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Sweet Revenge 

After her Pulitzer win, Connie Schultz's firing has presumably been delayed.

The Pulitzer committee was apparently unmoved by the sophisticated analysis and breathtaking poetry found each week in First Punch. So it decided to give its prize for newspaper commentary to The Plain Dealer's Connie Schultz.

After all, she needed it. She's lucky to even have a job. So says Channel 19.

Only a few months ago, the station reported that Schultz's firing was imminent. News director Steve Doerr says someone inside The PD leaked the news. Of course, trusting newsroom gossip is akin to taking a fish to the prom, or something like that. But 19 ran the story anyway, complete with dramatic footage of a reporter named Skippy being refused an interview over the phone. (The station would later win a Peabody for unintentional self-parody.)

Schultz has a different theory: "They were pulling it out of thin air. They make stuff up."

So last week, after word leaked that Schultz had won a Pulitzer -- the biggest prize awarded in these parts since Punch's ma won a bass boat in a Garfield Heights bar raffle -- she entered the newsroom to a standing ovation. After mopping up her own tears -- "I was a puddle by the time I got to my desk" -- Schultz laid out the welcome mat to a camera crew from Channel 3. But she told Channel 19 to shove it.

Doerr couldn't confirm whether Schultz stonewalled his crew. But, he says: "It wouldn't surprise me. She's had a target on Channel 19 for a while."

We just can't figure out why.

More swell corruption!
When the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Comp invested $25 million in rare coins, you might say it was stupid. When it doubled its investment to $50 million, you might say it was really stupid. After all, one would presume that the public dough would be invested in a more stable commodity, like hallucinogenic mushrooms.

"Maybe next we should invest in beer cans, baseball cards," says state Senator Marc Dann (D-Liberty Township). "It's an absurdly risky strategy, especially when you're investing other people's money."

So far, the state says, its investment is doing just fine, thank you -- up $13 million since 1998. But the question is whether it will stay that way -- and why the state jumped into the exciting field of rare coins in the first place.

Now it just so happens that the point man on the investment is Tom Noe, one of the biggest Republican sugar daddies in Ohio. According to the Toledo Blade, he's pumped out a sweet 70 large to GOP candidates since 1993, plus another $11,000 to Governor Bob Taft and former Governor George Voinovich.

Not so coincidentally, Taft appointed Noe to the Ohio Turnpike Commission, and Voinovich appointed him to the Ohio Board of Regents.

In Ohio, 70 grand buys a lot of prestige.

But none of it compares to the $1 million he made last year for consulting on the rare-coin investment. In layman's terms, this is what's commonly known as a kickback.

"I certainly don't think so," protests workers' comp spokesman Jeremy Jackson. "To this juncture, no one has been able to point to any specific evidence that that's the case." The governor, the Board of Regents, and the Turnpike Commission all make the same argument.

Senator Eric Fingerhut (D-Shaker Heights) sees it a bit differently: "I can't believe they're even defending it. There's a blatant conflict of interest here. They're using tax dollars to reward political donors."

Homer would be proud
FirstEnergy is apparently watching Three Stooges movies for inspiration. Last week, the feds announced that safety conditions at its two northern Ohio nuke plants are actually getting worse, not better.

The Perry plant, which is being watched under the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's second-highest inspection level, was threatened with even more inspectors last week after a series of equipment failures and bad company decisions. If problems persist, the NRC warned, the plant could even be shut down.

Over at Davis-Besse, which is on the NRC's highest watch, inspectors found a dozen new safety violations in the final months of 2004.

Meanwhile, FirstEnergy's also having trouble keeping the lights on. A storm two weekends ago knocked out power to 155,000 customers, 13,000 of whom were left without electricity for four days. After laying off more than a thousand linemen in recent years, FirstEnergy had to pay its competitors to bring workers in from Columbus and Pittsburgh. "We don't have enough people to do the work," says Bob Fronek, president of Utilities Workers Local 270 in Toledo.

Predictably, the company had no explanation for its new round of sucking. "Print what you want," says spokesman Ralph DiNicola. Punch attempted to contact a more competent nuclear-industry source, Homer Simpson, but since he's a cartoon character, he could only be reached by a cartoon phone.

Still, while customers and employees get the shaft, at least someone's discovered a way to profit from serial ineptitude. CEO Anthony Alexander was paid $4.9 million last year.

Joke's on them
The Beck Center didn't become the area's best community theater by focusing on the conservative arts. It's hosted Bat Boy, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Reefer Madness. Cute after-school specials, these ain't.

So it's a tad surprising that the Beck's newest show is the one catching all the hell. Polish Joke is a comedy about a boy dealing with growing up Polack. At one point, the boy's uncle informs him: "All Polish jokes are true."

But such satire is evidently forbidden following the death of Pope John Paul II. The Beck was pelted by irate callers demanding that Polish Joke be canned. None seemed aware that the show's central message is to embrace your ancestry.

"I can't say it's a show that the Pope would be proud to see, but I can't believe it would be offensive," says spokeswoman Yvette Hanzel. The Beck considered postponing the opening, she says; instead, it issued the ubiquitous statement of apology and pressed on.

"We are the Beck Center. We're not Playhouse Square, and we're not Prince Charles," Hanzel says. "We're talking about an 83-seat theater."

And, as it turns out, we're talking about another fine show. See Stage for a review.

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