The Woman Gender 

The Union Club discovers the 21st century.

The prestigious Union Club of Cleveland doesn't exactly spring to mind as a bastion of diversity. It wasn't long ago that women were forced to use a separate entrance, and blacks were forced to, er, find their own club. But that all changed recently, when the club elected one of each to its top two positions.

Mary Lynn Laughlin, a portfolio manager at Lakepoint Investment Partners, is now the president. Former Cleveland Foundation President Steve Minter is second-in-command, should Laughlin retire, die, or get tired of the nickname "sweetheart" and being told to "fetch me a Gibson with two olives, one for each of them sweet breasties of yours."

"The club really has a new energy about it," says GM Claudio Caviglia. "It certainly is going to make our club more interesting and more attractive to the woman gender in our community."

Change has been underway for several years now for a club that has seen five U.S. presidents grace its membership rolls. In 2004, it completed a $6.7 million renovation of its 135-year-old building on Euclid, including changes to make the club more accommodating for the opposite sex. Those included new ladies' restrooms, a spa in the basement, and, most important, an upgraded kitchen on the third floor. (Just a bit of Union Club humor, heh heh.)

It's also aggressively trying to recruit more minorities, women, and young people. But don't think you can just stop by and sip scotch with the city's elite. The club is still just as hard to get into as it always was, requiring written recommendations from five members.

"It is not knocking on the door and 'Here, I want to join, here's the check,'" says membership director Danica Savchuk. This was perhaps a polite way of telling Punch that we shouldn't cancel our tab at McCarthy's.

Do as I say, not . . .
Back when he owned the Challenger newspaper, Eric Brewer thrived on shredding pompous politicians for their misuse of money, lack of transparency, and whatever other flaws he could expose -- real or imagined.

Now that he's a pompous politician, the same principles don't seem to apply.

Punch spent last week trying to reach Brewer to discuss his recent junket to Las Vegas. As The Plain Dealer reported, Brewer and four staffers -- including his secretary -- hit Vegas for a convention, purportedly trying to sell retailers on East Cleveland's many assets. It's a job that could have been done by one person in about 30 seconds: East Cleveland is just like the movies! You've seen Apocalypto, right? But it took five people four nights in Vegas, according to purchase orders submitted by Brewer and his crew.

The group booked five rooms at the Riviera, costing the city $2,200. They also spent $2,000 in conference fees and $1,700 on meals. No receipts for airfare or lap dances have been submitted, city council clerk Tracey Williams says, nor is it clear whether Brewer bet his key to the city in a blackjack game.

Brewer told The PD that the city may not have to pick up the tab, because the Greater Cleveland Partnership set up a fund to solicit donations. But shockingly, no one has ponied up so far. And Brewer, once the city's self-appointed watchdog, apparently is done discussing it. Though he told councilman Nathaniel Martin that Scene was trying to reach him, he wouldn't return our calls. And we're not the only ones he's not talking to.

"He didn't even tell the council he was going out of town," Martin says. "He took his entourage on his junket" and "the legislative branch was left out. That wasn't a real smart thing."

A dog's (really good) life
The Barkley Pet Hotel and Day Spa in Orange takes its clients very seriously. Guests are given the choice of staying in poolside suites or rooms overlooking a large aquarium. Owners can pay for their pets to receive gourmet room service from places like the Hyde Park steak house and receive masseuse and acupuncture sessions.

After all, little Miss Fluffernutter is the best dog in the world, so it only makes sense she be treated as such.

The five-star accommodations also make it easier for owners to leave Punky-Poo in someone else's care while on vacation. They can check in on their pups via the hotel's webcam or call the staff to get daily status reports. And when owners come to pick up their yorkie or lab, they receive a report card of their pet's behavior.

When 26-year-old Maria Vargas recently picked up Gus, her year-old Maltese, she learned that during playtime her dog was "active, friendly, excited, and happy." He had "daily, regular eliminations" and was generally "happy, playful, loving, and talkative." The counselors "would love to have him back."

Of course, for $65 a night for a poolside suite, equipped with his own flat-screen TV and satin-lined bed, Gus would love to come back too.

Taft gets new gig.
After proving that he is to government what Gilbert Gottfried is to comedy, Bob Taft is taking his gift for ineptitude to a new frontier: education.

The former governor has been hired as a "distinguished research associate" at the University of Dayton, where he'll apparently teach students how to trade large public contracts for free rounds of golf. Taft's new Center for Educational Excellence will also encourage kids to study science, math, and other stuff best left to the Japanese.

But what's surprising is the university chose to employ the words "excellence" and "Bob Taft" in the same sentence.

This, after all, is the governor who oversaw the proliferation of charter schools, which have managed to steal more money and perform even worse than the public schools they were supposed to replace. Moreover, his School Facilities Commission was caught handing out no-bid contracts to the GOP's largest campaign contributors.

But perhaps the university is more interested in payback than scholarship. Dayton and its research partners received at least $42 million in funding from the Third Frontier Project, Taft's high-tech employment initiative that has thus far created two new jobs at a mini-golf course in Findlay.

Taft's charge will be to drum up funding for science and tech programs. Sources say he's now prepared to trade the school's athletic complex for a steak dinner and $36 -- if you call before midnight tonight. Operators are standing by.

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