Every year during this festive holiday season, we at Scene like to gather around the fireplace, with brandy snifters in hand, trading jaunty quips and reflecting upon all that we are grateful for. Then we bitch about the boss, who's too cheap to buy us smoking jackets.
But most of all, we like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all the stiffs, those whose incompetence and depravity provide an endless supply of things to ridicule. After all, we're the media. That's what we do.
So 'tis in this tender spirit that we present the 4th Annual Art Modell Awards. It's a celebration of shamelessness and mediocrity, a time to sing in tones unmuted the praises of scumbags, irritants, losers, and parasites, without whom we'd have to write about men's facial hair, the way The Plain Dealer does.
Though Art himself has left for the browner pastures of Baltimore, we refuse to let his legacy die. So, without further ado, we present to you his heirs, the winners of the 2003 Modells.
Butch Davis & Carmen Policy
Sportsmen of the Year
Forget the losing. Or the 1953 offense. Or the misspent draft picks. Or even the beer prices, which require the pawning of a major appendage to cover the bill.
No, the wonder of the Browns is that, in a mere five years, they've managed to take the soul of Northeast Ohio and turn it into something very . . . well . . . plastic. And that means your Sunday afternoons have been graciously freed up until 2011.
Let's begin with Carmen Policy, who, via his Doctorate in Obsequiousness, went from Youngstown mob lawyer to NFL executive suite -- and still clung to the gilded throne after his sugar daddy, Eddie DeBartolo, was ousted for bribing the governor of Louisiana. So fluent is Policy in corporate/lawyer speak that he hasn't said anything meaningful -- or vaguely resembling English -- since 1996. It's like having your football team run by a human resources consultant from Mentor.
Then there's Butch Davis. While Pittsburgh is coached by a stern-jawed sociopath, Philly has a big fat guy, and Tampa's run by a life-size replica of Chuckie the Killer Doll, we have Davis, who possesses the charisma of a copier repairman. Granted, he has exhibited Modellian backstabbing skills (see Kevin Johnson and Foge Fazio). But he owns all the fire and flamboyance of the Ohio tax code.
It's as if the team for some dainty city like San Francisco or Seattle got bad directions from Mapquest and ended up in Cleveland by accident. We don't even have running backs who can adequately drive drunk or invent good lies when their wives stab them.
All of which makes the Browns so colorless, so unrootable, it's like going to a strip joint to see George Will dance. Consider it a gift from Carmen and Butch. You finally have time to get that F-150 in your front yard off the blocks and running.
Company of the Year
So fully and fawningly does FirstEnergy embrace the Modellian ethic, you'd think Art was running the company himself.
First there was that cute episode at the Davis-Besse plant, where the company thought it might be fun to release a little radioactivity, thus turning Ohio into the world's largest glowing Christmas ornament, which would have been a tourism bonanza.
Then there was the power outage. In the spirit of Art, FirstEnergy tried to blame it on everyone else, including the Osmond family and various small children in Fairbanks, Alaska. But when a U.S.-Canadian commission ruled that sole responsibility rested with Akron's leading citizen, the company produced a study of its own, absolving itself of responsibility. It has since been named a Pulitzer finalist for fiction.
Finally, FirstEnergy won the Triple Crown of Corporate Malfeasance when Ohio Consumers' Counsel Rob Tongren hid a consultant's report indicating that the company was lying through its teeth about money it was owed from deregulation. The subsequent deal allowed Northeast Ohioans to pay 42 percent above the national average for electricity, which made everyone very happy since, given the choice, we would rather use our hard-earned money to prop up a mismanaged utility than, say, buy Grandma another bowl of cold gruel. That's just sound economics.
Businessman of the Year
Most chambers of commerce concern themselves with everyday matters like fighting minimum-wage hikes, curbing overtime eligibility, grubbing for government handouts, and, of course, forming the ever-popular Special Task Force on Improving Your Comb-Over. It's small but important work.
Yet Greater Cleveland Growth Association president Dennis Eckart is not your typical business geek. He can multitask.
Since he took the helm in 2000, the metro area has lost more than 70,000 jobs. Cleveland fell to 49th in median income among the nation's 50 largest cities. And while residents desperately searched for work, Eckart was busy championing the reconfiguration of the Shoreway -- to be completed over-budget in the year 2086 -- and a new convention center, which will eventually employ six people to do the dusting.
It could be argued that no one has done more to preserve Cleveland's reputation for industrial decline and crushing poverty than Eckart has. But, alas, the former congressman will soon be leaving his post to work at a cushy law firm, where he will be in charge of reducing revenue and driving away clients. Without a leader of Eckart's caliber, we may soon be overrun by new employers, which means we'll all have to get jobs, and we'll never find out if Blair takes revenge against Walker on One Life to Live.
Statesmen of the Year
Speaking of economic stagnation, where would we be without the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, whose keen vision and leadership has led many to think of Cleveland as the "Newark of the Midwest"?
One might think that one-party rule would lend itself to efficient government. After all, without loyal opposition, one needn't be deterred by grandstanding, filibusters, or inbreds trying to legalize surface-to-air missiles in middle schools. One is simply free to go about the people's business.
But after graduating with honors from the Mike Tyson School of Finance, Democrats have managed to provide Cleveland with the fiscal stability of a 300-pound hooker working a eunuch's convention. We didn't go broke for the usual Democratic reasons, like tossing money at widows and orphans. No, our leaders accomplished this through the miracle of police overtime abuse, firefighters who call in sick more often than cancer patients, and a mayor whose burgeoning staff of yes-men has grown so large, it's frequently mistaken for an infantry division.
