The Dark Knight Speaks 

How Sam Miller can walk it like he talks it.

Miller could fund a challenger to Bill Mason, who refuses to prosecute corrupt Democrats. - WALTER NOVAK
  • Walter Novak
  • Miller could fund a challenger to Bill Mason, who refuses to prosecute corrupt Democrats.
It was a momentous occasion. Inside Business was throwing a small dinner party for 500. Naturally, Sam Miller was invited to speak.

It's one of the perks of being very old and very rich. Miller could be expected to wax poetic about the wonders of the free market, or perhaps the anguish of finding decent kitchen help at your Boca Raton villa.

But the Forest City co-chairman was feeling feisty that day. He instead chose to lament the death of Cleveland, blaming it on our leaders' aversion to risk, their absence of vision. Excerpt: "We are confused, leaderless, and apathetic."

If we are to rise ever again, he implored, we must cast aside our provincialism in the name of regional cooperation.

Miller named no names. Provided no details. Offered no solutions. Were it a foreign policy address, it would have been akin to declaring that "extremist Muslims who blow up children really suck. We should form a committee."

But this apparently passes for brave rhetoric among Cleveland's elite. The Landerhaven audience gave him a standing O. The Plain Dealer followed with coverage of his bold remarks. Sam Fulwood even wrote a column titled "Tough talk that's worth repeating," claiming that Miller "set off the chattering classes with his damning indictment of area business and political leadership."

But no one called out Miller, the greatest obstacle of all.

Here was the city's premier welfare queen, preaching self-reliance and sharing. It was like listening to former Bishop Pilla deliver a homily on the sanctity of parish funds and altar boys' innocence.

After all, if the metro area ever embraces regionalism, it means that wealthier suburbs must ante up to city and county. And why would they do that, when history guarantees that Miller will take the biggest cut?

Say what you want about our moronic politicians. At least they usually come with an expiration date. But Miller's been here throughout. And as the Democratic Party's Human Bankroll, he's been able to pillage city and county so often, he should wear a Viking helmet to work.

Let's go to the highlight reel, shall we?

When the county wanted to build a new juvenile justice center at 93rd and Quincy, Miller scooped up the land for $383,571. Less than a year later, he flipped it back to the county for $2.75 million. The property happened to be the most contaminated in Cleveland. The cleanup bill alone is $9 million. Which means commissioners will spend $12 million for out-of-the-way East Side land before even breaking ground.

People of Beachwood: Can we have your money now?

Then there was the $7 million government loan Forest City got to rehab the Halle Building on Playhouse Square. But the company only wanted to pay back $3 million. Since wise lenders always prefer to lose money on their deals, the city agreed.

People of Westlake: Can you bum us a few mil?

Then came the federal courthouse. Forest City owned hillside property valued at $4.7 million. But the city convinced the feds to cough up $18.3 million. The difference, after all, would go to a good cause: Sam Miller.

People of Brecksville: Do you trust us yet?

The gifts go on. Tower City construction: $35 million. Renovation of the mall's Rapid station: $54 million. RTA's payment for a tunnel from Gateway: $10 million.

People of Solon: Don't tell us the check's in the mail.

Miller was even there for the loot-a-thon known as the Mike White administration. He bankrolled the obscure kleptomaniac's rise to power. They dined regularly to discuss strategy. When White departed, Miller claimed the mayor's greatest achievement was the expansion of Hopkins Airport, which the FBI later proved to be an open-air bazaar of extortion and theft.

But in Miller's eyes, White was the ideal chief executive. "If they looked at Mike White with a cool eye, without bias or political interests, they would see that he has done more for this city in 10 years than any other mayor since 1796," he said.

In a sense, Miller's speech proved his point. Here was a living monument to why Cleveland is dying, an insider who's always plucked for himself, only to hasten the city's death. But he could still paint himself as a knighted reformer before a room of our best and brightest, and the lemmings would readily follow him to the cliff.

If Miller really wants to improve the city, he should start with Sam Miller. The good thing about our politicians is they'll do anything you ask -- as long as you're writing a check. Instead of using his bankroll to fund the Democratic Party's usual roster of half-wits and stiffs, he could buy some reformers.

Wanna build the suburbs' trust? Begin by funding a challenger to County Prosecutor Bill Mason. The guy's great for bagging dime-store crackheads. But when it comes to the rampant corruption in his own party, Mason believes he's working a no-show job.

Wanna prove their money won't go to waste? Start funding challengers to take out people like Recorder Pat O'Malley. His office employs 90 people -- a lineup loaded with the relatives of Democratic Party hacks. Hamilton County does the same job with less than 30 people.

Wanna put an end to crooked deals? Take out Commissioner Jimmy Dimora. Whether it's the juvenile jail or the impending fiasco that is the new county administration building -- if there's a Democratic sugar daddy with inflated property for sale, this guy's buying it. And no price is ever too high.

Finally, Miller could purchase us a real mayor. If he can take an unknown sociopath (White) and make him king, imagine how easy it would be to elect someone truly caring, knowledgeable, with an IQ above room temperature, who won't steal the cutlery from the City Hall cafeteria.

But to do all this, Miller would have to resist his own instinct to take. And history tells us it's much easier to give speeches at Landerhaven.

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