A Scheme Unravels

Blackwell's voting-machine racket is slowly disintegrating.

Kathleen Wynne really, really cares about elections. Three months ago, she quit her job as a legal secretary to fight full-time for computerized voting machines that provide voters with ballot receipts. "Nobody would use a bank ATM that didn't give you a receipt," says Wynne, who has organized educational events and aggressively courted the media for her cause. "So why would we trust a computer to count our votes without giving us a paper receipt? This is so incredibly obvious, I don't understand why there's even a debate."

Wynne is right to worry. The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections has signed a preliminary agreement to pay North Canton-based Diebold $18 million for new voting machines. And it just so happens that Diebold's machines are easier to rig than an office football pool.

Tests conducted by Johns Hopkins University found that even people with little computer training managed to hack into Diebold's machines in about 10 seconds. All they did was smuggle collapsible keyboards into voting booths, then plug the keyboards straight into the machines.

But the county went with Diebold, under heavy pressure from Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who wants Ohio's 88 counties to offer computerized voting for this November's elections. It looked suspiciously like an inside deal, since Diebold CEO Walden O'Dell and his wife, Patricia, are major Republican fund-raisers and have donated $8,500 to Governor Bob Taft since 2001. Not coincidentally, Blackwell also hopes to blow $15 million on a "public education" campaign, which will plaster his face on TV ads across the state -- and none-too-subtly assist his run for governor in 2006.

But Wynne has picked up some unlikely allies in Columbus. Leaders of the legislature's Knuckle-Dragging Faction, House Speaker Larry Householder and Senate President Gary White, blocked Blackwell's $15 million request. They're not particularly worried about rigged elections; they just don't want to do Blackwell any favors.

So they assigned a joint committee to investigate the matter. Lo and behold, the committee decreed that voters must receive paper receipts.

Wynne's organizing a town-hall meeting this Friday from 4-9 p.m. at the Laborers Local 310 Hall, 3250 Euclid Avenue. She'll have on hand three small manufacturers of voting machines, all of which offer printed receipts. Cuyahoga County was not allowed to considered these manufacturers because -- surprise! -- they were never authorized by Blackwell.

"This is not too much to ask," Wynne says. "I want my vote to count."

Jack vs. jock
When the FCC fined Clear Channel nearly half a million dollars for Howard Stern's alleged indecency, the radio goliath promptly dumped the shock jock from six of its stations. He can blame Jack Thompson.

You may remember Thompson as the guy who tried to pin the murder of 15-year-old JoLynn Mishne on a video game ("Thrill Kill," December 10, 2003). Thompson, who grew up in Northeast Ohio and moved to Miami to embark on a fabulous career filing obscenity complaints against 2 Live Crew and other acts, argued that Dustin Lynch was not responsible for bludgeoning the girl to death because he was under the influence of Grand Theft Auto III.

But a judge refused to allow Thompson to insinuate himself as Lynch's lawyer, and the 17-year-old was eventually convicted of murder. (If there is a just God, Lynch is now serving as a love slave to the Crips.)

Then Thompson reappeared, this time filing an FCC complaint against Stern. So Punch called Thompson to ask about his crusade against the entertainment industry. He wasn't happy to hear from us.

"You don't get it," he barked. "And what you don't get is that there is a culture out there that is harming kids generally. Clear Channel should change their personnel. And they've done it, you idiot!" Then he hung up.

Punch was shocked and offended by the slur. Clearly Thompson is prejudiced against stupid people. The FCC has been informed.

Don't call it a logo
Last week, the Cleveland Museum of Art announced the replacement of its longtime logo with a new "graphic identity." Though it looks like a strange mathematical equation -- or perhaps the word "museum" written in ancient Farsi -- officials believe it will revolutionize the memo-and-business-card world. The announcement was followed by a ceremonial presentation of minimuffins.

"The new logo and type will immediately allow our visitors and members of the community to identify communication from the museum," Director Katharine Lee Reid revealed.

The new look is the culmination of more than two years of intensive study, which included more than 50 interviews with CMA staff and the public, 18 focus groups, and the services of a New York advertising firm. Museum officials declined to discuss the cost, but we suspect it was sufficiently more than was spent on the First Punch logo, which was developed over the course of 37 minutes, with a total cost of six pints of Guinness and a double order of tater skins.

