ROLDO: Is It Time to Cry Yet?

By Roldo Bartimole

I had to chuckle reading Steve Litt’s lead on his umpteenth piece ballyhooing a revamp of Public Square.

“Cleveland’s drab and gray Public Square…” Litt starts the latest propaganda push for more downtown public dollars. Public Square is an essential property for the city. Is that why we put a gambling joint at its doorstep? To dress up the place. Good thinking.

Litt didn’t mention that the present configuration of Public Square was the lady bountiful project of Iris Vail, the wife of former Plain Dealer Publisher Tom Vail. It gave me my chuckle.

Of course, helping to lead the latest grab ($40 million to start) for public monies for Public Square is Plain Dealer Publisher and CEO Terrance Egger. Was it ever so! Change is sooo hard.

They just never do stop. They can’t help themselves.

You’d think there was nothing else in town that really needed attention.

Watching a TV news clip of neighbors protesting the rape and murder of two women and another almost victim in a small east side area I noticed film of the desolate surroundings. People decried the poor conditions of the streets and surroundings. They know the score.

They said rightly it gave evidence to them that nobody cares if rape and murder happens where they live. The city’s clear confirmation by neglect tells residents what they are worth. Nothing.

In contrast, a recent letter in Crain’s Cleveland by the chairman of the Warehouse District Development Corp. bragged that his small downtown area was getting $2 million in street paving improvements and $650,000 in streetscape updating. Meanwhile, a short distance away in the Flats some tens of millions in public investments flow. And we’re going to keep the riff-raff out this time.

The PD business page last Friday had a four column, 5-3/4 inch photo of Mayor Frank Jackson and Downtown Councilman Joe Cimperman smiling at each other. Happy days are here again! The subject: “Downtown improvements.” What else? Among the goodies producing political smiles: $1 million for wider sidewalks, benches and bicycle racks downtown between St. Clair and Lakeside.

You want it. You got it. I remember that was the motto of Dennis Kucinich when he ran for mayor. However, he was talking to Cleveland residents, not its business leaders.

Now bike riders have more pull at City Hall than the entire population of poverty neighborhoods. What’s new?

The poor have NO pull as a report on infant mortality shows.

“Within three miles surrounding the University Circle area, infant mortality exceeds some Third World countries,” said a doctor of neonatology at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital on a radio program, also reported in the PD. Don’t let Litt know.

“We found that two neighborhoods, Hough and Mt. Pleasant, had infant mortality rates above 27 per 1,000 – worse than in North Korea, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Samoa, Maldives or the Gaza Strip,” noted the PD article.

It was worse in areas bordering University Circle, inferior to Bangladesh, Haiti, Rwanda and Uganda among others, at 67 deaths per 1,000. It’s a small sample but the neighborhood is close to some of the best hospitals in the nation. Cleveland Clinic – and board member Egger – where are you? Same for University Hospitals. Both close neighbors. At the doorsteps.

Pretty disgraceful.

We’re so fucked up that we don’t know how fucked up we are.

Not even any fight left in us.


Historic Building Bought on the Cheap

On another matter it was good to see three school board members voted against the fire sale of the Cleveland schools downtown administration building. But wait.

Unfortunately, the majority voted to sell the historic building to Drury Hotels of St. Louis. The deal: more than $4 million below the appraised price. Who’s counting the pennies?

No one – at least in reports I’ve seen – has said a word about the land that goes with the building, enough apparently to build a new hotel and use the revitalized historic building for upscale digs. That was the plan when years ago developer John Ferchill tried to get his greedy hands on the site.

I wonder what goodies Mayor Jackson will throw at the hotel developers. We must help downtown business, you know.

Ferchill was fought off by an elected school board, particularly its black members. Even Mike White, then a state senator, opposed the move. It was a political plus for him at that point. Black power.

Now we have a Mayoral school board, nearly invisible.

“We need to put the focus on education and put this issue aside,” said school board member Eric Wobser. He called it forward thinking. Wobser easily flipped off more than 80 years of history. As part of the historic Group plan Harper’s Weekly wrote in 1904, “Probably no city in the country, outside the Capitol, has undertaken the systematic development of public architecture and parks on so splendid a scale as has the city of Cleveland.” No more. Business rules.

Developers have been eager to get their hands on this property since 1983.

And how would Wobser use the money? Why, of course, the first words out of his mouth: for a new downtown school. You can bet who that will help. Not those most in need.

Wobser is a newcomer to the board. But his thinking is plain old give it away style.

Mayor “Out of the Box” Jackson played his usual role. Absent and silent.

It’s very discouraging to look at Cleveland, post the civil rights era. The forgotten era of forgotten people.

George Forbes, Mike White and now Frank Jackson. All strong public servants – for our corporate rulers. Heirs to the Civil Rights Movement. That doesn’t count. Profits. That’s what counts.

To hell with the people. That’s been the model here since Dennis Kucinich.



Roldo Bartimole has been reporting since 1959. He came to Cleveland in 1965 to report for the Plain Dealer where he worked twice in the 1960s, left for the Wall Street Journal in 1967. He started publishing his newsletter Point of View in 1968 and ended it in 2000.

