo" and "Honkie," designed to teach kids about the power of hate speech -- was a journalist's dream. Nasty words mixed with private-school kids? The chance to use cool words like "multiculturalism"? Count Punch in.
But The Plain Dealer's Ellen Jan Kleinerman and Sam Fulwood III harbor a different dream, one that involves making it home in time for Sex and the City reruns.
Kleinerman wrote a story about student reaction to the exhibit. Fulwood -- The Laziest Man in Journalism -- reinterviewed the same sources, randomly picked some words from his pocket dictionary, and called it a column.
But neither bothered to interview a single student. That, of course, would have involved actual work, banned by the Starbucks Accords of 1998.
"I wrote what I wrote," Fulwood told Punch, before he abruptly hung up and returned to Googling himself. Kleinerman was more forthcoming. "I have deadlines," she says. Plus, by the time she was done interviewing adults, school was out.
So Punch, wondering how difficult it is to find Ignatius kids after school, conducted its own investigation. A confidential source informed us that teenagers like French fries. So our I-Team staked out a Wendy's near campus. Shockingly, we found tables full of students ready to talk.
"Do a story and don't ask the kids about it?" riffed freshman Alex Kozich. "That's pretty stupid."
The bomb squad
A week ago, a 17-year-old Solon boy received a phone call from an unidentified female with a breathy, heavy voice. "At 1:50 that house is gonna blow up," the caller said before hanging up.
The boy freaked, then called the police, who searched his house and found . . . nothing. Back at the station, officers traced the call to The Plain Dealer's marketing department. Apparently, a telemarketer had placed the call. But the message was not meant as threatening. Apparently, "blowing up the house" is a common rallying cry at The PD cubicle farm when early sales goals are met. The boy simply overheard two telemarketers bragging up their sales.
The Plain Dealer told police it would be revising its company-sanctioned rallying cries to something less incendiary. Telemarketers' new slogan for meeting sales goals: "I'm gonna cap your ass."