Cleveland as a Banana Republic

Submitted by Randino on Sun, 06/04/2017 - 18:55.

 Cleveland as a Banana Republic

by Randy Cunningham


            Let’s level with ourselves.  If you live in the City of Cleveland you live in a Banana Republic.  Like the classic Banana Republic of old, your community is run of, by and for an oligarchy. In our case, it is not the United Fruit Company, it is the Greater Cleveland Partnership.  Banana Republics wear a fig leaf of democracy, but everyone knows it is a sham. The past year has shown the reality of our situation in Cleveland.  I will give two examples of why I call Cleveland a Banana Republic. 

            The first was the Raise Up Cleveland campaign to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.  At issue was Cleveland’s dependency on low wage, sweat shop labor.  I mean, what will happen to our downtown rebirth if it is no longer subsidized by cheap labor and a ridiculously low minimum wage?  Heh, someone must serve the meals and clean the rooms of affluent visitors.  And that’s the utility of a healthy population of the poor and desperate.  They come cheap and Banana Republics prosper on cheap labor. 

            The proposal was given a rough time in the City Council.  The Raise Up Cleveland campaign jumped through every hoop council set for them. and finally resorted to a referendum to get the issue on the ballot.  It even dramatically watered down its original proposal to make it palatable to the oligarchy.  To no avail, because it was still a threat to the status quo.  The referendum was set for May 2nd.  It never happened. 

            It never happened because Mayor Frank Jackson and Council President Kelley sold their souls to the Republican devils of the state house to prevent it.  These Republicans hate poor people and hate big cities, but they saw an opportunity to wipe their feet on both, by slipping in an amendment that outlawed local referendums on the minimum wage in a Christmas Tree bill banning barn yard sodomy.  The mayor and the council president did not have the guts, or confidence in their political skills or their own position to campaign against this measure.  So instead they conspired with the enemies of Cleveland in the state house to deny the citizens of Cleveland the right to vote on the proposal.  City Hall has seen many infamous moments in its past, but this one was for the record book.

            The next example of Cleveland as a Banana Republic is the issue that is sitting in our laps now.  That is the proposed renovation of the Q arena for poor little rich kid Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers.  The renovation is being subsidized with a series of tax measures and public subsidies complex enough to make an accountant go barking mad.  But the bottom line is that a hard-pressed city, that does good to maintain any public services, and whose citizenry is none too prosperous at best, is being asked to subsidize a multi-billionaire franchise owner, so he can be even richer than he is now.  The problem for the oligarchy is that we have been down this road many times, and each time we go down it we are promised prosperity and life everlasting, but meanwhile the neighborhoods and their residents continue to sink into misery. The contrast between a glittering downtown and neighborhoods reduced to shambles is just too glaring and for the first time in decades, an organized opposition to the deal has appeared. 

            Cleveland’s City Council majority, the mayor and council president proved their loyalty to the Greater Cleveland Partnership by steam rolling an emergency ordinance to passage over the objections of a minority of council dissidents.  The ordinance meant that the city joined the county and the Cavaliers in subsidizing the Q renovation. Eighty-eight million in city taxes would be going to Dan Gilbert. 

            Blocked by council, the opposition mobilized.  A coalition of the Greater Cleveland Congregations, the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, AFSCME, SEIU, and the Amalgamated Transit Union came together to put the entire deal on the ballot for a vote.  Their opposition had enough appeal to city residents that they succeeded in gathering 20,600 signatures in under thirty days to put it on the ballot.  

            This time Mayor Jackson and Council President Kelley did not look to the Republican Caucus at the state house to save them from a democratic vote of the people.  They pulled a new trick from the trick bag of City Hall.  They declared that the referendum was unconstitutional, and thus they could not accept the boxes of petitions delivered to their offices. They said it was an opinion of the city law department, but that opinion was verbal, and not even in writing.  At the time this article was written the matter was going to court. 

            No matter what the final decision is on the legality of the referendum, both examples show that Cleveland City Hall has become an appendage of our ruling oligarchy – the Greater Cleveland Partnership.  The political leaders of this city are so dependent on the good will of the partnership, and are so unsure of where they stand with the voters, that they fear those voters and have no confidence in their ability to make their case before the voters.  And so, they move heaven and earth with sordid schemes to bypass democracy in service to the Dan Gilberts of the world.  I would be embarrassed if I were them, would curse the fact that I have ended up being nothing more than a water boy for the powerful, and would be haunted by memories of the days when I wanted a career in politics to do good.  As the bible says of the rich, so can be said of Mayor Frank Jackson and Council President Kevin Kelley.  Woe to them, for they have their reward.        

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