Lessons in Fighting

The smoking lobby goes guerilla on the Sphinctariate.

Never underestimate the cunning of people fueled by nicotine.

Just as the nonprofit SmokeFreeOhio submitted 185,000 signatures to the Secretary of State in order to get a statewide smoking ban on the November ballot, a competing nonprofit, Smoke Less Ohio, filed a complaint with Franklin County Court, accusing its competitor of election fraud.

While SmokeFreeOhio wants to see a comprehensive ban on the ballot this year, Smoke Less Ohio is gathering petitions for a more lenient measure that would exempt all bars, bowling alleys, and restaurant smoking sections, as God intended.

Franklin County Judge David Cain ultimately deemed more than 43,000 of SmokeFreeOhio's signatures invalid because they were collected by paid employees, rather than volunteers. In the meantime, Smoke Less Ohio was busy collecting 323,000 signatures for its August 9 deadline.

SmokeFreeOhio has responded to its competitor's tactics with return fire. Executive Director Tracy Sabetta said that Smoke Less Ohio, which cites R.J. Reynolds as a supporter, chose a similar-sounding name just to confuse voters. The group even launched a radio ad asking voters not to sign its competitor's petitions.

But spokesman Jacob Evans says there's nothing deceitful about Smoke Less Ohio's name. "First of all, we're both putting forth smoking-ban proposals, so we both needed to put something about smoke in the name," he says. "Our policy is about less smoking, so it's a very appropriate name."

As far as SmokeFreeOhio's policy goes, Evans sees little difference between its proposed ban and Prohibition. "Ohioans have shown they prefer a more moderate proposal and that's what we're giving them," Evans says. "[SmokeFreeOhio] is just another attempt at prohibition, and judging from the past, it won't work."

Fashion Faux Pas
Apparently, some people have mistaken our esteemed paper for a fetish rag. After the trendy boutique Devereaux in Westlake placed an ad featuring a supercute, slim teenage model, the store started receiving creepy phone calls.

"Are you wearing thongs or briefs?" a man named Mike asked the salesgirl who answered the phone. Then he called back, asking if the girl in the ad "liked to get her feet kissed."

Owner Patti Devereaux told Mike never to call back again. But to ensure that he doesn't, she's prepared to launch Operation Anti-Perv.

"I joked that next week I'm going to put a picture of the fattest girl I can find in the paper and write, 'How do you like that one, Mike?'" she says.

No word from Mike on whether he has a fetish for heavy girls as well.

Jail Bird
Our favorite kook heads back to the slam.

Give Elsebeth Baumgartner credit for her tenacity.

While she awaits trial in Cuyahoga County for charges of intimidating a judge -- for which she could spend the rest of her life in prison -- Baumgartner's taking a little 45-day vacation in the Erie County slammer ["The Pest," May 3].

Judge Richard Neper handed down the sentence after Elsebeth refused to shut up during her Erie County trial for getting into a car chase with police. She was also caught talking to the jurors before the start of the trial.

"She just went off," says Special Prosecutor Dan Kasaris, who is also prosecuting Baumgartner in the Cuyahoga case. "She tried to subpoena 20 to 30 people that had nothing to do with the case."

That's business as usual for Baumgartner, who for the past eight years has accused judges and other public officials of everything from keeping sex slaves to smuggling guns.

Besides sending her to the can, Judge Neper called Baumgartner "delusional" and ordered her to get a psychiatric evaluation, which could probably be done for little or no cost by the guy bagging sandwiches at Quizno's.

Boobs, the sequel
Three weeks ago Lyz Bly, a freelance art critic for the Free Times, resigned because she was fed up with the paper's apparent fascination with the female anatomy. Her main complaint was a cover story titled "Blood, Babes, and Bankroll," which Bly found offensive because it waxed poetic about the strangulation, drowning, and mutilation of babes in films by two area directors.

Yet, despite Bly's very public critique, the Free Times doesn't seem to have learned its lesson. Last week's paper featured an enormous photo of a bra-clad Victoria's Secret model with the caption; "Don't you DARE feed a baby with those! That's NOT what they're for!" The accompanying article, ostensibly about Victoria's Secret's treatment of nursing moms, appeared under the headline "Whip 'Em Out."

