Will Corporate backed Cimperman Remove Kucinich? Hope Not for Ohio’s Sake

Heavily corporate – backed Joe Cimperman is trying to grab Dennis Kucinich’s seat in Congress. From the looks of Cimperman’s biggest campaign contributors this may be big trouble for already hard hit Ohio, not to mention the rest of the country.

While Cimperman’s campaign has focused exclusively on circulating negative ads about Kucinich, one would have to question what Cimperman would have to offer the working to middle class. A Cleveland news media article discusses the facts of what is happening:

Boy, they really want to kill him off this time.

It’s like “stick the silver dagger” in the little guy’s heart. Let’s get him once and for all, cry the corporate thugs, the Pee Dee and Brent Larkin.

Some big bucks are out on the street to finally ice the little bugger.

How can one tell? Just take a gander at the money flowing from downtown developers and Cleveland’s elite to Joe Cimperman, the main opponent to incumbent Congressman Dennis Kucinich. They can’t stuff his pockets with enough, as this look at his end of 2007 financial report shows.

There’s really only one reason they want to get Dennis. He doesn’t do their bidding. Never did. Never will.

Isn’t there room for one alternative voice in politics here? Do all Congress members have to be sell-outs like Stephanie Tubbs Jones?

Downtown Councilman Joe Cimperman, imbued with raw ambition, has made himself the tool developers and corporate biggies. For them, he’s a chance to retire Kucinich permanently.

It’s too bad because Cimperman is one of the brightest Council members in years, and has some progressive political instincts. If he doesn’t win, he may have hurt his future with this election try.

Cimperman might have been saved from this fate if he had been elected from a non-downtown Council ward. The vibes he gave off as a new member in 1997 suggested he was a man of the people.

He started as a former social worker but by 1999 he was representing downtown interests in a crackdown on panhandlers, never getting around to the real downtown panhandlers – the developers, abatement and property tax reduction seekers.

As the downtown Councilman, he faced the invariable task of satisfying development needs and desires. He thus became an agent of Power, a puppet of the downtown string-pullers.

I wrote back as early 2000, “Joe Cimperman is a political charmer. Popular and ubiquitous, the young politician also can claim to be City Council’s foremost money-grubber.”

Cimperman got one of his first tastes of the downtown crowd after taking office. At a holiday party, someone poked him in the back. It was the legendary Forest City’s Sam Miller. As I wrote in January 1998, “Cimperman, young, idealistic and exuberant, introduced himself and said that he hoped the two could work together. The kind of chatter one might expect at a first meeting. The gruff Miller wasn’t having much of the ‘can’t we get along’ line and wanted to know why Cimperman had voted against his (and Mayor Michael White’s) candidate for City Council President.”

I guess Cimperman was beginning to understand how the game was played. He became a favorite benefactor of Sam and the Forest City gang.

His zestful pursuit of campaign funds made him the all-time City Council money raiser. In 2002, he raised $62,210 to bring his bank account to $150,004, a very sizeable sum for a mere councilman. He held one fund-raiser at fashionable and expensive Johnny’s, the favorite restaurant of downtown developer Dick Jacobs (who, by the way, gave two $1,000 checks at the time) and many other elites. The restaurant location was via an in-kind contribution. They love Joe.

Once on the “take list,” it’s hard to get off. Now Cimperman lives on the pay-as-you-play dole.

Let’s lead off with the 10 donors for this Congressional run from Forest City Enterprises, the chief buyers of politicians: The Ratners: Al, $2,000, Brian, $1,000, Mark, $1,000, Ronald, $1,000, James, $1,000, Kevin, $1,000, Audrey, $2,000, Charles, $1,000, Deborah Ratner Salberg, $1,000 and Alan Krulak, $1,500. That’s $10,500 from Forest City people in the first financial report to the Federal Election Commission. (On a single day in the early 2000, Cimperman got $4,000 from some of the same Ratners, always seeking favors at City Hall)

When Tower City’s Al Ratner made his pitch to the Convention Facilities Commission, guess the only Councilman on hand to speak out strongly for Forest City’s location grab for the new convention center.

Did you guess Joe Cimperman? Go to the head of the class.

He was from the beginning an exuberant supporter of a publicly subsidized convention center on Ratner property, attached to its heavily subsidized downtown shopping area, Tower City. Whatever, you guys want, says Joe.

There are plenty of ways a public official can be helpful to the money people.

As the downtown Councilman, one is in a position to be of use quite often. The unwritten law among legislative members is that legislation favored by a councilman in his or her ward takes precedent over the reasoning of the other 20 members. Rare are the exceptions.

So it’s no surprise to see two $2,300 contributions from developer Scott Wolstein. Wolstein took the public for a vast sum of subsidies for his Flats development. Or $1,000 from the Steve Strnisha and his wife, consultants for Wolstein’s project.

After all, the city and other public agencies have committed some $50 million in subsidies and loans to the Flats project. Government provided the power of eminent domain and all kinds of other promised goodies (See http://www.ReadRoldo.com May 3, 2006).

Cimperman also worked a deal for Wolstein to pay off a city loan to Wolstein for about 40 percent of the $7.7 million at a zero interest rate. However, in working the deal he angered some council members by uneven division of the revenue. I wrote at the time, late 1989, “Cimperman took much too personally opposition to his plan.” He became “overly huffy” and made several colleagues unhappy.

The payoff for some measly $1,000 or $2,000 contributions could represent tens thousands of dollars to a developer. Having this quality of help can aid their bottom lines.

Cimperman has been a go-to guy for the downtown developers.

That’s why it isn’t unusual to see the Goldbergs of Ohio Savings Bank give donations as follows: Gerald, $1,250, Robert, $2,300, David, $2,300, Brenda, $2,300, Nancy, $1,150. And the Marons, Jori and Ari, MRN Ltd., giving $2,300 each.

