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Arshinkoff Is at It Again 

Republicans fire eight workers from Akron court.

No sooner had we shipped out last week's cover story about Summit County GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff ("The Godfather in the Closet," June 11) than word arrived of more political firings in Akron.

In May, Republicans gained control of the heretofore evenly split Akron Municipal Court, thanks to an open seat and an appointment by Governor Bobby. With their new 4-2 majority, Republican judges were quick to exploit the patronage opportunities.

Eight longtime court employees were sacked this month. One of those fired had labored 23 years for the court. Another was three weeks from retirement, marking a new breakthrough for compassionate conservatism. The replacements, naturally, are GOP loyalists.

None of the departed were dyed-in-the-wool Democrats, but they didn't actively volunteer for the GOP, either. That may have been their downfall. Fumes Vicki Litman, a probation-department secretary who was fired after four years of service, "I was never a political person. I did not campaign for the Democratic Party. But I will now."

Arshinkoff handpicked Taft's appointee, Brian Stormer. Though Stormer is new to politics, his value is clear. His ex-wife, Democratic Judge Elinor Marsh Stormer, already sits on the Municipal Court bench. That gives Brian Stormer instant name recognition. It also gives Elinor Marsh Stormer the privilege of working with her ex. She probably wishes she got whacked, too.

P.S. Less than a day after the paper came out, almost all copies of Scene were gone in the Akron area last week -- in part because it was front-page news in the Beacon Journal, in part because Arshinkoff operatives were seen scooping them up by the bundle. If you missed the story, you can still read it at clevescene.com.

Crime pays, but not well

Having a contract on your head makes for a great pickup line when you're trying to paint yourself as dark and mysterious to that special someone. But when the contract is at Wal-Mart prices -- like, say, $133.33 -- it might be better to talk about your stamp collection.

That's the amount Alberta Payton was allegedly willing to pay per corpse to whoever answered her March classified ad for a "bodyguard" in Scene. Payton was charged last week with six counts of complicity in attempted felonious assault, after someone who responded to her ad informed authorities that Payton was looking for more offense than defense.

According to the prosecutor's office, Payton wanted six people killed -- three relatives, a neighbor, a man who'd sued her, and the first guy to respond to her ad (apparently he took money but declined the job). Payton, who allegedly had specific instructions for each hit -- one victim was to be stabbed in the face -- offered to pay only $800 for all six, with just $10 down.

Deduct expenses -- gas, throwaway weapons, and lots of towels (Having once taken a beer bottle to the face, Punch understands the grill's propensity to bleed when introduced to a foreign object) -- and you're netting, what, a couple hundred bucks? For six separate jobs?

Now Punch would never condone inappropriate behavior like ratting. But when a contractor departs so far from union scale, it's hard to blame the would-be bodyguard for turning Payton in. It's high time thugs in this town demanded a living wage.

What lies beneath

The feds have denied for decades that a closed landfill in Uniontown contains high levels of radioactivity ("See No Evil," April 25, 2002). Now, the former ombudsman of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says his ex-colleagues may be burying the truth.

Robert Martin claims the EPA has documents that show "the potential for radioactivity in the groundwater" beneath the dump. But when he was forced out of his job last year after questioning his bosses, he had to leave behind boxes of documents that may reveal the truth.

Despite spending more than $20 million on its "cleanup," the EPA has removed none of the one million gallons of toxic waste stored at the dump from 1966 to 1980. The feds, bent on converting the site into soccer fields or a nature preserve -- "Look, kids, glowing butterflies!" -- also pooh-pooh claims that the Army buried nuclear waste there. Their argument runs contrary to the findings of five independent scientists, who say toxin levels appear unusually high, as well as a residents' survey that revealed high cancer rates among neighbors.

Greg Coleridge of the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee, which is suing to compel the EPA and other agencies to 'fess up about the landfill, thinks the EPA's files could provide details about what the Army and National Guard dumped at the site. "We just need to see what's out there," he says. "There's a whole lot more to this story than we've ever been told."

Video babes

A recent Channel 3 exposé on -- gasp! -- a videogame magazine had anchors Ramona Robinson and Tim White in full tut-tutting mode.

Playstation Magazine took geekiness to a new level by running a Sports Illustrated-style swimsuit issue, featuring videogame babes like Tomb Raider's Lara Croft. As far as salaciousness goes, it only scored a 3 on the Lechery Meter. The art was no more revealing than your average lingerie ad. Besides, the models are cartoons.

