County commissioners have agreed to pay the Richard E. Jacobs Group $22 million for the old Ameritrust complex, which will become the new county government center. But the deal may have less to do with serving the people than paying certain people back.
The complex, at Euclid and East Ninth, has been a barking investment for Jacobs. He bought it about 15 years ago for $50 million, but the building has stood vacant for nearly a decade, costing $540,000 a year in property taxes. That's because its cramped quarters are half-finished and and loaded with nutritious asbestos.
Which means the only one stupid enough to buy it, of course, is the government.
Jacobs tried to pawn it off on the feds for a new courthouse, but they're not nearly as dumb as the guys we elect in these parts. "Jacobs and his attorney . . . tried to push us into the old junky building," Rich Latkowski of the U.S. General Service Administration told Scene a few months back. "They want to try to unload that thing."
So why would the county purchase a building that the GSA deemed a "white elephant"?
Commissioners claim that Jacobs submitted the best proposal -- which, in the realm of Ohio politics, means he forked out the largest campaign contributions. In 1998, Jacobs threw a hefty $35,000 at Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, the county Democratic Party chairman.
Rob Roe, whose Staubach Co. received $3 million from the county to consult on the project, maintains there was no political influence. "Throughout the process, Jimmy has been one of the most critical of that site," he says. "There's been no backdoor dealings and pressures put on us."
If the county gave Punch $3 million, we'd be happy to rewrite this story to say the same thing.
Flavored water update
Good news for fans of sewage-free drinking water: The Bush administration, a leading advocate of E coli-rich beverages, last week rescinded its plans to permit more untreated sewage to be dumped in Lake Erie.
The announcement came two days after the release of an Environmental Integrity Project study, which found that three out of every five Great Lakes cities blow off federal laws requiring that sewage overflows be reported.
Remarkably, Cleveland -- whose beaches resemble porta-johns when viewed from outer space -- was among the few in compliance.
The move is considered a setback to Governor Bob Taft, who had been a vocal supporter of Bush's pro-sewage plan. Sources close to the governor confirm that he's drafting a new proposal to dump raw sewage on T-ball fields.
Welcome to America
Editor's note: The following item was supposed to be accompanied by a soundtrack of "God Bless America," but our publisher wouldn't spring for it. His name is Ramon. Yeah, we're thinking he's French too.
So please just hum along as you read. If you don't know the words, perhaps a nice arrangement from Slipknot would make a suitable replacement.
Immigrants from around the globe received their U.S. citizenship last week at a shotgun ceremony at Cleveland's federal courthouse.
But the real initiation to this wonderful country came from USA Parking Systems, which owns the parking lot next door. It raised its rates an extra dollar to welcome our new countrymen. It also schooled them on our tradition of turning sacred cultural symbols into hollow novelty items by handing them mini-American flags on their way out.
"I don't know if that's supposed to be worth a dollar," said a man from Bangladesh.
Keeping with the theme, the young attendant defended the gouging in classic American fashion, pointing to those nearby whose thievery was far greater than his. "I mean, if you wanna get ripped off, go to the Federal Reserve where they charge $12 all day, or go to an Indians game where they charge $20," he said. "That's a rip-off."
A dream and a gun
Martin Luther King Jr. was all about peace and nonviolence. But in East Cleveland, his legacy stands for stuffing a Glock in your sock.
The E.C. has been renting out its Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center to a gun instructor who teaches people how to obtain concealed-weapon licenses. Naturally, recreation director Sulaiman Muhammad doesn't see the paradox. "I don't see any problem with that. It's for self-defense."
Punch tried to clue Muhammad in on that whole "I had a dream" thing. But the director wasn't buying. "The center is for the community," he says. And though MLK was all about peace, East Cleveland is all about guns.
As co-chair of President Bush's reelection campaign, Uncle Tom Blackwell never missed a chance to smear John Kerry for incessantly changing his mind. But now that he's running for governor, Blackwell is flopping like a three-eyed walleye on the Edgewater Park pier.
As secretary of state, Blackwell decides how Ohio runs its elections. But every time he makes a call, he winds up backpedaling.
It started with Ohio's $150 million effort to buy new voting machines. In 2003, Blackwell barred Sequoia Voting Machines from selling in Ohio. Sequoia sued, and a judge ordered Blackwell to let the company in. Blackwell defied the court order, saying it "would be ultimately detrimental to the public's confidence in the entire process." Three weeks later, he reversed himself.
Then, in January, he barred counties from buying computerized voting machines, instead ordering them to buy optical scanners. Three months later, he made an exception for computerized machines made by Diebold of North Canton. Though the machines don't actually meet state requirements, company executives have given millions to the Republican Party. That's good enough for Tom.
Then Blackwell approved House Bill 1, which overhauled state campaign-finance laws. But after the law passed, he suddenly objected to portions of the bill. So he did what any true moron would do: He sued himself.
Unfortunately, we are not making this up.
"Frankly, it's frustrating to have things change, sometimes day to day," says Michael Vu, director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, who must follow Blackwell's whims.
A word from Whitey
Occasionally, Punch likes to turn these pages over to our fair readers. It not only offers you, our loyal customers, insight into the depraved wretches who pick up this rag, but allows us to leave early for the bar. Enjoy.
A few weeks back, I went to see a movie at the Shaker Square Cinema with my wife and daughter. We decided to extend our time there and get a light meal at one of the many tables outside the theater.
To our great shock, discomfort, and general sense of creepiness, within 10 minutes we witnessed three incidents of young, apparently drunk or drugged black men stumbling by, yelling to no one in particular but seemingly to everyone in the area, that they can "kick all you white motherfuckers' asses. Yeah, you fucking cocksuckers, you don't think so? Then come and get some of it, motherfucker."
A steady drunken parlance of "motherfucker," "white motherfuckers," and the presently popular "motherfuckin' white motherfuckers" streamed on like an unguided probe up one's ass to view a sad colon. I was very concerned for my family's safety. Though I cannot argue that we are and remain white, I have to strongly protest the attachment of "motherfucker" to us by a stranger obviously high on some of the evil white man's elixirs.
I can swear that I never had sex with my mother, and I am safe in my assumption that my daughter never had sex with my wife. If she did, I'm sure I would remember it, and I would have grounded her for a week and taken away her cell phone for a month.
Also, while the truth is that I have had sex with my wife and that she is, indeed, the mother of my daughter, I do not feel this truly qualifies me to be labeled a "motherfucker."
The patented strut, tone, and choice of words were almost amusing, in that they revealed a totally unoriginal and clichéd characterization from millions of minutes of bad exploitation films, horrible rap and hip-hop, and witless television writers. I mean, how could apparent real rage and dislike for a race be expressed in such an unoriginal manner?
All in all, it was a wonderful visit, up to the moment of being verbally threatened for no reason by angry black youths who have fallen under the power of those who want to sell image and sensation to those too ignorant or lazy to sniff out such things as substance and originality for themselves.
Oh yes, we will forever avoid the Shaker Square area. If I ever desire to be called a motherfucker, I can read old letters from former girlfriends.