Bly, needless to say, was not amused. She pointed out that the paper seems to assume its readers are all men who will get the joke. "It's horrible," she says. "It's like Howard Stern."

Judge Whitey
Because of a USDA judge's coke habit, the iguana got whacked.

If USDA Judge Leslie Holt hadn't been so busy honking down the Peruvian Marching Powder, Lorenzo Pearson's collection of exotic animals might have been saved.

Last month, Pearson lost bears, pit bulls, tigers, and iguanas in a fire at his Copley home. At the time, he was facing a federal animal-welfare suit. In 2004, he was charged with neglect and failure to obtain the proper permits to raise his various creatures.

Alas, Judge Holt, the man charged with overseeing the case, had problems of his own. That same year, he was arrested in a Puerto Rico hotel room with 150 grams of coke. High-level sources indicate that prior to his arrest, a good time was had by all. Holt later pleaded guilty and had his law license suspended.

But Holt's Puerto Rican misadventures delayed Pearson's case. It wasn't resumed till this month -- after the fire took out most of his pet collection. The surviving animals are now in the Witness Protection Program.

Fun with Nate the Hippie
The Downtown Weirdo Quotient increased this month with the addition of Nate the Hippie, who recently started manning the St. Clair Avenue sidewalk near West Sixth Street. Armed with self-published poetry books and a Frisbee, Nate immediately stood out from the rest of the weirdo crowd, which tends to favor Styrofoam cups.

Punch, always in the mood for some soothing midday verse, investigated.

Turns out Nate was actually protesting the Free Times, a fact obscured by his mysterious lack of colorful signs and witty chants. Nate is apparently miffed that the newspaper wouldn't run a listing for his totally awesome poetry reading, which he was planning for the Chinese restaurant where he works. Even with Nate's assurance, the Free Times refused to foresee the event's obvious hugeness.

Editor Frank Lewis tells Punch the paper got Nate's listing, but "the only clear part was the phone number . . . When we called it, the manager of the restaurant didn't seem to know what we were talking about."

Details, details.

Undeterred, Nate decided to protest. Through last week, he'd been outside Free Times HQ for 13 straight weekdays. "I've been ready to give up since Day Eight," he says. "I actually have better things to do."

"Well," he adds, catching himself. "Maybe not."

Loiterers will be shot
Residents of the historic Parkview Apartments at East 13th and Chester have long bemoaned the riffraff that huddle outside at all hours of the night -- drug dealers and homeless people, some using the Parkview's stairwells for their transactions and bodily functions.

So the sign posted outside the building would seem a handy deterrent: No Loitering. Violators will be prosecuted. Also provided is a phone number to report suspicious activity.

But a call to the posted number was answered not by a surveillance company, but by a guy named Antoine at Precision Studios in New York City.

"So, how's the loitering?" Punch asked.

"No sir," replied Antoine in broken English. "I do video photo. What is loiter?" Precision Studio, he explained, can photograph your bar mitzvah, but is somewhat less equipped to handle law enforcement in Cleveland.

Antoine's not the only one confused.

"I'm more curious than you," says Parkview manager John Joyce, who had never noticed the sign on his building. He's in the process of buying the Parkview, for which he plans $16 million in improvements. A new loitering sign would seem a reasonable start.

"This place is a dump," says one longtime resident, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal from New York photographers.

I heart staph
It appears that unlicensed tattoo artists are capable of more than misspelling your girlfriend's name in permanent ink. A new report by the U.S. Center for Disease Control traces an outbreak of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria -- i.e., really bad shit -- to freelance inkers in Ohio.

The superbug, which is typically transmitted through skin-to-skin contact in places like locker rooms and prisons, has symptoms that include boils, fever, lethargy, and in extreme cases, death.

"This is the first time it's been documented with tattoos," says Dr. Mysheika LeMaile-Williams, a CDC epidemiologist. The study traced 33 cases of The Really Bad Shit to 10 unlicensed tattoo artists in Columbus and Toledo. One performed his work with an ink-jet cartridge and guitar strings -- which is not how they teach you at Princeton.

Three of the tattooists have since been jailed, where they are undoubtedly taking a refresher course in sanitary prison tats.

