December 31st, 2015

The New York Times spanked Cleveland hard this week with an editorial entitled, Cleveland’s Terrible Stain. The starkness of those words contain an assessment that really calls for much more than the one incident—the senseless killing of a 12-year old Tamir Rice by police.

Cleveland’s “stains” go far beyond what the Times finally acknowledged on Wednesday. The newspaper didn’t touch more than the surface.

The paper really misses the dreadfulness of Cleveland’s status and its neglect of public need.

Maybe this should apply to all American cities at this time.

City leaders—and this includes African-Americans—have for decades paid little attention to the staggering needs of its low economic people, especially minorities.

Publication after publication has sent reporters into Cleveland to cheer its resurgence. And plenty more will come as the Republican Party holds its 2016 presidential convention here next June. Hip hip hooray!

But the Times only touches the surface of this sad city’s story.

No doubt there have been some improvements in Cleveland. They deserve some attention and applause.

However, praise should not come to the exclusion of observing deep problems and the neglect of most of its inhabitants. Despair prevails for many.

Cleveland’s civic attention for years has been diverted to “improvements” mainly sought by its business leaders. Fortune magazine in 1989 crowed, How Business Bosses Saved a Sick City.

It was more how they took over a city. With what right?

The attention to the cravings of a small band of elites trumped the dire needs of its lower economic thousands in this shrinking city.

Downtown has been the center of elites thoughts and rewards. The city’s former great wealth, much of it concentrated in its powerful foundations, has steered investment by the public sector where it decided. There is always abundant seed money for privileged needs, or should we say desires.

Their agenda set the public agenda.

You can easily ring up more than $1 billion in public investment in a small downtown. The debt incurred to build stadiums, arenas, a convention center, a rock and roll museum, accompanied by heavy subsidies to other development (offices, high-cost housing, downtown parks and hotels), rarely—I should say never—gets exposure in the city’s main outlet of information: The Plain Dealer. Tax abatements flow at high public cost rarely questioned.

Meanwhile, even public transportation, main source of movement by minorities, now costs more. Formerly free garbage pickup now comes with a fee. City-run parking meters cost more while revenue goes to pay for downtown playthings. The costs fall on those least able to pay.

There is never a public accounting of these public costs and the added taxes applied.

Inequality is bred into these decisions. Who cares?

The city and county presently now pours even more public money into costly improvements and additions of sports developments. Yet taxpayers are still paying tens of millions of dollars annually on the original investments at Gateway (Progressive Stadium and Quicken Arena and First Energy Stadium). In less than two years, new highly-regressive taxes have been voted for hundreds of millions in added sales taxes for sports and the arts in the past two years. The media beats the band for these inequitable taxes.

Somehow it never penetrates the public conscious. Why? Because the supposed information via the city’s only newspaper and sports-crazed broadcast media remain purposely clogged. News is slanted to reward business desires.

“Good news” always trumps facts. The “unpleasant” filtered out.

Ironically, these heavy expenditures have taken place in the last 25 years under the political leadership of African-American politicians except for a one-term white mayor.

The Cleveland NAACP called the Tamir case “an atrocity,” which is hard to dispute. But the NAACP has been pretty much an atrocity itself. Mostly silent in the face of setbacks to blacks.

It was part and parcel of the city’s kept black leadership, long (17 years) led by former and most-powerful Council President George Forbes. He pushed many of the public decisions that are bankrupting the city and maybe the county now with benefits to the same old interests. As did Mayor Michael White who defeated Forbes for mayor in 1989.

Forbes also headed the Council of Economic Opportunities of Greater Cleveland—the federally funded anti-poverty agency here—from 1992 to 2012. He presided over the poverty fighters while its now-jailed director, Jacqueline Middleton, was taking bribes. This occurred shamefully as poverty severely harmed African-Americans. There is little if any arousal in the black establishment. Ironically, the black newspaper, the Call & Post, owned by former Clevelander Don King, has the 84-year old Forbes as its home boss. All bases are covered.

It has been business-as-usual among the city’s more powerful blacks.

It is all much, much too cozy in a city once wracked by racial unrest.

Now we have a lot of see-no-evil, tell-no-evil controls in Cleveland. With the help of black leaders who formerly bitterly complained of racial problems.

Meanwhile, the city suffers dire black economic depression, high poverty, disgusting black infant mortality rates, bad housing, poor health in a city dominated by health industry behemoths, including the Cleveland Clinic, and poor job opportunities even in publicly subsidized projects.

“Why should it be necessary that someone come in to clean up our house? Why should the Department of Justice have to send someone to perform the duties of monitoring our Police Department? That is what we elected Mayor Frank Jackson to do,” wrote the American Center for Economic Equality and Black Contractor Group in 2014. The group has long protested the scarcity of black jobs on public projects here.

