Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Q Deal Citizen Opposition Gears Up for Voter Referendum

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 12:19 PM

The Rev. Jawanza Colvin lays out the GCC's demands. - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
  • The Rev. Jawanza Colvin lays out the GCC's demands.
Calling the Q deal "deeply flawed," Greater Cleveland Congregations announced a new coalition of local citizen organizations that will begin gathering signatures for a voter referendum in an effort to repeal the controversial legislation passed Monday night.

The ordinance in question (305-17) commits an estimated $88 million of city money to the Q project from 2023-2034. It has been the subject of extensive debate as it has progressed "like a knife through butter," (quoting Ward 8 Councilman Mike Polensek), through the county and city councils.

It was never expected to fail.

The $88 million represents the city's contribution in the arena's exterior overhaul, which may cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $280 million after interest payments. The city funds will come from a portion of the eight-percent admissions tax collected on ticketed events at the Q. County council voted to issue $140 million in bonds for the project after lengthy deliberations earlier this year.

Greater Cleveland Congregations, the organization that has lead the opposition effort thus far, is now joined by Service Employees International Union Local 1199, the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, AFSCME Ohio Council 8, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 268. Together, they'll begin collecting the necessary 6,000 signatures. They have 30 days to submit them.

The coalition has been meeting to explore strategies for weeks — GCC has said that "all options were on the table" — but they met Tuesday night at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church to plan their next steps on the referendum.  

“From the beginning there has been an unwillingness to develop a deal that addresses the critical ills in our neighborhoods like high unemployment, inadequate mental health crisis centers, increasing gun violence, and persistent challenges in schools," said Pastor Richard Gibson, one of GCC's leaders, in a press release. "More energy has been spent attacking our proposal than considering or developing a deal that would more broadly impact our city and county."

It's an important point. GCC has long cried foul that the deal was never subject to meaningful negotiation with input from residents. It was presented to the public, fully formed and "to much fanfare and celebration" at a press event in December. As Kevin Kelley verified to Scene, all city council was prepared to do was ratify the deal in its existing format. (It was Kelley, nevertheless, who was said to have negotiated additional provisions to sweeten the deal hours before the final council vote.)

GCC contends that those additional provisions are nowhere near enough. Among other gestures, the Cavs have agreed to "refurbish" the gym floors at city rec centers and CMSD high schools, a far cry from the dollar-for-dollar match that GCC has proposed.

Negotiating a community benefits agreement, the GCC said, is a practice "that has become commonplace across the country when municipalities seek significant public subsidy for development projects such as sports arenas, yet has never been done in Cleveland’s history."

  • Sam Allard / Scene
While the city does have a "CBA" in place for development projects, it deals exclusively with hiring goals. And while hiring local and minority labor is important, GCC has contended that those considerations should be "baked in" to every city project — before benefits negotiations.

Like others who oppose the deal, including several of the city councilmen, the new coalition highlighted an array of difficulties facing the region that could be addressed in a CBA.

"The push for the Q expansion has taken place in the backdrop of Cleveland experiencing its worst street violence in decades and Cuyahoga County being the epicenter of the nation’s opioid epidemic," the press release concluded. "The region remains one of the hardest-hit by the foreclosure crisis and slowest to recover. The county is $1 billion in debt and the city of Cleveland recently needed to pass a major income tax increase on regular working people to cover the costs of basic services in the city. There remains a better solution for our community."

Because City Council passed 305-17 with a 2/3 majority — Brian Cummins switched from a NO to a YES to make the final tally 12-5 — the ordinance received an emergency designation and took effect immediately. Frank Jackson signed it into law in a rhapsodic Facebook Live video Tuesday. The ordinance is still subject to referendum, per the city charter, but efforts to repeal will likely be challenged in some form by the administration.
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Apollo's Fire Closes Its 25th Season With Beethoven Plus Five More Classical Music Events to Hit This Week

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 11:22 AM


Cellist Jeffrey Zeigler
will play a program of contemporary music by Andy Akiho, JG Thirlwell, Randall Woolf, Philip Glass, John Zorn, and Paola Prestini at Transformer Station in Hingetown on the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Performing Arts series on Wednesday, April 26 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available online.

Vox Luminis, a fine choir from Namur, Belgium, will return to Cleveland to sing 16th- and 17th-century British music by Tallis, Purcell, Byrd, Whyte, and Morley — including music written for the funerals of Queens Elizabeth and Mary — at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Cleveland on Wednesday, April 26 at 7:30 pm. Lionel Meunier conducts, and the performance is free.