Stephen Colbert asks a Mexican
Last week, clevescene.com columnist Guastavo Arellano -- he of Ask a Mexican fame -- appeared on The Colbert Report, Comedy Central's answer to The O'Reilly Factor -- only way more fair and balanced.

Arellano and host Stephen Colbert discussed topics ranging from immigration to little people (available for download on iTunes). Arellano tried to provide a legitimate Aztec cultural explanation on the latter topic, but Colbert evidently thought the dissertation was too sophisticated.

"Are you speaking Spanish right now?" he interrupted.

Boehner's Luck
Have Ohio's congressmen found a new way to line their pockets?
House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-We Can't Believe You Made a Guy from Ohio Your Leader) rose to power in the wake of Tom DeLay's indictment for myriad crimes involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his Indian casino clients.

Yet Boehner's most recent financial disclosure form raises questions about his own relationship with tribal casinos.

According to the filing, Boehner made a pit stop at an Indian-owned casino in Northern Michigan and walked out with $2,700.

His spokesman claims it was pure luck. Boehner supposedly stopped in at the casino to use the bathroom. While waiting for an aide, he "decided put a couple of bucks in the slots" and hit the jackpot.

"This is gambling, that's what it was," says spokesman Don Seymour. "A guy stops by and wins money. People do it every day."

Sure, but most people don't have such close ties to the casino.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Boehner received $32,500 in campaign contributions from Indian tribes represented by Abramoff. And Boehner's PAC, the Freedom Project, received $31,500 from four Abramoff tribal clients, according to The Washington Post.

The casinos got a good return on its investment. Boehner is pushing for legislation to crack down on internet gambling, which rakes in half a billion dollars each year. The measure is supported by the American Gaming Association, the largest casino lobby, which clearly wants to stop overseas bookies from taking a chunk of the profits.

Seymour doesn't see the connection. "If you can make that leap here, you can make that leap with any congressman," he argues.

Indeed we can. The run of luck was suspiciously similar to that of another Ohio congressman, Bob Ney (R-Soon to be Making License Plates at a Federal Pen Near You).

In 2004, Ney reported winning $34,000 at a London casino. His spokesman claimed he put down $100 on a three-card draw game, let it ride on a long shot, and hit the jackpot.

Ney has since been implicated in the Abramoff scandal as well. He's accused of trading favors for gifts and vacations.

When pressed about the coincidence of Boehner winning thousands of dollars from a group for whom he carries water in Congress, Seymour went into robotic PR mode. He couldn't understand why anyone would think the jackpot appeared at all suspicious, nor would he explain why Boehner would choose to take his bathroom break at a casino rather than, say, McDonalds.

"It is what it is," Seymour says. "Any other conclusions you want to draw, you're welcome to."

He said it, not us.

A word from the Kremlin
Cleveland school officials released an audit last week of the district's $1.5 billion construction project. Punch hoped the 100-page report would explain where $335 million in taxpayer funds from the school levy went ("Missing: $1.5 billion," May 24). But it turns out officials were more interested in praising themselves.

The study was commissioned by former schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Given her history of fabricating data, scientists believe the report has a 97 percent margin of error.

The report begins with 15 "commendations" of the district's efforts --praising everything from its willingness to get residents involved to keeping costs down. But the dedicated ass-kissing quickly dissolves under the weight of . . . well . . . reality.

On page 4, the district scores points for establishing an "accountability" commission to keep tabs on construction finances. Two pages later, we learn that the commission no longer exists (it hasn't for more than a year).

The report also claims that all but one of the schools slated for the first phase of construction were finished "on time, to the desired levels of quality, and within budget guidelines." Yet the district itself has acknowledged that at last three schools--John Adams High, John Hay High, and A.J. Rickoff elementary -- opened late. And John Hay ran millions of dollars over budget.

Stay tuned for next week's audit, when administrators commend themselves for getting every student in the district pipefitting scholarships to Oxford.

Scene named Ohio's best alt
Scene has once again been named the best alternative newspaper in Ohio.

At its annual Excellence in Journalism Awards, the Press Club of Cleveland awarded this rag a pile of hardware, which we would gladly have traded for more drink tickets.

Among the individual winners: