It's the hippest new trend in journalism!

Blame the Dead Guy 

It's the hippest new trend in journalism!

Here in flyover country, we tend not to attract the attention of the East Coast media elite. But Punch finally figured out a surefire way to get noticed by the country's most prestigious publications: stop breathing.

Exhibit A: The March 10 issue of The New Yorker, which contains a lengthy profile of Reuben Sturman: Clevelander, porn king, and scourge of the IRS.

The story -- detailing how Sturman managed to build his porn empire and avoid prison for most of his life -- waits until the last paragraph to reveal what Punch thought would be a fairly salient point: Sturman is dead, and has been for more than five years.

Yet apparently Punch missed a memo, because we soon realized the Dead Clevelander Angle is very hip these days.

Witness Exhibit B: The March 10 edition of The New York Times, which detailed the financial woes of the Cleveland Clinic. The city's most prestigious medical establishment, The Times reported, has fallen on hard times because of heavy losses in the stock market.

According to the paper, the man responsible is not Dr. Floyd Loop, the clinic's chief executive, or Mal Mixon, chairman of its board. After all, they're both still alive.

No, the blame goes to Al Lerner, whose "wealth and affection for the clinic may also have partly clouded the judgment of other directors when [he] was steering the clinic heavily into stocks." The story might as well have been titled: "Blame the Dead Guy."

Don't accuse Scene of missing out on a trend. Look to next week's issue for our explosive exposé: "Winter: It's Larry Robinson's fault."

The Lerner Lottery

Speaking of Big Al, The News Journal of Wilmington, Delaware, recently reported that MBNA Corp. mistakenly paid $2.1 million in income taxes into city coffers for its late chairman, Al Lerner, who earned $168.9 million in stock options last year. As it turns out, Lerner worked in Wilmington for only three days, and did most of his work from Ohio.

So does that mean some lucky Ohio town is due for a $2.1 million windfall? We called MBNA, but the company didn't call back. So we called Beachwood, where MBNA's local office is located. But Margaret Cannon, the city's law director, was surprisingly grouchy for someone who might win the Lerner Lottery. "Information regarding any individual taxpayer is confidential," she barked, over and over, as the Fist pummeled her with ever-more-clever questions.

It's not my fault

Podiatrist Steven Novak is suing his insurance company for disability benefits. Novak claims that because of mental illness, he has not been able to practice for the last two and a half years.

Of course, Novak spent a portion of that time in federal custody.

Novak was one of 21 people to be charged in a federal investigation into health care fraud in Greater Cleveland ("The Doctor Will Screw You Now," June 14, 2001). Novak was nabbed for ordering worthless diagnostic tests in exchange for kickbacks from the testing companies. As part of his 2001 plea agreement, he agreed to pay more than $260,000 in restitution and serve five months in prison. He also surrendered his medical license.

Nonetheless, Novak believes he is disabled. Feelings of inadequacy became too great to bear, apparently. "I'm like the used-car salesman of the medical field," he told one shrink. Novak also said he became a podiatrist to please his father, who pushed him toward a medical career.

Novak's insurer, however, isn't buying that hating one's job is a debilitating illness. And it just so happened that Novak sought psychiatric care near the time the feds approached him with the evidence they had gathered.

Government 101

Parma's Powers That Be are beginning to wonder why they never adopted a city charter. It might have saved the city millions of dollars. It might also have saved The Plain Dealer the barrel of ink it used to print a long, brutal -- and exceptionally good -- series about Parma cops plundering the city treasury.

Parma, you see, is the only city in Cuyahoga County that doesn't have a charter, which is kind of important for establishing stuff like "separation of power" and "checks and balances." Hence, the city council had no authority to veto the mayor's ill-fated choice for safety director, Robert Dybzinski, the lapdog who supervised officers earning six-figure salaries through shrewd abuse of sick pay and overtime. Even after the scandal broke, council could not make a proper whipping boy of Dybzinski.

Council complained each of the last several times the police department broke its budget, but Mayor Gerald Boldt never questioned his man. Dybzinski finally resigned last week, two days after the second PD story hit newsstands and a day after council threatened to combine the safety director's job with the service director's, a move that would have squeezed out Dybzinski.

The author of that threat, Councilman John Stover, has made a city charter the main plank in his mayoral platform. Slowly, it seems, the people of Parma are learning how to govern themselves.

This is an outrage!

State Representative Tim Grendell (R-Chester Township) is quickly becoming a contender for the Legislature's heavyweight trash-talking belt.

Last week, Grendell questioned the intelligence of Senator Mark Mallory (D-Cincinnati), noting, "He's the only reason I might support the OhioReads program."

With that, he left Democrats open to unleash some trash of their own, proving they're down with the people. And Grendell, whose politics are but slightly to the left of Mussolini's, makes a luscious target.

But in a letter to Speaker Larry Householder, Democrats meekly noted how they were "outraged" -- now that's a fresh line -- and whined that "we must comport ourselves with dignity as public representatives of the State of Ohio." The Jaws of Life were soon called to loosen their sphincter muscles.

Consider it reason No. 567 why Ohio has become a one-party state.

Protests that work

Dubya may have turned a deaf ear to war protesters, but the placards-and-slogans crowd seems to have found a receptive audience in office suppliers.

In November, environmental groups operating under The Paper Campaign successfully guilted Staples -- the country's largest office-supply company -- into using 30 percent recycled content in all paper products. Now organizers have trained their sights on Office Depot, No. 2 in the standings, and Shaker Heights-based OfficeMax, No. 3.

"Even when politicians don't care about their constituents, corporations still care about their consumers," says Orli Cotel, the campaign's organizer for Ohio. "They care about their brand image."

Last week, The Paper Campaign staged protests at OfficeMax stores in Cleveland Heights and Elyria. But the big show comes March 26, when it will picket some 50 locations nationwide.

OfficeMax spokesman Steve Baisden says the company is working with protesters to hammer out an agreement. "We recognize that they have some very valid points."

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