Fight Or Flight

Coyne's flip tosses constituent support.

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For a decade, Brook Park Mayor Tom Coyne stood in defiance. Neighboring Cleveland wanted to raze the I-X Center for an additional airport runaway. Coyne countered by trying to seize the I-X for his own city. Brook Park, he noted, had made its "last sacrifice."

It didn't matter that Coyne might be imperiling the development of an entire region. He was a hero in Brook Park and seemed to relish the role.

But defiance can be a twin-edged sword, especially in the wake of getting one's ass kicked. Which is what happened in December, when a judge barred the suburb from seizing the I-X under eminent domain. Coyne found himself in the unattractive position of fighting on -- and likely losing -- or cutting a deal. He chose the latter. "The reality of court decisions hits you in the face," he says.

It wasn't a bad deal, considering the circumstances. In return for giving Cleveland the I-X, Brook Park got NASA and $6 million in legal fees, plus millions more in tax revenue from the I-X and a business park. But Coyne also agreed to let Cleveland build a runway through a neighborhood that contains some 300 homes, and a man who fashions himself a populist is not allowed to sacrifice his own. Needless to say, the mayor is no longer a hero in the land he governs.

Residents have flooded meetings and called the city council in protest. Council members, in turn, have denounced secret negotiations that produced the deal. And rivals have called for an investigation into why Coyne used an attorney who happens to be a friend to hammer out the accord.

"I was shocked," says Councilman Dennis Patten, who represents the neighborhood. "I never, ever, in my wildest dreams, thought [he'd] do what he did."

Coyne has tried to downplay the backlash, proposing a new tax cut and asserting that the deal helps those who must sell their homes. The pact allows homeowners to cash in now or wait till the runway's built -- a time that may fetch better prices. But many see the tax proposal as a naked attempt to buy peace. And Coyne's relations with council were already strained, so he alone must sell the pact to residents -- both to get it approved and to survive in office.

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