Mike Polensek isn't one to keep his pistols holstered. Nor does the bold and bellicose Collinwood councilman preserve his ammo when someone needs lighting up. "I'm gonna say what I have to say, because I've pulled enough arrows out of my ass where it doesn't bother me," he says.
So you'd expect him to land a leading role in Bring Me the Head of Dave Nolan, the hit play being billed as must-see by Cleveland's movers and shakers.
It's the tale of Dave Nolan, the city's Convention & Visitors Bureau chief. He has a good life, making $191,000 a year, plus a free country-club membership and a $595-a-month car allowance, so he can afford a Cadillac that isn't even stolen. Yet he also has the misfortune of trying to attract tourists to Cleveland. It's a thankless job. Unless you have oceans, mountains, or gambling, or build your town around a theme park and guys with mouse costumes, be assured you don't rank high on anyone's vacation plans.
So, like anyone faced with an impossible task, Dave decided to party instead. He took a $30,000 trip to France, where he bought foie gras, sauvignon blanc, and crème brûlée. (According to high-level sources, this is stuff you eat.) He also blew $20,000 on an Akron golf tourney and scorched another grand on a weekend of golf in Avon with the Little Missus.
But, alas, Dave forgot to reach for his own wallet. Instead, he put the tab on convention bureau plastic, which is funded by tax dollars.
If Dave had blown tax money on respectable crap, like lotto tickets or his-and-hers Phil Dawson jerseys, people would understand. They do, however, get just a little pissed when you burn their money on golf, a front for the polyester industry, and food that nobody can spell.
Now everyone who's anyone is calling for Dave's head.
But don't expect Polensek to audition for the role of Outraged Citizen. He's seen this play before.
It's not that he forgives Nolan's sins. The man did, after all, intentionally try to recruit Frogs to our fair shores -- which, according to the Hague Tribunal, is akin to giving Hamas blueprints to the Davis-Besse plant.
Or, as Polensek more poetically notes, "Oh shit, the French."
Thankfully, French people don't want to come here -- unless we host the International Bad Hygiene Festival. But Polensek refuses to blame Nolan. "All the sudden, people are calling for his head. Where were these people before? It's classic Cleveland. Let's look for the quick fix and hang him out to dry. Heaven forbid he should have any impact on our march to get a convention center."
Ah, yes, the plot twists.
Overseeing Nolan in this theatrical production is the 63-member convention bureau board, chaired by Dennis Lehman, an Indians executive. It's the same board that sent Dave to France to recruit mimes. The same board that liked to wolf foie gras finger sandwiches at Dave's golf soirées.
But it also wants you, the viewing public, to approve a $700 million convention center on the November ballot. That might be hard to accomplish, seeing as how the board's now gained a reputation for spending like a drunk with a stolen batch of Social Security checks. Hence, the moment calls for deep cover.
So last week, the board suspended Dave. Then it took the bold step of hiring a lawyer and an accountant to see if -- gasp! -- anything is amiss.
That's right: Instead of just deciding that, hmmm, maybe we shouldn't let Dave tramp around with the bureau credit card, the board had a better idea: Let's blow a bigger pile of money getting someone to tell us the obvious! Somewhere, there's a lawyer and an accountant planning their own trips to France.
Astute theater-goers know how this saga ends. The report comes back. Verdict: Dave very bad. Dave gets whacked. Board admits it should have had better oversight, but come to think of it, that's Dave's fault, too. "Foolproof accounting controls are now in place," Lehman announces in most serious and reassuring tones. Presto: Bureau good as new. Which means now is the perfect time to trust us with a $700 million convention center!
This part Polensek knows by heart. The city's senior councilman has heard the promises of casting directors for all of Cleveland's great comedies. He was there for opening night of the smash hit Gateway, which was supposed to create 27,000 jobs, until the director decided it was funnier to put it "on the verge of bankruptcy every other week." He remembers the millions of people expected for Rock Hall, which now draws but slightly better than The KFC on Euclid.
But his favorite performance was Browns Stadium, a knee-slapper in which a mayor rams through a project so quick, he forgets to make it multi-purpose! Now it's cost-prohibitive to use for most concerts. Alas, the fair citizenry is stuck with a $300 million-plus structure that sits vacant 355 days a year. But at least it took up valuable land!
"They promised 40 percent of the jobs would go to Cleveland residents," says Polensek. Only 22 percent did. "I'm hearing that same crap again about the convention center."
Of course, Convention Center II isn't being billed as a comedy. It's a $700-million blockbuster, with another $300 million tacked on for community projects. (This is showbiz, people; you gotta grease some palms.) The script isn't fully developed, but it's a tragic farce that essentially goes like this: Broke, downtrodden city builds large structure that resembles a Home Depot, only someone forgets to stock the lumber. One day, a couple from Pittsburgh shows up. They're lost and need directions to the Flats. Otherwise, building sits empty. Six janitors, charged with dusting, spend entire play worrying about losing their jobs. The end.
Polensek doesn't know anyone who's buying tickets. People are broke. They'll only pay to see a romance with a happy ending. "I can tell you, my people are tapped in my ward," he says. "They don't have any more money."
Alas, that's never stopped the movers and shakers before.
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