Tuesday, November 1, 2011

2011 Election Endorsements

Mason says: Vote NO on Issues 1, 2, & 3.

Issue 1: This is to raise the maximum age at which a justice can be appointed from 70 to 75. Issue 1 is nothing more than a twist on FDR’s court-packing scheme, in which he tried to pack the court with younger – and more Liberal – judges. Now, the Republicans in control want to pack the court with older – and more Conservative – judges. Republicans already have solid control of the courts in Ohio, which Issue 1 would only entrench. VOTE NO ON ISSUE 1.

Issue 2: Everyone’s hearing about this one - on TV, in print, and via mailed flyers. Issue 2 is an attempt to destroy collective bargaining rights for public employees in Ohio. If this passes, private employees will be next. This is part of a continuing erosion of Union rights that started in the 1980s. It is no coincidence that the middle-class started to shrink at around that time. Governor Kasich claims that he simply wants to balance spending by reining in overly generous benefits. Two facts that belie Kasich’s claims: 1. Public employees have already agreed to wage freezes and benefit cuts; 2. If Kasich wants to avoid a deficit, why is he giving tax breaks to millionaires and corporations when it’s been proven they don’t stimulate economic growth? Kasich’s stand might be good politics – at present – but it’s bad economics and bad governance. Don’t fall for this, Ohio. VOTE NO ON ISSUE 2.

Issue 3: The disingenuously named Ohio Healthcare Freedom Amendment is simply an attempt to destroy the progress that’s been made in health care reform over the past few years, and take a political swipe at President Obama. It will not protect anyone’s freedom, except the freedom to be irresponsible at the expense of the responsible. Passage of Issue 3 will, at best, continue skyrocketing health care costs and leave more people uninsured. It will also provide a disincentive from employers offering health coverage as part of their benefits package. VOTE NO ON ISSUE 3.

Issue 96: Issue 96 concerns the South Euclid portion of the former Oakwood Golf Club, which was sold to First Interstate, run by developer Mitchell Schneider. The No on 96 people, who are largely funded by Cleveland Heights residents and by Severance Center, are gambling that if they can stoke enough opposition by playing the Wal-Mart card, the zoning will be reverted to Residential and Schneider will donate the land in exchange for a tax write-off. That idea flies in the face of all logic and business sense. More likely, he will develop the land as residential or sell to another developer who will then develop the land. Under a residential paradigm, non-profits such as a church or health care facility could be built, which would be exempt from property taxes. Most likely, any development under a residential template would be a gated community. (The fact that the general economy and housing market are poor does not negate the fact that there are still plenty of people with money who would love to live close to the city and cultural attractions, without the negative implications they feel inner-ring suburbs bring: namely, integration and a large stock of smaller, older housing. Witness the developments at University Circle and the Gordon Square neighborhood.) The pittance of money that South Euclid would collect in property taxes from housing (most of which will go to the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District) will not even begin to cover the costs of road upkeep, trash collection, et cetera.

A Yes vote means the commercial zoning approved unanimously by the South Euclid city council will remain on the books. It means the development of a new shopping center similar to Steelyard Commons, and the chance for local access to retailers that we now have to drive miles to get to. South Euclid recently ranked 10th in walkability among the 114 largest communities in Ohio. That’s a remarklable asset that Oakwood Commons will only enhance. First Interstate will cover ALL costs of remediation for the 21 acres of parkland it’s donating to South Euclid, as well as improvements on Warrensville Center Road including a new traffic signal and a sidewalk on the western portion of the road – where only a decaying fence now exists. Oakwood Commons would pay for trash collection and upkeep of their parking lot. Then there are the fiscal benefits, including income taxes from the jobs created and property taxes – although, again, most of the property taxes will go to CH-UH schools. There is also the potential to make a real dent in the local youth unemployment rate, which is a huge problem no one wants to talk about. Incidentally, both Mayor Welo and her opponent, Robert Schoenewald, have told me they favor a Yes vote on Issue 96. This is the most important issue on the South Euclid ballot, which will determine our city's financial fate for at least a generation. VOTE YES ON ISSUE 96.

Issue 97: For the past several months, a single speeding camera has been moved from side street to side street, clocking vehicles that travel more than eleven miles per hour over the limit. News of this camera’s impending use has been in the local media for at least two years, often accompanied by consternation and accusations of political misdeeds – with no supporting evidence. The best argument that can be made against the camera is that a ticketed individual cannot face his accuser in court. Indeed, the tickets issued are not reported to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and points are not issued to the licensee. Also, the title holder may not even be driving the car at the time of the infraction – it may be loaned to a friend or family member. But fines are still collected, after the camera manufacturer gets its cut. There are real problems with speeding on some streets in the city – including on South Belvoir, where I witnessed a pickup driver going at least 45mph on a recent Saturday morning. There is also the 25mph speed limit on Mayfield Road, for which I can find no justification, which leads many to use side streets as cut-throughs. I have yet to see evidence of stepped up police presence since they were supposedly “freed-up” by the camera from writing speeding tickets. (NOTE: I am not bashing our police force, which I hold in high regard, but I question their leadership.) Therefore, despite the hyperbole of the anti-camera set, I am urging a YES VOTE ON ISSUE 97.