It’s the end of the 25th season for Cleveland’s Baroque Orchestra, Apollo’s Fire, and the ensemble is moving into the 19th century for a festival of music by Beethoven and Schubert. Berlin Philharmonic first concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley joins Jeannette Sorrell and the ensemble for his period instrument debut in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in four concerts from Thursday, April 27 through Sunday, April 30. Come early to hear Harvard professor Thomas Forrest Kelly talk about Beethoven’s Vienna an hour before each performance. On Saturday, April 29, you can learn Viennese salon dancing from Julie Andrijeski and hear tenor Karim Sulayman and members of the Orchestra recreate a “Schubertiade” or Viennese house concert. See our Concert Listings page for details.

Cleveland Opera Theater will stage Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at the Masonic Auditorium Performing Arts Center on Friday, April 28 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, April 30 at 3:00 pm. Christopher Holmes stars as Figaro, Scott Skiba directs, and Domenico Boyagian conducts the COT Orchestra. Tickets available online.

For its season finale, the Cleveland Classical Guitar Society will present Sérgio & Odair Assad at Plymouth Church in Shaker Heights on Sunday, April 30 at 3:00 pm — a departure from the Society’s usual Saturday evening time slot. The brothers will play a program of Spanish and Brazilian music. Tickets available online.

The Cleveland Orchestra’s annual semi-staged opera production will be Claude Debussy’s dreamy Pelléas and Mélisande, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, and sung in French with English supertitles. The cast features baritone Stéphane Degout, bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann, bass Peter Rose, and mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby in a made-for-Cleveland production designed by Yuval Sharon (who staged The Cunning Little Vixen in 2014). There are performances on Tuesday, May 2, Thursday, May 4, and Saturday, May 6 at 7:30 pm. Tickets can be ordered online from the Severance Hall box office.

For details of these and many other events, visit the Concert Listings page.
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Over-Torqued Songs Sully a Modernized 'Freaky Friday' at Cleveland Play House

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 9:58 AM


There’s no denying that the gimmick at the heart of this show, a musical version of the 1976 Disney movie, is a sure-fire winner. I mean, a mom and self-employed event planner named Katherine and her teenage daughter Ellie magically exchange bodies and set the stage for lots of generational laughs. (Mom has to go to high school and deal with those rotten kids! Snarky teenager has to convince a wedding magazine to do a cover story on her mom’s business!).

For this effort, the cross-generational jokes have been updated to the 21st century by book writer Bridget Carpenter. In addition, they’ve hired Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey to, respectively, do the music and lyrics. Seems like a no-brainer, since these guys put together the stunning musical Next to Normal You even have renowned scenic designer Beowulf Boritt creating a wonderfully flexible yet simple set, utilizing continually morphing columns that roll about in various configurations against a suburban landscape.


Similarly, it is tiring to watch a musical that attempts to turn every song into an anthem. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with Broadway anthems, those show-stopping numbers (think “I Am What I Am” or “Lullaby of Broadway”) that people leave the theater talking about. Wow, they say, that was powerful!

The trick is, that power is generated because the anthems are high points in a show, not the entire musical fabric. But in this production, virtually every song is composed and sung like an anthem, at full volume and with maximum emotional investment. This is all in the service of a plot that, while clever, depends on a rather flimsy one-joke premise.

As a result, the potentially tender, lightly amusing and affecting fantasy is crushed under the brutal treads of the Kitt/Yorkey pop-rock sonic muggings and music director Andrew Graham’s unrelenting intensity. In a different context, a couple of the song-anthems would be quite satisfying, since the premise-setting “Just One Day” and the secret-revealing “Busted” are quite entertaining. But in this production, they’re just another blast in the face.

In addition to the over-torqued songs, Yorkey is given to writing lyrics that are jammed with information—no “moon-June” simplicity for him. This worked brilliantly in the aforementioned Next to Normal, since it dealt with serious mental illness issues. Lots to delve into there. But in this show, his wordy delectation of the not-so-deep, storybook central theme quickly becomes overkill. In “No More Fear,” Katherine in the body of Ellie laments her past parental decisions in excruciating detail: “How long have I kept an even keel?/How hard have I worked to keep our life so calm and neat?/How do I clean up this mess I made?” Maybe Yorkey could clean up this situation by not trying so hard.

