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PD publisher overrules staff endorsement.

The Plain Dealer has spent tons of ink writing about the "five Ohios," explaining that the state is not the singular entity Beltway geeks presume it to be. Now comes evidence that there's two Plain Dealers: the editorial staff, and Publisher Alex Machaskee.

Last week, the daily's editorial board overwhelmingly voted to endorse John Kerry. But Machaskee overruled them, ordering lackeys to prop up George W. Bush instead.

This isn't the first time Machaskee has pulled a power play; he also forced the editorial board to endorse Governor Bob Taft. That turned out well.

Machaskee's Bush decree apparently set off a minor mutiny in the newsroom, where ink-stained wretches scrambled to rat out their boss to other media.

In the face of the controversy, the paper postponed its Bush kiss-up, which was supposed to run last Sunday. Meanwhile, the editorial board -- normally a staunch advocate for transparency -- struggled to keep the paper's inner workings decidedly opaque. Neither Machaskee nor editorial page editor Brent Larkin returned Punch's calls. Editor Doug Clifton offered only a terse e-mail: "I have nothing to say that would be illuminating."

The dispute was apparently solved Tuesday when The Plain Dealer took the brave stance of endorsing . . . no one. "A majority of the editorial board favored Kerry, but after long and difficult deliberations, it was decided that the better path would be to sit this one out," read the editorial. Translation: You got a better idea to save face on this one?

The non-endorsement may not say much, but it says all you need to know about Machaskee's grip on Cleveland's news.

When lawyers attack
In the up-is-down, right-is-wrong world of last-minute campaign ads, the truth rides coach. So it is with state Representative Tim Grendell (R-Chesterland), who's accused his Ohio Senate race rival, lawyer John Hawkins, of being intimate with mass murderers.

Grendell's latest ad notes that Hawkins defended Alice Lundgren, a nutbag who slaughtered a Kirtland family of five in 1990. "Tim Grendell's opponent John Hawkins has defended the Worst of the Worst," the ad says. It closes with the requisite ominous voice, asking whether Hawkins is "protecting us or protecting them?"

In the strictest terms, the ad is correct. Hawkins did represent Lundgren on appeal, but only because a judge assigned him the case. Hawkins had volunteered to be an appointed counsel, representing clients who can't afford lawyers. If Hawkins had turned down the case simply because Lundgren is a freak, he could have been found in contempt of court.

Of course, Grendell, an attorney himself, knows this. But he's hoping you don't. "Lawyers looking to make some money from the state put their names on the list," says Grendell, who, incidentally, makes his money from the state. "If you don't want your name on that list, you don't have to. He put his name on that list to make money."

Doe v. Wade
The Emerald Necklace is one of the last good things going for Cleveland. So Metroparks officials are hoping you'll back Issue 120, which will help maintain 20,000 acres of nature centers, trails, bike paths, sports fields, and zoo exhibits.

By voting yes, you'll also be supporting what amounts to a Planned Parenthood for deer. Parks usually try to keep their deer population at 10-20 per square mile. Any more than that, and they'll eat all the young trees, eventually destroying the habitat. Most parks hire marksmen to thin the heard. One suburban police chief even suggested shooting bolts into their heads.

But Dan Petit, the Metroparks' natural resources chief, wanted to try something a bit less bloody. So he hired scientists to shoot the deer with contraceptives. The population has gone from about 100 deer per square mile to 20 in some places. Yet now he's running out of money.

Since the Metroparks haven't asked for a funding increase in 17 years -- and, unlike the rest of Cleveland government, these guys actually seem to know what they're doing -- they deserve our support. If only to keep a deadbeat buck from becoming the Shawn Kemp of the woodland world.

Learning to lie
Last week, Doug Gordon told Punch that his boss, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Narcissism), wouldn't debate challengers Ed Herman and Barbara Ferris at the City Club because the site is outside his district.

Yet the October 19 edition of the Western Washington University student newspaper notes that Kucinich spoke the previous Saturday at a Bellingham, Washington high school. It was Kucinich's second visit to the city in a week.

Stay tuned for next week, when the congressman claims he intended to appear at the City Club, but was delayed by visa problems while crossing the Detroit-Superior Bridge.

Penance, anyone?
The Catholic Church is back in the news, this time for lecturing the flock on how to vote in the presidential election. All of which has the papal loyalists at Punch confused, since we always thought that if you sinned, you're supposed to shut up and do your penance.

So we called Bishop Anthony Pilla to ask one question: Since you guys have spent the last 50 years covering up the systemic rape of children, don't you think you should lay low on that whole moral authority thing?

The bishop never called back.

Grand Old Pardon
Desperate to prop up sagging unemployment numbers, the Ohio GOP has hired new workers for its get-out-the-vote efforts. The only problem: The new hires were among six workers dumped by South Dakota Republicans in the wake of a voter-fraud scandal.

Larry Russell, who supervised the South Dakota operation, was among those transferred to Ohio. But Jason Mauk, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, downplays Russell's role here. "It's not an issue of fraud," says Mauk, who naturally blames the scandal on underlings, as all good leaders do. "It's simply a minor case of mismanagement."

South Dakota authorities seem to think it's a tad more serious than that. Last week, four people were indicted for fraudulently processing absentee ballots -- though Russell has not been charged.

Mauk says Russell's minor mismanagement skills will be used only to phone and recruit volunteers in Ohio. But once again, he appears to be pulling a Kucinich: A party memo obtained by the Argus Leader newspaper in South Dakota said Russell would "lead the ground operations" for the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio.

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