The Times failed to reveal that the two highest police officials—chief and safety director—were promoted right after the 137-bullet chase it mentions as part of its “stain” editorial. Yes, it could have been tougher.

Again this abject neglect here comes under an African-American mayor, Frank Jackson, who has served for some 25 years as Councilman, Council President and now mayor. He has been mayor for three terms and is expected to seek an unprecedented fourth term in 2017. How discouraging. Not even a yip of a call for recall, as in Chicago.

Cleveland went from a troubled, but progressive mayor, Dennis Kucinich (he did face a recall) in 1979 to a decade with conservative, business-friendly Republican mayor, George Voinovich, followed by an equally conservative Democratic mayor, Michael White, for the next 12 years.

No wonder people who could left.

Political leadership of all kinds is sadly missing here and the outlook—despite the acclaim of resurrection that marks this and other cities—isn’t good. Indeed, most feel the city can’t go lower in hopelessness.

The advances that prevail have little or nothing to do with the almost obvious requirements of the many Cleveland citizens.

The stain is deep and spreading and one New York Times editorial, while embarrassing, will not move the agenda set by those who feel little pressure to change.

Hard to say, but we are too embarrassing for hope.

We need a Call to Arms. But who would answer?

By Roldo Bartimole…


  1. Garry Kanter says:

    Another great job, Roldo.
    They’ll only stop taking everything once everything has been taken.

  2. You got it right Garry and they’re getting close
    to taking it all.

  3. Kenneth Lumpkin says:

    Great article

  4. To Roldo and @alan glazen : the dirty little secret in town – CLE coffers are empty. What new tax will this administration cook up to support the facade? Raise the garbage tax on struggling seniors? Water Dept and NEORSD are ticking time bomb of deferred maintenance and priority now is to build Canal Basin park in the flats rather than to address the imminent collapse of the Westerly interceptor along Irishtown Bend.
    If anyone wants to improve a home or building in CLE they must deal with shady Building and Housing Dept and grossly incompetent Community Development dept that theoretically oversees HUD monies to CLE Council fiefdom CDCs. It’s so depressing – I can’t stand it. Jackson is a useless puppet to this machine politics. I won’t even mention Larkin’s buddies who have made out so well on flipping properties through the insane fake philanthropic non-profits like Cleveland Housing Network.…/cleveland_is_enjoying_a_renais.h…
    Like two friends I know leaving this town as fast as they can – I have to plan my exit despite the fact that I love the arts scene, the lake, the restaurants, culture and rich ethnic history here. Sad for this town. So many charlatan frauds.

  5. Fran Mentch says:

    Thank you for a much needed shift in discourse about the Tamir Rice case–We certainly have a racial problem, but as you point out, our poor political and community leadership on all sides sustains and encourages racial inequity. This hurts ALL of us.

    Racial inequality has recently been intensified by the Cuyahoga County Public Library. You can see [link embedded by me. JH] how CCPL’s recent plan moved libraries AWAY from poor and black neighborhoods. Both the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Branch and the Mayfield branches WERE a short walk from the high schools and junior high schools.

    No RTA bus goes by the new Mayfield Library There is no RTA bus service on weekends or after 7:25 pm that goes to the SE-Lynd branch.If you want to keep blacks, the poor and the disabled out of your building–put your building off the bus line.

    And, the CCPL branch closest to the east side of Cleveland–Richmond Heights branch–has only 10 computers. CCPL directed a $110 million dollar project but Richmond Heights remains in a storefront and has only 10 computers.

    I love libraries but CCPL has turned to the dark side.

  6. Thanks for these recent comments.

    On taxes, you saw the media opening for the same old establishment push for a tax increase in Brent Larkin’s column this a.m. preparing the way for a Jackson/Greater Cleveland Partnership/Plain Dealer payroll (not income)tax increase before Jackson likely bows out despite his desire to stay. The stink will be too powerful for him to run again.

    Same old song, same old propaganda.Same old lack of leadership.

  7. Jackson, the GCP, Armond Budish and others protect the worst racketeers in NEO – Rokakis and Frangos. The Land Bank allows so many in NEO to not be bothered by the low-class burden of actually paying taxes.

  8. Therese Pohorence says:

    Why are we continuing to elect the same people over and over again? Why do we get tickled pink if one of these career politicians remember our names? Why are all the goodies only going to the people who support all of these political hacks?

    Why do people continue to think only of what touches them? Cleveland has so much culture, why isn’t that worth uniting for to get leaders who can be successful? We need to support people to run for office who have already been successful in the private sector to turn this around.

  9. Exactly Teresa – perhaps, Jack Schron or Ken Lanci will run. It has to be someone independent of the payola schemes. I wish there was someone in the African-American community who fit the description – maybe George Fraser?

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