Nevertheless, Robinson and White clucked at finding further evidence of the Decline of Mankind.

"Just keep pushing the envelope," Robinson sighed.

"They do, don't they?" White added with his characteristic "just folks" charm.

It was a fine performance -- draw viewers in with cartoon skin, then pretend you're offended by the very thought. But it would have been more convincing if it hadn't been preceded moments earlier by a commercial for The Tonight Show that sounded like a gangbang double-entendre. Said a leering Jay Leno: "One woman and seven men -- can she survive?"

Punch is clucking as we speak.

TV wasteland, part II

Unfortunately, Channel 3 is still playing second fiddle to the standard-bearer of inventive television, Fox-8, which recently began using a puppet to deliver the news.

Yes, an actual puppet.

"Sound-Off Sally" sits in a bedroom and acts out the complaints of viewers. Picture Lambchop -- only infinitely more annoying.

It may be the first time a station has delivered news through a puppet, though the status of Wilma Smith is unclear. In light of her many plastic surgeries, Punch is awaiting a medical ruling to determine whether she's less than 50 percent human being, the criterion used by the International Brotherhood of Puppets & Ventriloquist Dummies to qualify for membership.

The lakefront, Chicago-style

Like Cleveland, Chicago has a lakefront airport. Correction: Chicago had a lakefront airport. Mayor Richard Daley was so determined to convert Meigs Field into a recreation area that in March he commanded bulldozers to mangle the runway under the cover of night. A giant "X" literally marked the spot.

A court order, sought by aviators, halted Daley's plows. But Hizzoner prevailed last month, when an appellate court lifted the order. Demolition recommenced.

This week, Meigs was supposed to open to walkers and joggers. Plans call for skateboard surfaces, a climbing wall, an observation deck, and a nature preserve. The land had been closed to the public for 57 years.

"That's what this great city is about: our wonderful parks, the river, and the lakefront," Daley told the Chicago Sun-Times. "That identifies the city more than anything else. The lakefront belongs to the people and not to the private sector."

Cleveland officials, of course, haven't seen the lakefront quite so clearly.

Mayor Campbell seems at least open to the idea of transforming Burke into a public space. However, Cleveland relies more heavily on its runway than did Chicago. In 2001 and '02, Burke handled almost three times Meigs's air traffic.

It's also hard to imagine Madame Mayor authorizing a moonlit bulldozer stampede. Punch asked Campbell's press office for her current stance on Burke. More than 48 hours and two missed deadlines later, Punch was still waiting.

Chuck your local listings

Cleveland hath no fury like a thespian scorned. A few weeks back, The Plain Dealer shifted its weekly theater audition notices from its attempt-at-hip Friday! magazine to its Sunday edition, where there's plenty of open pasture. Since Sunday is the most-read paper of the week, the listings would reach more readers than ever, and happiness would prevail, top minds reasoned.

But angry Hamlets-in-training accused The PD of profiting off poverty-stricken actors by forcing them to pick up the Sunday edition. "It is just one more move by The PD to hurt theater in Cleveland," wrote one outraged e-mailer. The backlash began almost immediately, culminating in a petition campaign to reinstate the Friday! listings.

PD Arts & Entertainment Editor Michael Norman pleads innocent: "There wasn't any conspiracy to get theater people to buy the more expensive Sunday paper," he says. "We're too busy to have conspiracies."

Don't hate the skate

Cleveland has no problem taking money from skateboarders. The city rakes in millions from the Gravity Games, which arrives again in July. It also collects about $100 every time a skater is cited for rolling down the sidewalk.

But the city does have a problem spending money on skateboarders.

Old Brooklyn kids have been lobbying to get a skatepark built at W.C. Reed Park on Denison Avenue. The 14 empty acres could house ramps and rails -- and keep skaters from practicing amid traffic. Three of the five kids behind the effort have been hit by cars.

As it turns out, Councilwoman Merle Gordon -- in whose ward the park sits -- has $300,000 to spend on park improvements this year. The skatepark would need but a fraction. Yet Gordon seems more inclined to spend it on people who can vote.

"She isn't responsive at all," says 16-year-old Jimmy Diamond. "We've been trying to get her to come to a meeting, but she won't."

Gordon says the park is heavily used for baseball and lacrosse. She supports the idea of a skatepark -- but not necessarily in her ward. "We need to be responsible about this."

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