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Nate's getting big on the national corruption circuit.

Nate Gray gets around.

Secret recordings captured the businessman describing former East Cleveland Mayor Emmanuel Onunwor as "my mayor." He was videotaped giving Onunwor envelopes stuffed with cash, apparently to further the interests of CH2M Hill, the company running the city's water department. It ultimately led to Onunwor's conviction for bribery, racketeering, and tax fraud -- the trifecta of municipal malfeasance.

Now there's evidence that Gray may also be under the microscope in Houston.

The Houston Press reports that Gray's Etna Parking owns part of the contract to shuttle car-rental customers at Bush Intercontinental Airport. CH2M Hill has also been reaping million-dollar contracts for developing a "strategic plan" for the city's water system and for a major project for the Port of Houston Authority. So it should come as no surprise that the feds are snooping around Texas.

Yet Gray's biggest problems remain in Cleveland. He's reportedly been shopping for lawyers, and the price tag is certain to hit six figures. But word is, he may be able to considerably reduce that bill -- and his eventual sentence -- by giving up a bigger fish: former Cleveland Mayor Mike White.

Stand-up comedy
In a state with enough political blundering to provide around-the-clock Comedy Central programming, Ken Blackwell stands above the crowd -- and his material just keeps getting better.

Two weeks ago, the secretary of state directed county election offices to reject all voter registration cards that weren't printed on 80-pound paper (normal paper is 20-pound). His rationale: He was concerned that normal paper might get shredded in the mail.

Fortunately, election officials have learned to ignore Blackwell. "My reaction was frustration," says Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Director Michael Vu. "I think the majority of boards of election disregarded it." After all, Blackwell's office wasn't using 80-pound paper, either.

But suspicious minds think Blackwell's latest misadventure was born of more than his trademark incompetence. Yes, they believe he actually had an idea, stunning as that notion may be.

The logic goes like this: Republicans traditionally do better when fewer voters go to the polls. That's because Republicans, though fewer in number, are more consistent voters. But when turnout is high, Democrats are more likely to win. In a year when 200,000 people have registered to vote in Cuyahoga County alone, Blackwell's bungling had more to do with politics than some really weird paper fetish -- or so the thinking goes.

But Punch's money remains with the incompetence theory, which will be validated when Blackwell finally dies and an autopsy is performed. The smart money says doctors will find nothing more than pictures of old boyfriends and a set of lost car keys inside his head.

A sinister plot?
Speaking of the fine line between ineptitude and evil, something strange is afoot at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.

In one case, the board received a change of address for one voter, but its computer system wouldn't accept the new address. So Director Michael Vu sent a worker to check it out. The address doesn't exist. And the voter in question never moved. "We think that's very suspicious," says Vu, who's referred the case to county prosecutors.

Then there's the saga of Vikki and Tamia Knight. Earlier this year, the Bedford Heights sisters registered to vote for the first time. They waited three months, but never received confirmation. When Vikki finally called the board, she was told that both registrations had been "canceled." So the sisters tried again. Once more they received no confirmation, so September 27, Vikki called back. The registrations had been canceled again.

Being rather diligent souls, they tried a third time. Now Vikki is registered, but Tamia is still canceled.

"I'm just frustrated," says Vikki, who works for a downtown bank. "I don't know what to think. At first I thought maybe it was just an accident. Now it makes me feel like something's wrong. I never knew it would be this hard just to register."

The League of Women Voters has received similar complaints. "What does that mean?" asks Sharon McGraw, executive director of the league's educational fund. "It's just a little creepy."

Spook University
Ever get the feeling you're being watched? Students at Case Western Reserve have.

Leading up to the vice presidential debate, the campus was buzzing with more conspiracy theories than The X-Files. It seems the school has suddenly enrolled a new class of students who, strangely, eschew tie-dyed Phish shirts for white button-downs and mirrored sunglasses.

"The men . . . have taken pictures of groups of students, and, in some cases, individuals," reports a letter-writer to The Observer, the Case newspaper. "But they haven't stopped there. Mysterious phone calls and e-mails have been received."

Only one conclusion to be drawn from this evidence: The penis-enlargement salesmen have arrived.

Signs of the Arshinkoff
Being an elite suburb has its burdens. Appearances are everything. So in Hudson, political lawn signs are restricted to the standard one-by-two-foot variety. Any resident who wishes to plant one must apply for a permit and agree to take it down within two days after the election.

It seems that someone down there is a big fan of Eastern Bloc government.

But the laws don't apply to Alex Arshinkoff, boss of the Summit County Republican Party. A rather conflicted man, he's been known to cruise leather bars while simultaneously campaigning against gay rights. He's also been known to regularly punish recalcitrant politicians and bureaucrats who refuse to follow his orders, pulling strings to get their family members fired ["Godfather in the Closet," June 11, 2003].

When Arshinkoff wants a sign, he goes all out. So he planted a six-by-eight-foot Bush/Cheney sign at his home on Route 303, and he's intent on keeping it there.

The City of Hudson is charging him a $75 fine for every day the sign stays up. He now owes $825. But on Saturday, an angry Democrat drove an SUV through the sign. Hours later, Arshinkoff raised another huge sign to replace it. All of which has neighbors crying foul.

"He's getting away with it, and it's pissing me off," says one neighbor, who prefers to remain anonymous, fearing that the notoriously vindictive leader might retaliate. "I've called the police and the development department, and they both say it's a 'very delicate situation.' He's bullying them. If I put a big John Kerry sign on my yard, they'd make me take it down."

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