What it really means to say ‘Keep Cleveland Strong’

by Cleveland Frowns on April 29, 2014

“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.

UPDATE: Art Modell Hostage Economics Do Not Keep Cleveland Strong


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.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    I’ll be talking about this issue on “Sound of Ideas” tomorrow morning from 9 to 10 (WCPN, 90.3 FM stream live video here: http://www.ideastream.org/soi ), tomorrow evening from 6 to 7 on More Sports and Les Levine (with CAST Chair Will Tarter) on Time Warner Cable’s sports network (Channel 23), and on Friday morning at 11:20ish with Baskin & Phelps on WFAN 92.3 FM (stream live audio here: http://cleveland.cbslocal.com/station/92-3-the-fan/ ).

    • Chris Kramer

      Frowns, you’re doing more than your civic duty by keeping these important issues in the public discourse. Seems to me that the more looking under rocks the media and public do, the more we find — which is the whole reason we need more transparency.

    • Chris Mc

      You did a solid job holding your ground on that show. It’s difficult to debate someone who sticks to his masters’ talking points and continuously dodges direct questioning.

      He tried to say we would be punishing lower income people with a ticket tax. One idea to confront that would be to tier the tax to escalate with the price of the tickets. The tax on the loudville seats would be significantly lower than a club seat or lower bowl, for instance.

    • nj0

      Actual issue aside, this whole affair really shows the symbiotic relationship of business, media, and elected officials. The amount of disinformation and lies is appalling.

  • bupalos

    >>>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.>>>>


  • Petefranklin

    Fourth most? I guess bussing works.

    • bupalos

      Of the post-industrial major great lakes region cities, I think we’re the second most integrated. So there’s that.

      It’s really sad the backslide that has occurred in integration. My elementary school was fantastic. Everyone was basically a minority, though honky types were probably a strong plurality. My very bestest friend in the world was “black” and if you had asked me whether he was “black” or not I would have probably said “what? People can be black?”

      • maryohio

        Because like all liberal policies it’s the intention-not the results- that count.

        • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

          Before anyone gets too upset by this comment I recommend clicking on “Mary’s” Disqus profile to take a quick look at the comments she leaves on other websites.

          You’re anti-sin tax, though, right, Mary?

          • Chris Mc


          • actovegin1armstrong

            Thank you Frownie, I was about to blast away referencing everything from The East India Tea Company, The Underground Railroad, Philip Botha, through Donald Sterling.
            Saved from wasted space with an infantile and mostly uninformed treatise. (I try, but I frequently fail.)

        • bupalos

          At least I think we’ll agree that we don’t need the government levying “sin taxes” on our private activities or picking winners and losers in the entertainment marketplace! That’s one “liberal” policy that I agree with you on here. No on 7!

  • Jeff

    Glad you cited the Donald Sterling situation. Striking similarities to the Issue 7 situation. The fans realized they had leverage to sanction the owner’s bad behavior. The NBA panicked and cut him loose. It sets a great precedent: fans can hold owners responsible for being jerks in non-sports contexts. Haslam and Gilbert must be sweating. See http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/04/29/the-nba-s-war-with-donald-sterling-is-just-getting-started.html#url=/articles/2014/04/29/the-nba-s-war-with-donald-sterling-is-just-getting-started.html: “Regardless of how vile the owners found the language that Sterling uttered, none of these men of privilege wants to establish the precedent that an angry public can rise up and create a national furor over their private lives and forcibly separate them from their teams.” Hopefully Issue 7 fails but, even if it doesn’t, we’re seeing cracks in the dam.

  • Warburton MacKinnon

    Hey frowns what about writing or calling Harry Ried about the Indians/wahoo? he just recently decided to call out Snyder in DC, might be someone you can get to bring the Wahoo thing up a notch and more nationally prominenet strike while the anvil is hot Frowns

  • Bob

    Honest questions, this isn’t trolling – I’m just trying to understand this situation (I no longer live in Cleveland, but rather Atlanta):

    Who owns these sports arenas/stadiums? Isn’t it the city? And if it is, doesn’t the city have an obligation to keep funding them if they actually do own them? And shouldn’t the tax be kept in order to keep from dipping into the general fund?

    • bupalos

      The city does own them. It was structured this way as a sop to the owners, specifically so they wouldn’t have to pay for them or pay anything more than a phony fig-leaf worth of rent. If the city could give these away, it certainly would. But the teams would not be willing to take them for free.

      In general terms, when you are charging perhaps 1% of fair market value for rent, no, I don’t think you really have any obligation to do any repairs at all. But set that aside. While I would be one, few are arguing that the city should try to get completely clear of the extortionist deal they made back in the day. What we are arguing is that if we are going to do maintenance it should be limited to repair of the existing facility, and this should be spelled out in detail. Adding a massive 20M scoreboard or restructuring luxury seats is not repair and maintenance, but it can easily be interpreted this way and this is what Haslem is going to argue. Especially if the money is specifically earmarked to spend on those venues and already in the bank. Passing a tax should be an opportunity to clarify exactly what we are going to pay for. This is being rushed through (fully a year early) precisely because the teams want the city making the commitment before any of it is clear.

      And apart from that, why would we be doing a regressive sales tax in cuyahoga county to pay for the facilities utilized by (generally wealthier) residents of all the surrounding counties. The ticket tax puts the responsibility right where it belongs, on the owners and fans that consume the product.

      • Bob

        Thank you for the answer!

      • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

        Thanks, bup

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