It Ain't So

Lakewood uses bogus stats to make its case.

Lakewood City Hall has used sky-is-falling rhetoric to justify the seizure of primo land for its West End development. Even those on the fence have bought into the idea that the city suffers an "eroding tax base, aging housing stock, and outmigration of residents," as a Plain Dealer editorial put it.

This, unfortunately, is a steaming pile of crap. So say the numbers.

First, consider the supposed exodus. Lakewood claimed more than 70,000 residents in 1970. By 2000, the number had fallen to 56,000. A sign of a dying suburb? Hardly. The decrease is largely the product of birth control -- or lapsed Catholicism -- as fewer families churn out kids by the half-dozen. The number of individuals per Lakewood household has indeed fallen during the last 50 years. Yet the adult population remains steady. In fact, the number of residents aged 20-64 increased slightly between 1980 and 2000.

Equally bogus are claims of an eroding tax base. In the '80s and '90s, tax receipts in Lakewood grew by an average 5.14 percent a year -- a rate faster than inflation. In short: The city is pleading starvation with a roast on its plate.

The housing stock is old, but that doesn't seem to be a problem either. In fact, a recent community newsletter chirped that Lakewood home values rose 62 percent between 1990 and 2000. We should all feel so blighted.

The Gray Lady undressed
Who owns the title of "The Guy Who Exposed Jayson Blair?" In this corner is Howard Kurtz, noted media critic for the Washington Post. In the other is Mike Gardner, not-so-noted cub reporter for the Daily Kent Stater.

For weeks, Kurtz has been billing himself as the guy who took down Blair, a New York Times reporter who got caught fabricating stories. The subsequent scandal not only produced a national squawkfest among journalism geeks -- motto: "Serving Righteous Indignation for Over 200 Years" -- but cost the Gray Lady's top editors their jobs.

Yet Michael David Smith, former editor of the University of Illinois student paper, is calling Kurtz out. "Am I the only one who's getting sick of Howard Kurtz starting sentences with, 'As the person who broke the Jayson Blair story . . .,'" Smith wrote in a letter to Jim Romenesko's Media News, the industry's foremost website. "For the record, Mr. Kurtz did not break the Jayson Blair story; Mike Gardner of the Daily Kent Stater did."

Last December, Gardner wrote a story questioning an article Blair wrote about the university. "A New York Times reporter said Kent State is miscounting its football attendance," his story began. "Kent State officials said he was lying." It went on to detail how Blair used quotes from Associate Athletic Director Pete Mahoney -- though Mahoney was never actually interviewed.

Several months later, Blair's impressive rampage of deception would be uncloaked. The Times gave Gardner props in a massive mea culpa it ran about the incident, writing, "The Daily Kent Stater, a student newspaper, published an article in December in which school officials took issue with Mr. Blair's reporting. The writer of the article, who said that he could not reach Mr. Blair because his voice-mail in-box was full, then left detailed messages for The Times's sports department. No one at the paper responded to the messages."

Memo to The Times: If you're still looking for Blair's replacement, Mike Gardner, bad-ass reporter, may be available. If you beg.

Tribe MVP: insurance
The injury gods are mitigating contract blunders made by the Indians general managers past and present. Insurance is covering a chunk of the club's still excessive payroll.

Three of the Tribe's six highest-paid players lost or are losing considerable action because of injury. Slugger Ellis Burks ($7.2 million this year) is out for the rest of the season, following elbow surgery. Closer Bob Wickman ($6 million) hasn't played since last year. Infielder Ricky Gutierrez ($3.9 million) returned, after missing play since August 14.

But don't let the organization boo-hoo the sting of the injury bug. All three players' contracts are insured, allowing owner Larry Dolan to share the cost of their pricey salaries as they mend. Policies vary, but typically a player must be disabled for 60 or 90 days before insurance begins to cover 70-80 percent of the contract. "It makes you sleep a little better at night, knowing you have some coverage," says Tribe CFO Ken Stefanov.

Given that 2003 is a rebuilding year, Burks, Wickman, and Gutierrez are/were more valuable to the Indians hurt than well. It's hard to imagine scenarios where their on-field contributions could help the club -- No, son, let's wait until Ricky's back in the lineup before we attend a game -- more than a discount on their wages would.

Of course, the club's most crushing contract is the $27 million deal Matt Lawton signed before the 2002 season. It is to be hoped that Shapiro has seen enough injury and skill erosion from his age-30-and-up crowd that, in the future, fans wouldn't be smart to root for some players to get hurt.

Pervert of the week
By the time you hit age 60, you should probably understand that filming bikini-clad twentysomethings on the beach is -- in the words of one woman -- "soooo creepy."

But this life lesson was apparently lost on the old guy in the straw hat who recently arrived at Huntington Park beach equipped with his camcorder. There he was, standing on the sand, brazenly panning his camera from one sunbathing babe to the next.

Women began to notice and whispered warnings to their friends. One man, there with his girlfriend, declared loudly that it must be a taping for Girls Gone Wild: Old Man Version. Other women told the man to stop filming. "You can go to jail for that," said one.

Regrettably, the man was quite within his rights, since the beach is a public place. Worse, he seemed to know it. Even after the women scolded him, he kept the tape rolling.

Loving Jordan
Everybody hates the media, as well they should. (You gotta see the assholes Punch works with.) So, rare is the journalist who merits praise -- much less a banner strung across a busy street. But Mary Jordan, a West Park native who recently won the Pulitzer Prize, has proved the exception.

Jordan and her husband, Kevin Sullivan, won the prize for their coverage of Mexico's criminal justice system for the Washington Post. The banner across Rocky River Drive lauding Jordan comes courtesy of Our Lady of Angels Elementary School and St. Joseph Academy, the schools Jordan attended in the 1970s.

And to think that Punch can't even get a mug with his name on it behind the bar at McCarthy's.