After all, Cimperman has been going to bat for them

Ohio Savings (now Amtrust bank) and the Maron family have made investments in the lower Euclid Avenue area around E. 4th and E. 6th Streets. It’s become a hot area of development and a sponge for public subsidies.

Back a while, they engineered with the help of THEIR councilman quite a deal. To upgrade E. 4th, the city gave a $9.2 million bond, financed by a TIF, meaning the property taxes from the development didn’t go to the city, county and city libraries or especially to the declining Cleveland schools, but got diverted to pay off the $9.2 million, plus interest of several million dollars.

Because of the financial needs of paying off the bondholders, another maneuver was required to aid the deal by lowering the value of the improved properties in that area. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

“The developer, MRN, Inc., petitioned the Board of Revision to revise down the property value retroactive to 2000. MRN asked for a $5.5 million value on property now assessed for $22.3 million, according to the County.

“By lowering the property value, the developer also pays less tax and the schools, in particular, lose that revenue.”

Legislation for the $9.2 million bond issue was brought before the Council at the last minute at the final meeting before summer recess. Only Cimperman could have objected successfully to the quick action. It was his call to bring the legislation forward. One Councilman summed up the problem and Cimperman’s effective role in passage, “After 14 hours here, I can’t comprehend this information,” he said. He wasn’t supposed to understand. That was the point of the last minute strategy. A councilman can do this. Joe did.

So the property owners in the area should and have rewarded Cimperman for his efforts.

Later, the Marons got another $1.5 million subsidy. With all the city’s needs, the purpose for this subsidy was shameful – a downtown bowling alley. The $1.5 million was taken from Core City Fund, which many wanted to be used for neighborhood projects.

Cimperman, in the recent debate, claimed to have added numerous jobs as a result such developments and his work. He cited as one example the renovation of The Arcade, a historic structure between Euclid and Superior Avenues.

The Arcade project was larded with public subsidies, including a $1 million, 30-year loan at zero interest for the first 20 years and 2 percent interest thereafter; a $2 million, 20-year loan at 2.5 percent interest from Cuyahoga County; a $6.45 million tax incremental financing gift from the city, a $8.26 million federal historic tax credit and $9.6 million in tax benefits via a conservation entitlement.

How many jobs did it produce? Not likely any since the owners of the Arcade and the Hyatt Regency Hotel, the prime tenant, soon after the subsidies, asked for a decrease in the value of the property from $25 million to $l6.2 million for 2001 and then down to $12.1 million in 2002. Reason: Lack of business. Indeed, the original deal only promised 150 low pay jobs at some $7.50 an hour despite the heavy public investment.

Cleveland has lost some 48,000 jobs in this decade. How anyone can distinguish job creation in the mess we are in, I don’t know.

There are more questionable donors.

Here’s a smattering of potential conflicts in these donations:

Mitch and Karen Schneider, Steelyard Commons,$2,300 each; Joel Cole, $2,000, downtown parking business; Richard Pogue, wheeler and dealer on many levels, $2,000;Terry Stewart, director Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, $500; Paul Volpe, architect with his hands in nearly everything, $1,150; John Zayac, Council consultant, $1,000; Jeff Jacobs, who wants gambling downtown, $2,300; Dominic Visconsi, $2,000, and Anthony Visconsi, $1,500, developers; Michael Wager, Port Authority member, $1,000; Dennis (Jones-Day law firm) & Laura Lafferty, $250, convention center; Nancy Lesic, $750, public relations (for convention center principals and others); and Victor and Cheryl Shaia, $500 each, downtown parking; Adam & Pamela Fishman, $500 each, Shaker Square renovators.

Cimperman also fought to keep tax abatements at the highest level, rewarding downtown interests and luxury condo buyers. A gift that keeps giving.

The ambitious Cimperman felt he couldn’t pass up this chance of a wounded Kucinich in his gun sights. He has been getting fat checks from all those who know that he would be a much more pliable legislator that Dennis. It also would solve a Republican problem because Cimperman doesn’t have the intestinal qualities of a Kucinich when it comes fighting for the underdog or confronting thorny issues.

Cimperman has shown his inexperience with juvenile moves – delivering a food basket to Kucinich’s home and showing up with cameras with a “Where’s Dennis?” request at the Congressman’s office to signify Kucinich’s absence on the Presidential campaign.

Dennis shot himself in the foot by calling for a federal investigation of the intrusion. That’s the Dennis many don’t appreciate.

Kucinich, of course, gave his opponent the opportunity with his foolhardy second run for President. Cleveland needs a full-time Congressman of his stature, particularly as the Democrats now control the Congress.

He should have taken the advice I once before offered him with this tidbit:

Back in 1895, Lincoln Steffens asked Teddy Roosevelt about running for President, six years before he did ascend to Presidency following McKinley’s assassination. Roosevelt scolded Steffens:

“Never, never, you must never remind a man at work on a political job that he may be president. It almost always kills him politically. He loses his nerve, he can’t do his work, he gives up the very traits that are making him a possibility. Go on away now and don’t you ever mention – don’t you ever mention that to me again,” Roosevelt scolded Steffens.

Hopefully, Dennis can escape the fate envisioned by Roosevelt. If he does, Dennis should concentrate on being a working class Congressman from Cleveland and avoid the lure of the White House and Hollywood.

NOTE: The above article was written before the latest filings by candidates in the 10th
District. Kucinich outdrew his competitors by raising $738,801 in the first six weeks of 2007., though
his donations don’t come primarily from corporate sources, as do Cimperman’s. He has raised $485,869 in total.

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