Kenny Does Ohio 

Promise not to laugh when Blackwell talks about jobs.

Republicans have been treading carefully around the jobs issue ever since President Bush's economic adviser sang the praises of outsourcing. (Can he be tried for treason?) But Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell didn't get the memo.

He plans to hire New York PR firm Burson-Marsteller to handle his $15 million gubernatorial -- er, public awareness -- campaign for new high-tech voting machines. The company has offices in Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Chicago, but none in Ohio. Worse, Kenny didn't even give Ohio firms a chance to compete.

"It's a shame the state doesn't take the time to keep business here," says Ed Stevens Sr., president of Stevens Baron Communications, who didn't even know about the deal until Punch called. "It's criminal."

"This is not brain surgery," adds Jim Roop, president of James J. Roop Company. "And to not give an Ohio firm a chance when we're bleeding jobs out of this state, it's just a travesty."

One Ohio firm -- Steiner Lesic -- was approached but declined the job, according to Blackwell's spokesman, Carlo LoParo. He argues that Burson-Marsteller is uniquely qualified to handle the campaign -- which will, of course, prominently feature Blackwell.

Ohio politicians have a distinguished history of using state advertising for campaign purposes. (Remember when Bob Taft spent an extra half mil to get more footage of himself into tourism commercials, under the pretext that balding middle-aged guys gotta be a huge vacation draw?) But it speaks to the sad, sad state of the elected class when they're not even smart enough to blow their pork on potential voters.

Battle on
Elecia Battle goes back to court March 23 on charges of filing a false report claiming she lost a winning lottery ticket ("The Ticket," February 18). But this time, she'll go without made-for-television attorney Sheldon Starke.

Battle has secured a new mouthpiece, legal eagle Joan Synenberg, who's fresh off defending Bagel Murderess Wanda Kanner. They make a good pair. Both have a tenuous grip on reality.

Last week, Synenberg was in court to plead for the release of former Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Aaron Phillips, whose impressive versatility led to convictions for bribery, attempted bribery, theft in office, obstructing justice, tampering with evidence, and possession of cocaine and criminal tools. After he had served just five months, Synenberg was implying that Phillips was the victim. "He lost his license, his job, and his liberty," she said. "The blood lust has been satisfied."

Battle is excited about her new advocate, a brand-name litigator who doesn't take any crap from pesky journalists. But Battle has a beef with Scene. "I am not crazy, like that detective said," she asserts. (Kevin Nietart, the South Euclid cop in question, would not dignify her comment with a response.) Moreover, "My husband's name is not James, like you guys printed. It's Jimmie -- JIM-MIE! Print that shit too!"

Corrections noted.

See no evil
According to a study by the Ohio Health Department, women and children who live in Middlefield Township suffer from leukemia at rates four times higher than the national average. Just don't expect the state to do anything about it.

The study was prompted by residents' concerns about high rates of autism, Parkinson's disease, and other neurological disorders in the area ("While the EPA Slept," September 15, 2001). They long suspected a link with local industry.

The Geauga County factory town hosts two large plants -- Carlisle Corporation and Johnson Rubber. Both have been polluting ground water for decades, according to Ohio EPA records. Residents are also worried about an air pollutant linked to childhood leukemia and a multitude of birth defects.

But despite evidence that something's very wrong here, the state continues to sit on its hands. Robert Frey of the health department says that Carlisle poses only an intermediate health hazard.

That will come as good news to Ron Duncan, who grew up a block from Carlisle and was diagnosed with a rare type of blood poisoning that resulted in nerve damage. It should also be comforting to his brother, who was diagnosed with the same condition. And his wife, who was diagnosed three years ago.

Kicking geriatric ass
Guido Tirabassi claims that he was pleasant as punch when he walked into the S and S Lounge, a grease pit on Lake Shore Boulevard in Euclid. Ralph Butler ruined his mood. "He said, 'You punk fucking fag creep, I'll kick your fucking ass,'" says Tirabassi.

Tirabassi, 49, claims that he told Butler to apologize. But the 79-year-old called the whippersnapper out, then took a swing. Tirabassi says he evaded the punch and knocked Butler to the ground. When Gramps tried to get up, "I kicked him in the mouth," Tirabassi says. "I feared for my safety. He's not a little guy. He's as big as me, but he's an old man."

Unfortunately, Euclid has a little statute known as "felonious assault" that prohibits kicking a geriatric's ass. But Tirabassi claims that the city prosecutor and Euclid police are out to get him. "I don't know what their problem is," Tirabassi says. "These cops are a bunch of Nazi, Gestapo-type people."

Their problem could be Tirabassi's record -- he admits to having been in a number of bar fights. It could also be that witnesses say his story is bullshit. "It was the exact opposite of what Guido said," says S and S manager Dave Gibney. He didn't see the fight, but talked to the bartender afterward. "Ralph didn't do much of anything. Guido got pissed off, punched him to the ground, and kicked him in the face a few times."

Even if it was self-defense, it's always hard to explain why you sent a septuagenarian to the emergency room. Maybe he should call Synenberg.

Spring break in Cleveland!
Some students head south for spring break. Some go to Europe. Most stay home and mope, cursing their parents for not being rich. But this year, seven honor students are doing something truly exotic: They're coming to Cleveland.

The National Society of Collegiate Scholars is offering members the chance to travel to places like Hawaii, the Everglades, and Washington, D.C., to volunteer with the American Hiking Society and Habitat for Humanity. "It's a very rewarding experience," says Diane Wood, the group's organizer.

Punch doesn't doubt that. But given the choices, why would anyone choose Cleveland?

"It's not one of the places that everyone looks forward to going to," admits trip leader Ann Lee. "I mean, it's not New York or L.A., but it does have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and it's also supposed to be really clean."

Clean? Has she ever been to Cleveland?

"Well, no," Lee admits. But she has "seen pictures of it before."

Norton's T&A Day
Local girl Sandra Hubby has put Norton, Ohio, on the map as Playboy's Miss March 2004. She turned a few head shots into a stay at the Playboy Mansion, a national tour, and celebrity status at Mardi Gras. "I got all the best beads there," says Hubby, and Punch believes her.

Joseph Kernan, mayor of the sleepy town of 11,000, says the Greater Norton Metropolitan Area (which includes Akron) produces a lot of beauties. It's unlikely you'll find him leafing through Playboy, but he doesn't rule out a Sandra Hubby Day to recognize the Norton High grad and 1995-'96 Miss Cherry Blossom for her fine contributions to the advancement of T&A.

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