HAS ANYTHING REALLY CHANGED SINCE 1988?

Submitted by Roldo on Tue, 06/16/2009 - 17:19.

I’ve been rummaging around in old stuff trying to put some old writings in some order. I came across a column from June 1988 that I’ll repeat below.

 

I think it stands up 21 years later and provides some background or, if you will, history. It was entitled “When Duties Become Incentives” and appeared in the Cleveland Edition. Boy, do I miss the Edition. Here it is:

 

I have a friend who from time to time chastises me about the nature of my negative attitudes toward the Cleveland Establishment and its role in Cleveland affairs.

 

He suggests that in addition to writing about the problems one should be encouraging the Establishment to take on a role in solutions.

 

He has the belief that “if they knew,” they would do something about the conditions.

 

My view of the track record makes me rather skeptical – even horrified – of inviting the Establishment to roll-up its sleeves.

 

The fact is, however, the Establishment knows only too well about the city’s condition in leadership and direction.

 

Indeed, it is that conglomeration of Special Interests that we call the Establishment that benefits most from the way things are.

 

Oh, yes, things could be better and that would be fine.

 

But the important factor is that nothing interfere with what’s crucial – business and profit.

 

Corrupt government is tolerable. As long as it is corrupt in the correct direction.

 

The Establishment is interested in stability and predictability.

 

In the late 1960s and the 1970s, what my friend wants for Cleveland now, was called Corporate Responsibility. Even that was a misnomer. It really was, “keeping the lid on.”

 

The Civil Rights Movement and the street riots put pressure on the city and the Establishment because it was disruptive and unpredictable. That condition no longer exists. And without the pressure there’s little incentive apparently to deal with the problems and frustration in the 1980s.

 

But it has been the experience of more than 20 years here that when the Establishment gets involved, it isn’t as much to benefit the city as itself.

 

When there was instability in the Cleveland schools in the early 1960s, the Establishment moved, responding with a new superintendent and an edict. No criticism, give him a free hand.

 

Paul Briggs, with that edict, brought peace. He also built school after school in segregated neighborhoods leading directly to the discrimination ruling of the federal court and today’s problems.

 

Cleveland’s devastated neighborhoods also can be traced to Establishment involvement.

 

A HUD official once told me that Cleveland in the 1960s was his department’s Vietnam.
“We’d like to get out but we don’t know how.

 

What happened was that the Establishment, eager for renewal – particularly development downtown – pushed the city into applying for more renewal projects than the city could possibly handle.

 

When the job was bungled, the disaster led to mass movement of displaced people who had no replacement housing. The result is what you see in much of the eastern inner city today.

 

One summation by a Cleveland banker always rings too true as an explanation of this chapter of Establishment involvement. He said that renewal worked well for some – commercial, industrial and institutional interests – but not for housing, thus not for the people of the city.

 

He then added: “I wish I could believe that all of this was accidental and brought about by the inefficiency of well-meaning people – but I just can’t. The truth, it seems to me,   is that it was planned that way.”

 

Books can be written about these two aspects of Establishment involvement and thus how cities are governed.

 

In 1967, the late James C. Davis, managing partner of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, gave a remarkable speech, “Cleveland’s White Problem.” It essentially blamed white ethnics for the problems of blacks thus absolving the Establishment.

 

Davis became a hero and began pushing his own agenda with the notoriety he got, a perfect example of an Establishment leader “getting involved.”

 

One Davis project was the Jetport in Lake Erie, a massive development to cost some $3 billion in the early 1970s. (I was shocked when I heard Brent Larkin recently on some program saying that this was Cleveland’s major mistake- not building the Jetport. What he’s saying is that we should have built – at incredible public cost – an island separated from the city. That’s what the jetport would have been with office buildings, housing and much more.)

What Davis didn’t say when selling his program was that his law firm was the major bond counsel in Ohio thus could be expected to earn handsomely from the business of bonds to finance the venture.

 

But that wasn’t unusual - more like standard procedure when civic duties become business incentives.

 

A few years later, Squire-Sanders was the law firm that wrote the state enabling legislation for tax abatement allowing Cleveland to abate property taxes.

 

And, true to this form, Squire-Sanders was legal counsel to National City Bank for its abatement building at E. 9th Street.

 

It is now even more ironic that today’s $100-million or so tax abatement for the Society Tower complex will directly benefit Squire-Sanders.

 

The law firm will be a major tenant in the Jacobses’ tax abated tower (now Key Center).

 

I’m afraid that relying upon the Establishment as a panacea for today’s ills would be foolhardy.

 

The answer lies in all of us becoming true citizens and paying attention to our leaders. And in expressing some outrage at the despicable conditions we allow in Cleveland.

 

 

 

 

 

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