In 1991 he was awarded the Second Annual Joe Callaway Award for Civic Courage in Washington, D.C. He received the Distinguished Service Award of the Society of Professional Journalists, Cleveland chapter, in 2002, and was named to the Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame, 2004. [Photo by Todd Bartimole.]



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8 Responses to “ROLDO: Is It Time to Cry Yet?”

  1. snarky

    Roldo, Litt is a tool of the finest quality for all the wrong causes, his read on Cleveland urban affairs carries the stench of yesterdays fish dinner.

    A water boy variety of reporter , Litt carries the pail for the corporate causes that have set this city back eons.

    With the gambling , gluttony , and dipsomaniac palaces in place around public square , perhaps the worlds oldest profession can open a sporting house on the empty quadrant of the public square.

    Pretty difficult to find an empowered populace in Cleveland today , most of those that can leave have , and most of those that remain plan on leaving for good as soon as they can afford to move on.

  2. Roldo Bartimole

    Thanks to all for your comments.

    Gloria, according to the PD today the schools contemplate taking
    space in the Eaton Building downtown, some 88,000 square feet
    at some $14.75 a sq. foot, though possible some of it could be at a lesser amont.
    But if my calculator is correct the 88,000 times $14.75 would mean
    an annual cost of $1.3 million. Considering the move from the old
    historic building the amount the school board took for the E. 6th building
    would be eaten up in maybe three years. The sale was some $4 million below
    the appraised value. Given it is so close to the new convention center the hotel
    chain appears to have made a great deal. Now we await what Mayor Jackson
    will offer the hotel developer in public goodies.

    But who’s counting? Not any public officials.

  3. glenn murray

    Steve Litt and the PD have done as much damage to the built environment in Cleveland as the closing of Case Department of Architecture in 1972. The lack of a school of architecture, and all of the architects who would have otherwise stayed in Cleveland has greatly diminished the vitality of architecture here. For contrast, look at the vibrant architecture scene in Pittsburgh cross-fertilized by the Carnegie Mellon School of Architecture.

    Mr Litt misses no opportunity to reinforce Cleveland’s inferiority complex by incessantly pushing on us the latest Eurotrash, New York or California architect while in turn ignoring and belittling local architects.

    Mr Litt appears to think we can prove our worth and raise our standing in the world by hiring flavor-of-the-month architects such as Stanley Saitowitz and Farshid Moussavi to poop out ridiculous and irrelevant buildings such the MOCA carbunkle, or LMN’s just plain ugly “heart attack EKG” inspired fenestration of the MedMart, when instead he should be louldly pointing out the Emperor’s complete and utter lack of clothing.

    The PD should be seeking out and nurturing a new generation of Cleveland Architects who can make a vibrant and relevant architecture of and for Cleveland, instead of trying to sell a bill of goods of silly, trendy soon to be outdated disposable buildings.

    Based on this track record, the citizens of Cleveland would be better off without a PD architecture critic at all. We could find a relevant architecture that is our own, and not some pale copy of the cover of the latest architecture magazine.

  4. There’s some good commentary here. Roldo, when we talk of profits, it’s short-term profits, the extraction of cash without concern for value, and it’s happening at all levels–public real property, fracking, the water supply, the tax revisions, demolitions, charitable disbursements, and the land itself. We the people are being robbed; the city, the region, and the state are being mugged. You are among the few who can talk about money intelligently and begin tying it to value. Few others get it, outside of the looters.

  5. Garry Kanter

    I can only speak for myself, but I’ve got *plenty* of fight left!

    Just contact me.

  6. MitchVigil

    Thoughts on the Jimmy Haslam situation?

    How will this impact future requests for Browns stadium handouts?
    Even if he beats this rap, it will be hard to convince anyone to trust him.

    Also…could this affect his brother, the Gov. of TN and a major GOP player?

  7. Roldo Bartimole

    Mitch, all good questions but the answers, I guess,
    await resolution of the events and where they take us.

    It should be a good lesson to reporters not to go all aglow
    about these big shot owners.

    He appeared too much the phony from the beginning
    with his I love Cleveland line.

    Liked Livingston’s take today in his PD column. A bit of realism.

  8. Hi… apparently I am not only one who feels same way bout MR.LITT who I HAVE had issues with and called said…IN A SENSE I FEEL for Him and rest of paper considering the LOCAL economy,fantastic ‘media changes’ and all that and HE and rest in something of a bizarre remaking mode here… Yeahhh IS semi giveaways to the ‘interests’ but IF IFfff ACTUALLY leads to actual progress that I am for THAT..’mostly’… aka GCHMedMart… CITY out of jobs,TAX money and all that and sure THAT entered into the dynamics and ‘math’ of interests… IF lucky SOME more politicos get their kuhanoes caught in some audit and/or investigation…

    Haslam? GOOD luck trying to get any deals or especially MONEY for MORE improvements at BrownsStadium but I COULD be wrong… finally CITY is responsible for maintenance,etc..and semi stuck…

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