For Mayor: I certainly have reservations about Mayor Welo’s performance. She seems to decide on who to endorse or appoint based on whether or not they go to her church. Many of these have led to an insularity at city hall that discourages constructive criticism and open debate. The purchase of Cedar Center North was, at best, badly timed and poorly executed and, at worst, a serious breach of private property rights. And many feel a more creative, less expensive solution could have been found to the troubles on Greenvale Road than the purchase and demolition of nine perfectly acceptable houses. Cuyahoga County councillor Sunny Simon, a resident of the Greenvale neighborhood at the time of the purchase, has vigorously defended Welo's stance. But it’s very unlikely that the money spent on these two items will ever be recouped. It’s also true that these events took place before the 2008 economic collapse, which very few people saw coming. The argument can also also be made that if the city did nothing with regard to blighted property, both commercial and residential, we’d be headed down the road to East Cleveland. Also, the city has made good faith efforts to rein in spending since the recession began, there has been no tax increase (a proposed increase for residents who work outside the city was quickly withdrawn), and South Euclid recently earned an above average credit rating from Moody’s.

A 1974 Brush High School graduate, Robert Schoenewald, Mayor Welo’s opponent, has been very civil in his criticism. I spent 45 minutes talking with him at a meet & greet and he seems like a very nice, personable human being. But his refusal to repudiate the tactics of some of his more over-the-top supporters bespeaks a serious lack of political courage on his part, especially for someone who calls Mayor Welo a “friend”. Schoenewald does have some good ideas, including better verification of residence for local students to make sure they're really local, and an approach to housing inspection that essentially amounts to “if it can’t be seen from the street, it’s not the city’s business”. But there were some things he told me that came right out of the Ayn Rand playbook which set off my radar. While he’s told me personally that he favors passage of Issue 96, his refusal to take a public stand, once again, is a bad omen for rudderless leadership were he to become mayor. His campaign has been long on statistics and short on specific solutions. Mayors have to do more than count and balance the books, they have to lead, and sometimes take unpopular stands.

In the end, I have chosen to vote for Mayor Welo. While some of her actions can be questioned, her general leadership has proven she's willing to fight to reverse the decline that has plagued South Euclid for the past 35 years.

For City Council (at large): Ward councilors are not running this year. Their four year term will be up for renewal in 2013. There are three open seats with eight candidates running. The seats are non-partisan, although not all the candidates are.

Michael Fortner: Fortner is unique in that he’s the only declared Republican in the race. I am not a Republican and don’t agree with all his ideas, such as replacing the city’s housing initiative with tax breaks for people who buy and rehab/replace distressed housing. The realities of the market are that tax breaks would not begin to cover the expenses involved, and distressed housing would remain on the market and an eyesore to neighborhoods for years. One such house on my street that was finally torn down this year after it began to lean. Having once lived in Slavic Village, I saw the potential for abandoned houses to attract vermin, including Chihuahua-sized rats. That would be a far worse problem for South Euclid than a few vacant lots – which can potentially be turned into community gardens or resold when the market improves. However, Fortner is a thoughtful individual who listens to both sides of issues, and he would bring some ideological balance to a council that has been little more than a rubber stamp for the mayor. Alternative ideas, no matter from whom they come, need to be raised. South Euclid needs a “loyal opposition”, and I believe Fortner would fill that role admirably without becoming overly strident.

Marty Gelfand: Only one candidate running has extensive experience in navigating the byways and pulling the levers of government, and that’s Gelfand. For years he’s worked as an assistant to Congressman Dennis Kucinich. I’m well aware that Dennis is a lightning rod for controversy, both positive and negative. But Gelfand’s connection to Kucinich may help in securing funds from Washington.

Tony Caroscio: A 1987 Brush High school graduate who was appointed to council in 2009. At the time, some noted Caroscio’s other occupation, as a manager for the Nike store at Aurora outlets, as not being distinguished enough for someone seeking city office. I don’t feel that a retail job is a disqualification for government office, but I may be a bit partial since I worked retail for 16 years. After all, Harry Truman ran a men’s clothing store, while Herbert Hoover was known as the “great engineer.” Make your own judgments. The primary job of a city councilor is to work with constituents, and discuss and vote on ordinances. These are largely people skills that have nothing to do with engineering. Caroscio has been willing to take stands on various issues, including a bill that would require a minimum of five votes (of seven total on the council) for any tax increase. He was also active in raising (private) money for the Playground of Possibilities. His contribution to the council and the city has been constructive, and with the ankle-biting that’s been going on in South Euclid, Caroscio’s performance in office has been refreshing.

School Board: I went to South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools from Kindergarten onward (with some breaks when my parents divorced) and am a proud graduate of Brush High School – class of 1985. So, even though I don’t have kids of my own, issues facing our schools are of great importance to me. Watching the dwindling performance of our local schools over the last 15 years has been a depressing sight. There are two open seats on the school board this year, with three candidates running. One of those candidates, Arizinnia Hood, could not even be bothered to file her paperwork on time or show up for an interview with the Sun Messenger. Frankly, that’s the kind of attitude that put our schools in the position they’re in today. Therefore, by default my endorsements go to Stefanie Rhine and Alfreda Wynne.

South Euclid Municipal Court: There are three candidates for one seat. Only one has received consistently excellent ratings from area Bar and Lawyer Associations, and that’s Lee Koosed. His average rating of 3.75 blows the other candidates’ 2.5 ratings out of the water. VOTE FOR LEE KOOSED.