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We're Number 6! 

But with an Erie feeling.

Punch doesn't blame the mayor for sending a press release to celebrate Cleveland's most recent triumph: a City Livability Award from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The award, one of five honorable mentions given to cities with more than 100,000 people, recognizes Mayor Jane and the non-profit ParkWorks for a program using school grounds as community parks.

There's no cash included, but City Livability Award program director Kathy Amoroso says the bragging rights are real. "It's really about being able to give the city the moniker," she says. "We have a logo you can use on city stationery, fliers, and T-shirts. It's a matter of civic pride." This is only the second time in the last decade that Cleveland has been an honoree, Amoroso says.

There is, however, a caveat: Cleveland was bested by five other cities, including Houston, Chicago, Honolulu, and San Diego. All well and good.

Then there's the fifth city: Erie, Pennsylvania. The one city even Clevelanders can make fun of. Dirty, drab, dying Erie.

Equally disheartening was the list of cities that tied with Cleveland for honorable-mention status: Norfolk, Virginia; Detroit; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Laredo, Texas.

In summary: We got beat by Erie. We tied with Detroit, Laredo, and some city in Iowa.

Let the celebration begin.

Victory lap

The City Club of Cleveland is picking up where the Supreme Court left off. The executive director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which sponsored the suit that led the Supremes to strike down Texas's anti-sodomy law, will speak at the club's August 1 Friday Forum.

Kevin Cathcart apparently will be the first speaker on gay issues to have the City Club stage to himself. City Club boss Jim Foster last recalls a 1993 debate on gays in the military. That day, Tracy Thorne, a Navy lieutenant who had been discharged because he was gay, dusted the floor with a retired major general. "Boy, was it a clear mismatch," Foster says.

The decision to host a solo Cathcart appears to support Justice Anthony Kennedy's recognition of an "emerging awareness" on gay liberties. "I think it's a very important speaker to have at a very important time," Foster says. "I'm delighted Cathcart's coming."

For tickets to the event, call 216-621-0082.

Bad numbers, good company

Indians second baseman Brandon Phillips ("Rookie Card," June 25) won't be buying a house in Buffalo, even if he may be spending part of his summer there. His demotion to the Tribe's minor-league affiliate came last week, as Phillips's batting average appeared trapped in the low .200s.

But rookie seasons can be rocky even for the best, and Phillips's struggles are not yet cause for panic. Among the best who play Phillips's positons, second and shortstop, Alex Rodriguez hit .232 in his rookie campaign. Nomar Garciaparra hit .241 before beginning a streak of .300-plus seasons. Legendary second baseman Bill Mazeroski notched a mediocre .243 in his first year, while contemporary Jeff Kent managed a mere .239.

One more important fact: Phillips just turned 22.

Goin' pro

Earning $200 a game to play football may not seem a princely sum. But when you're used to paying to play, 200 clams can make a guy feel almost Couchesque.

Such is the attitude of Tony Chiaravalle, a Westlake High teacher who's spending his summer vacation playing for the Peoria Pirates in Arena League 2. The hulking offensive lineman is now earning each week what he paid to play last season for the semipro Cleveland Lions ("Semi-Tough," October 2).

Not that he's counting pennies. "Getting a chance in a pro league -- any pro league -- that's what you dream about."

A handful of Arena League teams showed interest in Chiaravalle after he dominated in a semipro all-star game held in Cleveland earlier this year. At 28, and after previous cups of coffee in the Arena League and the now-defunct Spring Football League, Chiaravalle knew he had to take one last shot.

So he bade farewell to his summer jobs -- bartending and selling real estate -- and inked a contract with Peoria earlier this month. His signing bonus: two hats and a T-shirt.

As he's savoring the other small luxuries of Arena League life -- free dinners and the $50 bonus players get when the team wins -- Chiaravalle's also keeping his eye on a bigger prize: His agent is sending game film to Cincinnati, Chicago, and Buffalo in the hope that one of the NFL teams will invite Chiaravalle to training camp this summer.

"I couldn't leave teaching for the Arena League -- there's too much roster turnover, too much uncertainty," he says. "But the NFL? Yeah, I could leave for that."

Spirited debate

Cleveland ghostbuster Mary Ann has never faced off against Cleveland's most haunted house. But that may change now that the Franklin Castle in Ohio City has a new owner.

Charles Milsaps of Lakewood is purchasing the 123-year-old edifice from Michelle Heimburger, its owner since 1999. Heimburger's plan was to renovate and turn it into a bed-and-breakfast. The ghosts were supposed to help business.

But in Mary Ann's experience, the presence of ghosts almost always curses a business. And that seemed to be the case in the Franklin Castle. Six months after Heimburger bought the castle, a homeless man started a fire there. Then she burned her own money trying to renovate the building and keep the city from demolishing it.

All the while, Heimburger refused to let Mary Ann take a tour. Had the ghostbuster found spirits, she could either have shown them to the afterlife or brokered a cohabitation with the living occupant.

Now, it's up to Milsaps, who also plans a facelift. "If there are ghosts there, he's going to have terrible problems renovating the place," says Mary Ann. She says she can't comment definitively about the presence of spirits at the castle, but "with as many owners as have been there, there probably is something [supernatural] there."

Mary Ann's policy, however, is to go only where she's invited, and so far, Milsaps hasn't called. Milsaps, reached at his Lakewood home, did not return calls from Scene.

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