Happily, there are some survivors. When the actors are not screaming their lungs hoarse in songs that require much less vocal commitment, they do a nice job under the direction of Christopher Ashley. As Katherine, Heidi Blickenstaff channels the insolent postures and snotty attitudes of her daughter with precision, and she’s quite amusing. In the less showy role of Ellie, Emma Hunton spends most of her time bringing adult good sense and reasonable behavior to her daughter’s sloppily clad body. And they are well supported by David Jennings as Katherine’s fiancé Mike, Chris Ramirez as Ellie’s high school dream-hunk Adam, and Jake Heston Miller as Katherine’s young son Fletcher.

But as effective as some of the dialog scenes are, musicals rise and fall on the music. And in this production, the music attacks the audience like a Marine drill sergeant, intent on taking no prisoners. As clever as it is, the songs in this Freaky Friday could lead to Migraine Monday.

Freaky Friday kicks off this year’s New Ground Festival at the Cleveland Play House. The Festival also includes a world premiere play by local playwright Eric Coble, These Mortal Hosts, May 11-20; The Nolan Williams Project, a new musical concert presentation, May 20; and The Chinese Lady, a reading of a new play by Lloyd Suh, May 20.

Freaky Friday
Through May 20 at the Cleveland Play House, Playhouse Square, 1407 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000,
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Dark Religious Comedy Aplenty in 'Hand to God' at Dobama Theatre

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 9:47 AM


The definition of a passion play is a dramatic performance representing the Passion of Jesus Christ, involving his suffering and death. It is a staple of many celebrations of Lent in several Christian denominations.

The thing is, that word “passion” can take you in more than one direction. And in this play by Robert Askins, there is plenty of passion set in a church building, but most of it is of the four-letter-word, violent and sexually-drenched variety.

Taking a cue from the outrageous puppets in Avenue Q, this dark comedy centers on a Sunday school classroom of a church in a small Texas town. This is where recently widowed Margery is trying to teach her charges Jason, Jessica and Timothy about the Lord, using puppets as a vehicle to reach them. Jason is her son, and it turns out she reaches him all too well, since timid Jason has apparently bonded with his puppet Tyrone in a dangerous way.

Indeed, it seems balls-to-the-wall Tyrone has taken over Jason’s fragile personality and is using him to lambaste everyone in sight, including Pastor Greg. As Tyrone says in his opening speech, speaking from a puppet stage in the classroom: “The same motherfucker who invented the group kill and team virtue—that ballsy piece of pig shit—topped all his previous work and invented the devil.”

And Tyrone is here to make sure the devil gets his due. As performed by Luke Wehner, Jason/Tyrone is a fascinating and at times abhorrent creation, giving voice to the unspeakable thoughts Jason has swirling around in his head—as most of us do, of course. Tyrone is all id and, since he's not actually President of the United States, he's hilarious.

Meanwhile, Timothy (Austin Gonser) is a walking adolescent hard-on with maximum sexual potency and very little focus, Jessica (Molly Israel) is trying to deal with Jason’s infatuation and Margery begins to let down her pretense of civility and starts to respond to Timothy’s insistent entreaties. During all this, Pastor Greg (David Burgher) is trying to make time with Margery.

In other words, it’s a pretty conventional church setting with all the hypocrisy, concealed emotions and screwed-up family relationships fully revealed. And that is what Askins is about, as he thrusts Tyrone into this supposedly calm and rational world.

Sure-handed director Matthew Wright keeps the pacing tight, even when the script tends to get bogged down in a bit too much repetition. And the ensemble performances are quite adept. But it is Wehner’s star turn as the man with the devil stuck on the end of his arm that steals the show and is worth the price of admission.

Hand to God
Through May 21 at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, 216-932-3396,
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Next Year's Rock Hall Inductions to Take Place on April 14 at Public Hall

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 8:20 AM

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductions will now take place in Cleveland every other year, and the Rock Hall has just announced a date (April 14) and a venue (Public Hall) for the 33rd annual ceremony.

A series of events, including a community celebration with free admission to the Rock Hall, a dedication for the 2018 Inductee exhibit, and other “rock and roll themed events and activities at the Rock Hall and throughout the city.”

Radiohead will be eligible for the first time and appears to be a likely candidate for induction.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What Led to Councilman Brian Cummins' Last-Minute Flip-Flop on the Q Deal?

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 2:58 PM

Councilman Brian Cummins
  • Councilman Brian Cummins
And just like that, the Gateway Six became the Gateway Five.

With his head down, Ward 14 Councilman Brian Cummins voted YES Monday night on a piece of "companion legislation" (469-17) that would add three new provisions to the existing Quicken Loans Arena renovation deal.

Shortly thereafter, in accordance with rumors, Cummins also voted YES on 305-17, the Q deal itself, which will commit a projected $88 million of city money from 2023-2034 to the project. Cummins' vote pushed the final count to 12-5, a super-majority that grants the ordinance emergency status and puts it into effect immediately. It also complicates the possibility of a voter-led referendum, though that effort should still technically be possible.

Cummins was one of six councilman — dubbed the Gateway Six by Mark Naymik on WTAM Monday morning — who had firmly opposed the deal in earlier votes and hearings. Cummins' opposition was largely philosophical. He'd told Cavs and City Council leadership to their faces that he "just couldn't get there." Among other things, Cummins found it outrageous that after the NBA's negotiation of a major new network deal (worth about $24 billion), a deal that is expected to lead to enormous increases in team valuation, Gilbert could come asking for a handout with a straight face.

The other opponents in the resistance were Jeff Johnson, Zack Reed, Mike Polensek, Kevin Conwell and T.J. Dow. Despite Cummins' objections, he was thought to be somewhat susceptible because he's a newer member of council leadership — he chairs the health and human services committee — and was the lone opposing councilman from the city's west side.

Council Chambers were packed last night with resident opponents who more than once erupted in chants directed at Cummins and Council President Kevin Kelley. "Hey hey, ho ho," etc. (Note: Supporters of the Q deal, including many representatives from the labor unions, were also in attendance.) Yet despite the vocal opposition from citizens and councilmen, the Q deal has been ratified virtually untouched.

Never once did an elected leader at the city or county level attempt to scrap the current deal and re-negotiate on behalf of their constituents. County Councilman Jack Schron merely wanted to postpone the deal to assess it in the context of state budget cuts. County Councilwoman Nan Baker made one alternative suggestion, that the Cavs themselves bear the burden of the financing, but did so in somber final remarks that were shrugged off as a fantasy. There was never any "creative" negotiating, as Armond Budish has repeatedly bragged; a seven-year lease extension represents the one publicized perk for taxpayers.

But in a last-ditch effort to "polish the turd," in the words of one observer, the deal was subject to a "major announcement" Monday afternoon. The Cavs said they'd sweeten the deal by refurbishing 22 gym floors at rec centers citywide and refurbishing gym floors at CMSD high schools. The other two announced provisions were insignificant public-relations gestures. Though Kelley bristled at the suggestion Monday night, the entire afternoon event seemed oriented toward the city's predominantly black east side community, where opposition to the deal is concentrated.  

"Q Deal Will Provide Jobs for Blacks," read one sign that framed the lectern on the steps of City Hall. "Vote Yes!!"

According to Frank Jackson, it was Kelley himself who worked this weekend to negotiate these additional community benefits.

The gym floor promise is nice, but it bears no resemblance to a negotiated community benefits agreement that organizations like Greater Cleveland Congregations have proposed. As a point of clarification: GCC's position all along has not been to reject the deal outright, but to renegotiate the deal with specific community benefits attached — they've proposed a Community Equity Fund. (The "CBA" touted by the city is in fact merely a labor agreement. That's crucially important, but according to the GCC, ensuring baselines in local and minority labor should happen anyway.)

These final amendments were evidently sufficient to persuade Brian Cummins to change his mind. It is well-known by now that the Cavs and their team of negotiators had been lobbying the council opposition hard all week. Dan Gilbert himself even called Councilman Zack Reed to try to turn him. In a conversation Tuesday with Scene, Cummins said that the new provisions were important.

"It's hard to say whether they're substantial," Cummins said, "but the admissions tax piece — over the last five years, that's been on average, about a million per year. And that's a lot better than where we were at two weeks ago."

Not just an insignificant public-relations gesture, in other words.

But it was clear, in talking with Cummins, that political pragmatism played a far greater role in his decision-making than these new alleged benefits (to which no specific dollar values were attached, as Mike Polensek noted last night). Cummins said he hated that he was forced to make this difficult decision, but ultimately, preserving his relationship with council leadership and the mayor's administration was a more beneficial approach for his ward.

"I had to think hard and long about this," Cummins said, "but if I'm trying to garner funds from the mayor's administration, competing with 16 other wards, things like this matter. And that's just a non-debatable fact."

Cummins was frustrated. He said he maintains his objections to the deal on ethical grounds and reiterated that his leadership role on council was not explicitly threatened. But as a former Green party member who was ostracized for years, Cummins said he's had to work harder than most to rehabilitate relationships with council Democrats. It's been an "uphill battle."

