The Thin Red Line

Have insurers discovered that -- gasp! -- black people live in Cleveland Heights?

Susanna Niermann O'Neil suspected something fishy. Cleveland Heights residents kept calling the city to complain that insurers refused to give them home insurance, even when their houses were in excellent shape. And people with coverage complained that insurers threatened to drop them because their homes had perfectly functional knob-and-tube wiring.

It made Niermann O'Neil, director of community services, suspicious. Cleveland Heights, after all, is a jewel among inner-ring suburbs. What it does have is a growing black population. Maybe the problem wasn't the housing.

"The only reason a house should be denied insurance is because of the condition of the house," she says. "You can't sell a house in Cleveland Heights without a city inspection. We know our housing is not suspect. So is this happening because we're an inner-ring suburb? Because we're racially diverse?"

She suspected redlining, whereby banks and insurance companies deny service to low-income and non-honky neighborhoods. Though it was outlawed in 1978, innumerable Cleveland mortgage lenders have been accused of the practice, and Nationwide Insurance paid a $17.5 million settlement for stiffing black residents in Richmond, Virginia.

So the city has turned to the guerrilla force known as the Housing Research and Advocacy Center, which has successfully drilled mortgage companies for redlining. The group will investigate insurance denials and have different people with similar homes call for quotes. If Whitey gets insurance and Black Guy doesn't, expect a shitstorm when the study is completed next year.

Attention: Sunbathers
If you're still looking to score some late-season quality time with Mr. Ultraviolet Ray, look no further than Lakeview Beach in Lorain, where the sandy shore is curiously -- and gloriously -- vacant.

Of course, this privacy comes with a small cost: You can't actually swim. Lakeview's water happens to be the single most festering cesspool of filth and disease this side of the River Styx.

Bacterial levels rating 126 and above carry the potential for skin, ear, and eye infections -- in addition to giving you the appearance of Tom Coyne's liver -- according to the Cuyahoga County Health Department. On June 16, however, Lakeview registered a 1,186, placing the beach somewhere between Lake Chernobyl and Love Canal.

Health officials say the culprit is a shitload of . . . well . . . shit. Heavy rains overload the sewer system, delivering a delightful bouquet of human waste into our lakes and rivers, making Erie the world's largest open sewer. (Memo to Mayor Campbell: Consider this for focal point of lakefront-development marketing. Will go over big with tourists from Cambodia and New Jersey.)

The good news: By late August, the bacteria count at Lakeview had fallen to a moderately toxic 584 -- a meager five times above safe levels. And while the swimming season ended on Labor Day, lifeguards believe anyone equipped with a HazMat suit and a team of Red Cross surgeons should have a 50-50 chance of survival.

A woman scorned
Democratic nominee Capri Cafaro may be the underdog in her race against Congressman Steve LaTourette (R-Libido). But she's successfully converted at least one Republican: her competitor's soon-to-be-ex-wife.

It seems Susan LaTourette remains just a tad pissed after the family-values congressman informed her -- by phone, no less -- that he was having an affair with a Washington lobbyist and wanted to trade in his old wife for a newer model. So Mrs. LaTourette has requested a Cafaro lawn sign for her Madison-area home, though she probably wouldn't mind staking the sign elsewhere -- like, say, through a certain congressman's heart.

See no evil
For 20 years, the Ohio EPA knew that Carlisle Engineered Products was illegally dumping toxins into the streams around Middlefield. And for 20 years, the agency did nothing about it ("While the EPA Slept," November 15, 2001).

Residents Ron and Laura Duncan finally got tired of the foot-dragging. Ten years ago, Ron wrote a letter to then-Vice President Al Gore. Three months later, a team of scientists arrived to investigate.

Both the state and federal EPAs have known since then that Carlisle had cancer-causing PCBs littering its factory grounds. But last fall, Laura saw black sludge flowing from the site into the Cuyahoga River. Tests showed the sludge was carbon black, an industrial substance used to make tires -- and loaded with PCBs. So the feds returned. Then they stopped talking.

"They took four samples and left," says Ron Duncan. "Now they say they won't talk to us again until the investigation is over. That could take two years."