Contrary to popular thinking, this is all good. Just imagine, for a moment, if we weren't in a constant state of municipal crisis. Our elected officials would have extra time on their hands, which means they'd be out stealing your snowblower or coming up with ideas. And that, dear reader, is a truly scary proposition.
The John Gruttadauria Award
When we last left our hero, he was headed for the slam for bilking his elderly clients out of millions of dollars. But while John Gruttadauria is currently indisposed -- probably advising the Aryan Nation on their cigarette-concession investments -- his legacy lives on in Chester, where his spiritual heir, township clerk Michael Spellman, admitted to stealing $3 million from residents.
Spellman used the money to launch Hollywood Charities, which allowed him to stay in $1,000-a-night hotels and rub elbows with B-list actors like The Rock. While there are cheaper ways to pal around with Hollywood's back bench -- like running for president, as Dennis Kucinich has found -- Spellman's shining scene came when he was caught. He blamed his thefts not on his quest to break bread with has-been starlets, but on trustees, who turned a "blind eye" to the township's finances.
It was a true Gruttadaurian moment. For everyone knows that if you trust someone with access to $3 million, he's gonna have to steal it. It's practically an obligation. So don't come whining to Spellman. He was just teaching us a lesson in proper financial oversight.
Homo of the Year
Republicans have never been good at that whole political-boss thing. Historically speaking, backroom corruption and ruthless strong-arming was best left to Democrats, since it's rather difficult to garrote a rival in a country-club pro shop without having the clean-up bill tacked onto your membership dues.
But because modern Democrats think a garrote is a free-range vegetable, best served with spinach pasta and a non-dairy bordelaise sauce, someone had to pick up the slack.
Behold Alex Arshinkoff, boss of the Summit County Republican Party. He rules Akron with an iron fist. Or perhaps a handsome leather riding crop.
Arshinkoff is known for presenting newly elected Republicans with lists of aides who should be fired and party hacks who should be hired. It matters not whether you're a secretary or an assistant prosecutor. If you're not sufficiently Republican, you no longer have a job.
He's also known for turning on longtime friends. Run afoul of Alex, and he won't just ignore you at the annual Daughters of the Third Reich Fashion Bazaar, the height of the GOP social season; he'll have all your relatives fired from their jobs, too.
Though we deeply appreciate Arshinkoff's keen sense of viciousness, his best quality is that he's a homo. Yes, by day he spouts family values, raises money for George W., and advises Karl Rove. But by night you'll find him cruising the gay bars, entertaining young flesh with riveting tales of his Barry Goldwater memorabilia collection.
In these days of lifeless political figures, who taste like so much meatloaf without the ketchup, it's refreshing to see a man unafraid to wear his two faces proudly.
Convention & Visitors Bureau
Agency of the Year
Oddly enough, the Convention & Visitors Bureau is charged with bringing conventions and visitors to Cleveland. But due to a slight misunderstanding, board members thought they were actually supposed to blow money on all sorts of worthless shit. And so they did.
They burned cash on fine dining, trips, and sporting events. They spent 20 grand to attend an Akron golf tournament. They even sent chief Dave Nolan on a $30,000 mission to the French Riviera, presumably to convince bellhops and waiters that, hey, you might want to visit Ohio sometime.
When the misunderstanding was eventually uncloaked, the board wisely chose to dump Nolan. For as scholars at the Harvard School of Business note, it's never smart to accept responsibility when a convenient patsy is near. Then the board blew another $175,000 to hire a law firm to investigate its finances. The complete text of the final report: "Christ Almighty, can you try not to fire up the MasterCard every hour?"
But, alas, even with its new mission clearly outlined, the board still struggled to bring conventions to Cleveland. At one point, it actually produced a color brochure titled "Industry in Crisis," which went into great detail about how much our convention center sucks. It was a bold stroke of reverse psychology not seen since the naming of Iceland. While every other city was touting its wonderful facilities, the bureau knew that if it told conventioneers how much our building blew, they would naturally be suspicious and come here in droves under the assumption that we were hiding a precious gem.
Yet its greatest moment of triumph came during the push for a new center. While board members brayed about the need for a new building, they were secretly cutting their travel-and-tourism money, funneling it instead to the holiday-lighting ceremony, a world-renowned event that brings in visitors from as far away as East 55th Street.
Humanitarian of the Year
One might presume that animal shelters are supposed to provide comfort and safety to pets carelessly thrown out on the streets. Hence the term "shelter." But Glenn James knows better.
According to employees and volunteers, the Summit County Animal Shelter routinely used dogs for fighting, starved animals in its care, and engaged in wholesale slaughter of about-to-be-adopted cats.
While prevailing wisdom says that pets are cute and furry -- and should therefore not be whacked -- Director James understands that dogs and cats are the worst form of welfare queens. They sleep all day. They mooch food. They won't get jobs, and they contribute nothing to the GNP (though they do make for handsome wall decorations when stuffed by a licensed taxidermist). The only way to keep their non-Protestant work ethic from permeating the country is to massacre them -- preferably in the most painful way possible -- so that their fellow travelers get the message.
James has been criticized for his visionary policies. Yet friend and foe alike agree he's the Josef Mengele of animal care, a man who's brought inventiveness and creativity to the timeworn tradition of indiscriminate slaughter.
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