"I'm not a lone wolf, but it's hard to always feel like you're leading the opposition," Cummins said. "It's a challenge, and quite frankly, it's tiring."

In the past week, Cummins said he spent more time gauging his constituency and said many of the people he works closely with in Ward 14 recognize that in order to accomplish the development goals that they have for the ward, political relationships are essential.

"As an elected leader, if you're gonna run for office," Cummins said, "you have to play the political game in a good way, to try to get more for the people you represent. This was a really difficult decision, but I was putting my ward first."

Cummins acknowledged the anti-democratic manner in which the legislation passed through legislative bodies at the county and the city, and said that it was extremely difficult to change the ordinance by the time it arrived on city council desks. (As in prior controversial political issues, the debate often hinged on tactics when it should have hinged on fundamentals). But without strong executive leadership from the Mayor and the County Executive, a small caucus of city council opponents could do very little to effect change.

"But if it's this difficult to influence current structures of government," Cummins said, "it's a sign that they need to be changed."

(Cummins said he would be releasing a full statement on his rationale this afternoon.)

Speaking of change, the city council challengers in Ward 14 (the Clark-Fulton and Stockyards area, home to the city's densest concentration of Hispanics) are pouncing on this opportunity to criticize the incumbent Cummins. As we've reported, city council challengers intend to use council support of the Q deal as a lynchpin in their campaigns.

In Ward 14, that's certainly the case.

"I am greatly disappointed that Ward 14’s City Councilman Brian Cummins voted to allow the residents of Cleveland be the LOSERS in this deal!" Challenger Jasmin Santana wrote in a statement, the first we'd received from her. She is one of three candidates, in addition to Cummins, who has pulled petitions (Control-F: "Ward 14"). All three are Hispanic.

"Councilman Cummins was the 12th and LAST vote needed to get the majority to approve the Mayor’s request to give away an additional $88 million of our tax dollars to the Quicken Arena sports palace," she wrote.

Santana contended that the deal was a "perfect example of income inequality" in Cleveland, and said she supported using those funds for services that residents "really need," things like job-training programs and solutions to drugs and crime in the neighborhood.

Santana wrote that she supported "putting the brakes" on the proposal and re-negotiating a better deal for Cleveland residents. Furthermore, she said she supported putting the Q deal on the ballot in November.

Former City Councilman and perennial challenger Nelson Cintron is another candidate in Ward 14. His campaign contacted Scene to alert us that Cintron was "shocked" that Council had passed the legislation, "especially with our schools and crime being among the worst in the country."

Pastor Omar Medina, the third and final challenger, said that he, too, has been opposed to the Q deal from the beginning. He felt that Cummmins' reversal actually would make it more difficult for Ward 14 residents to get their "fair share," something he said he would continue to fight for.

It's worth noting that while Cummins' reversal was indeed the most pivotal, as it facilitated the ordinance's emergency status, and was also a stark departure from his publicly stated opposition, 11 other city councilpeople also voted in support of the deal, none of whom (in this reporter's recollection) expressed any moral reservations whatsoever.  

In the meantime, Mayor Frank Jackson signed the Q Deal legislation into law on Facebook live. "I know this is a great deal," Jackson said, in one of very few public comments he has made on the deal to date. "This is one of the best deals the city of Cleveland has ever made in regards to investing very little of public dollars and getting huge returns in terms of public benefits."

Jackson repeated the lie that the Cavs would be covering all shortfalls on the project — the county will be covering those out of a dedicated reserve — and lauded the Cavs' generosity for covering cost overruns on the construction. In theory, this is true, but the costs of the project are not yet known and may be dramatically overestimated. The public will have no way of learning the actual costs, as the Cavs will manage the construction themselves and are not obliged to open their books. They never have in the past.

The Mayor characterized the recent amendments — the gym floor provision et. al — as "the best community benefits that I've ever witnessed in my life as a public official since 1990."

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Arrest Warrant Issued for Man Who Brought Cocaine to Lorain Courtroom, Dropped Cocaine in Lorain Courtroom

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 2:36 PM


Police are looking for a man who decided on April 20th that when he made an appearance in an Lorain courtroom that he couldn't possibly do so without bringing a small bag of cocaine with him. Which isn't a great decision. Even worse when the bag, covertly stashed in his hat, fell to the ground after he took it off and fiddled with it.

It was discovered later that morning and tested positive as, ya know, cocaine.

An arrest warrant has been issued for the unidentified man, according to the Morning Journal.

Video of the oopsie-daisy moment below.

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