Management wizards
Case Western Reserve's Weatherhead School of Management spent $62 million on the Peter B. Lewis Building, otherwise known as That Thing That Looks Like a Giant Airplane Crash. Now, if it could only scrounge up a few thousand more to staff the place.

The school is laying off secretaries and cutting down on copying and paper use. It seems that our esteemed scholars are broke. "We're going through a downturn," says Professor Paul Gerhart. "The budget had to be reduced. We're no longer able to offer as many tuition reimbursements to students, and as a result, we've seen a decrease in the number of students enrolling."

Punch wonders whether it might be cheaper to simply raze the plane-crash replica. Think of how much the school would save on Windex alone.

Numbers game
Television has Nielsen, radio has Arbitron, and the print industry has circulation-auditing services. They're independent firms that verify how many readers, viewers, or listeners a media outlet has. Without them, one can simply claim whatever audience size one wishes.

That's apparently what the Free Times has been doing for almost a year. When it relaunched last May, it claimed to have a "pending" deal with Verified Audit Circulation, a California company that confirms newspaper-circulation numbers. Nearly a year later, the Free Times masthead still listed the deal as pending.

So Punch called Verified. No one responded to our message, but in the next issue of Free Times, the pending claim and Verified logo were gone.

So Punch called again and this time got President James Dresser on the horn. It turns out that the Free Times hasn't had a contract with Verified since 2002. After Punch's first call, Verified advised the paper to knock it off. "Maybe it was an oversight on their part," Dresser charitably suggests.

Free Times publisher Matt Fabyan says he wasn't aware of the situation. He too is going with the "oversight" explanation and bravely pins the blame on the paper's circulation guys.

Something about Joan
Ace defense lawyer Joan Synenberg's caseload is a Who's Who of Cleveland bungling: She handled the bribery cases of coke-addled prosecutor Aaron Phillips and stockbroker Frank Gruttadauria; she held the hand of Wanda Kanner as she was sentenced for killing a woman with a bagel; and she took on the falsification case against embattled lottery-loser Elecia Battle.

Through every sordid step, The Plain Dealer captured the slender, handsome lawyer in all her glory. In the first week of April alone, her photo appeared four times; stalking charges have been filed for less.

It appears that someone at The PD has an Ally McBeal fetish.

"I don't think there was any sort of orchestrated plot to picture her more than anybody else," says Visual Editor David Kordalski, who vigorously denied that he's built a shrine to Synenberg in his garage. "Unfortunately, we're not as calculating as some people think we are."

Black Saturday
Marsha Newman's niece may be the last woman to have been married on September 11. That was in 2000, the year before terrorists affixed new meaning to the date. Now Newman, owner of Perfect Choice Wedding Planners in Aurora, has new meaning for it too: an unwelcome day off.

For the first time since the 2001 attacks, September 11 falls on a Saturday this year, which has given pause to couples and fits to wedding planners. Newman's company, which provides musicians and other services, is booked throughout the season, except 9-11.

"I don't have the band booked, the quartet booked -- I don't have anything booked," she says in disbelief. And she's hardly alone.

Carrie Cerino's Party Center in North Royalton is wooing couples with 9-11 discounts. "It's gonna be a rough day to book," says Dominic Cerino, whose facility is reserved into September 2005, but still has no bites for September 11. "People have been steering away from it, kinda like a Friday the 13th."

John Rutkowski and his fiancée weren't deterred. They selected September 11 for their wedding date last summer. "We thought about [the attacks] maybe a little, but we figured it's been a few years now," says the Bainbridge resident. "Plus, I turn 30 on September 11, so this way I won't forget my anniversary."

Help wanted
Team leader -- Hamas:
Internationally renowned advocacy group must fill unexpected executive-level vacancy. Position requires a self-starter who enjoys working with people and blowing them up. Must be fluent in Koran, especially the part about the 70 virgins. Must also relocate to desert, conduct occasional interviews with Mike Wallace, and be impervious to missiles. Experience killing grandmas and small children required.

Successful candidate will be allowed to contribute to destruction of Zionist state. This is a job for life (which is why that whole "impervious to missiles" thing is important, LOL!). Sorry, no 401(k), dental, or health insurance. But winning applicant will receive company-paid hovel and stipends from Syrian benefactors.

Please send cover letter, résumé, and short essay describing how you'd like to torture Ariel Sharon to: Mohammed Omar Sharif Atta, Gaza Strip, Hut No. 439, Palestine 90210.