“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” — George Orwell
“Keep Cleveland Strong.” — Jimmy Haslam, Dan Gilbert, Larry Dolan and friends
As fond as Frank Jackson is of repeating his statement that “the measure of a great city is how it provides for and how it treats the least among us,” Atlantic Cities’ recent study on economic segregation in the United States should be of especially pressing concern to the Cleveland Mayor and anyone who sees truth in his definition of what makes a city great.
Via Scene’s Eric Sandy, the study shows that apart from the fact that inequality continues to worsen to unprecedented levels both nationwide and statewide, the nation’s poor are also becoming increasingly geographically isolated in increasingly greater numbers, with Cleveland ranking as the fourth-most economically segregated metro area in the country, and the nationwide trend showing “no signs of abating.”
The Atlantic cites research showing that “between 1970 and 2009 the proportion of poor families living in poor neighborhoods more than doubled, from 8 to 18 percent,” and explains that “increasing concentration of poverty causes a host of problems … not just a lack of economic resources but … everything from higher crime and drop-out rates to higher rates of infant mortality and chronic disease.”
The study further cites William Julius Wilson, author of “The Truly Disadvantaged,” on “the deleterious social effects that go along with the spatial concentration of poverty,” including “[lack of] access to jobs and job networks, availability of marriageable partners, involvement in quality schools, and exposure to conventional role models.”
Out of sight, out of mind, of course. Which makes it especially easy for Cleveland to be a place with more than half its children living in poverty, the second-worst public school system in the nation, third-world infant mortality rates, a rapidly shrinking population, a vanishing middle class, and business and political leadership that uniformly wants folks to believe that a $260+ million tax collected mostly from Cuyahoga County’s least fortunate will “Keep Cleveland Strong” by subsidizing the hugely profitable private businesses of three billionaire sports team owners, Jimmy Haslam, Dan Gilbert and Larry Dolan.
Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley recently said that Cuyahoga County voters should approve this subsidy (on the ballot next Tuesday May 6 as Issue 7) because it would “simply continue the system we have had in place for 24 years.” And he’s right, it would. It would keep a badly suffering City and County chained to horrendously bad deals that were first negotiated back in the Art Modell Era on terms that were hugely favorable to the team owners. And worse, it would do so with the public kept in the dark as ever about just how much profit the owners continue to take from enormous public subsidies, and without any official public call for the owners to renegotiate these deals like they did in the mid-2000s when the quasi-public Gateway Corporation was facing bankruptcy in a much more favorable economic climate than today’s.
The message from the pro-sin tax campaign could not be any clearer. When they say “Keep Cleveland Strong,” what they really mean is “Keep Cleveland exactly the way it is.” Of course, it’s really easy to understand why Haslam, Gilbert and the Dolans, who have invested more than $1.5 million themselves to get Issue 7 passed, want to maintain the status quo. It’s easy enough to understand why the CEOs of their corporate sponsors would go along too, as well as politicians who can’t afford to stand up to the demands of moneyed interests in a system that’s abandoned all control on the influence of cash on elections.
But for everyone else, it should be clear that you can say, “the measure of a great city is how it provides for and how it treats the least among us,” or you can say “Keep Cleveland Strong,” but you can’t say both. It should be just as clear that “the least among us” will continue to become “most of us” with increasing rapidity if we keep swallowing doublespeak from folks who stand to profit from convincing us that weakness is strength.
Here’s Mike Roberts at Cleveland Magazine explaining that “City Hall, county leadership and the business community should take a public stand and cast the onus of refusing to negotiate onto the teams.”
Here’s Erick Trickey at Cleveland Magazine’s politics blog attempting to total up the public subsidies that have gone to Cleveland’s sports teams.
From the Cleveland Magazine archives, here’s a profile of Mayor Jackson that highlights how he was a vigorous opponent of both “sin tax for stadiums” measures that came up on the ballot when he was a City Councilman.
From WKYC, here’s a video of a lively 12-minute panel on Issue 7 hosted by Tom Beres, in which Council President Kelley struggles to answer tough questions from c0-panelists Mark Naymik of the Plain Dealer and former Congressman Dennis Eckart.
And from Tim Marchman at Deadspin, a piece on how LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s virulent racism offers his fellow NBA owners a convenient distraction from other problems caused by “men who interpose themselves between ballplayers and the public [to] skim off billions of dollars.”
“The best thing about the question of who makes the game,” Marchman writes, “is that if you’re on the right side of it, you don’t even really have to ask.”
Follow the Coalition Against the Sin Tax on Facebook and Twitter for more on why you should Vote No on Issue 7, join the “It’s a Sin, Cleveland” facebook group for more discussion of this and related issues, and stay tuned here for the same.