"I don't know how long it will take," says Priscilla Fonseca, the EPA scientist who took the samples. "We're still awaiting samples from the company, and then we may need to take more samples after that. But we can't share the test results with the public until we have all the information we need."

To Ron Duncan, it feels like déjà-vu all over again. "This is exactly what the Ohio EPA did for years. My question is, what are they hiding? We have a right to know the source, to know the extent of contamination."

But Fonseca is in a bind. Her agency has watched its funding wither over the years -- President Bush cut its budget by almost a billion dollars from 2002 to 2003 alone. And Fonseca's dealing with a company that's successfully evaded environmental laws for decades.

But she's not blind to the situation. "These people have waited too long already," she says. After 10 years, that might be an understatement.

Fight the ketchup
Anti-abortion activists took to the skies last week. The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, from sunny Santa Fe Springs, California, sent a plane to fly circles above downtown Cleveland, towing a banner with a bloodied fetus, plus a toll-free number and the message "10 Week Abortion" written beside it.

Unfortunately, the image looked suspiciously like a homemade doll smeared with ketchup, and most bystanders thought it was a weird new promotion for Heinz.

Black & blue state
In 2002, OSHA sent letters to 13,000 businesses with rates of job-related injuries and illnesses more than twice the national average. Nearly 10 percent of them -- 1,291, to be precise -- were in Ohio. Of the six states with larger populations than Buckeye Land, only Pennsylvania is home to more hobbled workers.

In intramural competition, Cleveland destroyed all foes with 102 businesses on the Really Scary Job list. Cincinnati managed but a candy-assed 66 to finish second.

It's just further proof that Cleveland remains the world leader in faking back injuries.

For those about to scam, we salute you.

Poor caveman
State Representative Tim Grendell (R-Chesterland) is a proud member of the Caveman Caucus. Unfortunately, it's a political philosophy that predates the invention of quality lying.

First, Grendell announced he was huffing mad that House Speaker Larry Householder offered his top fund-raiser, Kyle Sisk, a $50,000 bonus to convince Grendell to bow out of a Senate race.

Then the press discovered that Grendell had also hired Sisk, who's accused of helping Householder trade legislation for campaign contributions.

Then Grendell, a lawyer, claimed he couldn't remember what his contract with Sisk said, and that Sisk refused to supply him a copy. "My mistake was I shouldn't have hired Sisk," Grendell says. "He's a skilled campaigner, but he's turned out to be a jerk for not giving me a copy of my contract."

Then Sisk supplied the contract, which showed that Grendell agreed to pay him nearly $200,000 to help him buy . . . er . . . win a Senate seat. That left Grendell with one last avenue of escape: He claimed the contract was illegal.

Let's review, shall we? Lawyer signs contract but never reads language. Lawyer agrees to pay guy $200,000, but can't remember doing it. When confronted with evidence, lawyer claims he entered into illegal contract, which, naturally, should allow him to skate on his $200,000 bill.

You decide: Moron or lying moron?

The jury is in
The hottest trend in Cleveland publishing is the tormented juror. Carmella Juarbe went public with her regrets on the Mark Ducic guilty verdict ("Juror's Burden," August 11), and she's currently putting together a book about the case, which was made into a documentary by ABC News.

Now another juror from a high-profile Cleveland case -- U.S. vs. Jim Traficant -- is preparing to publish his misgivings. Leo Glaser was the only member whose first impulse was to find Traficant innocent.

Traficant should blame his lawyer: Jim Traficant. It was only after the verdict was in and Glaser could conduct his own research that he became sure of Traficant's innocence. With Traficant blundering through his own case, his lone advocate had a tough sell.

"If I had the guts to stand up, if I had known what I know now and all the evidence would have been presented to the jury, it would have been easier for me to make my case to the other jurors," says Glaser. "The biggest mistake Traficant made was not hiring a lawyer."

Glaser says that his fellow jurors were influenced by concerns as broad as taxpayer responsibility -- a hung jury would mean a costly retrial -- and as narrow as juror wardrobe. According to Glaser, one juror demanded a verdict on the fifth day because she had run out of clean clothes.