Imagine . . .

That Marc Dann is the real thing.

Marc Dann
Marc Dann talked a good game before he won the election. But will he walk for us? - AP  Photo
Marc Dann talked a good game before he won the election. But will he walk for us?
Something's different about Marc Dann today.

As we sit at a stately table in the break room off the Ohio Senate floor, Dann, snug in a freshly ironed suit, doesn't seem like the bomb-throwing, sue-the-state firebrand he was on November 6, before the nobody state senator and divorce lawyer from Liberty Township whomped Betty Montgomery to become attorney general in Ohio's biggest upset of the year.

Now he "chooses" his words. He pauses more, starts regular-guy sentences, backs up, then puts it in drive again with heavy-lidded phrases like "overriding analysis" and "net benefit." He talks about the need to "weigh out the positives and negatives" before making a decision.

The coup, it seems, has lost its edge.

You feel your eyes start to roll back. You kind of expected that Dann's pre-election crusade to root out corruption would stop at the palace gates. At a time when a golf trip to Scotland can buy a congressman's vote and a low-rent coin dealer can get a golden ATM card to injured workers' pockets, political marketing is prescribed to be heavy on the shine, light on delivery.

Yet you hold your cynicism for a moment. Try to imagine a new day. Back in Youngstown, his law office employs 4 lawyers; now he commands 350 and a staff of 1,300. Ohio is in his hands.

He doesn't need to file public records requests anymore; he can subpoena. And if he finds that Taft, Montgomery, or Petro had a hand in the scandal at the Bureau of Workers' Compensation, he's no longer resigned to writing press releases demanding criminal charges -- he can file them himself. Maybe his trepidation today isn't the euphemistic bullshit of a politician settling into inertia, but the cautiousness of our new attack boy who doesn't want to fuck up the most important hit of his life.

In fact, if you give Marc Dann a few more seconds, he'll tell you this himself. "It's different," he says, noticing a glazed look in the reporter's eyes. "I've gotta be so cautious in this job. I hope you don't think I've lost my heart for this."

You want to believe him, because you've got unfinished business with those who screwed us -- the smug, smiling ones who closed their eyes while thieves ran out the back door. And while Dann might now talk like the other sphincters in suits, just hearing the attorney general of Ohio, albeit in measured political-speak, say he's going to bring the hammer down on those pricks feels good.

"[Tom Noe] didn't come in in the middle of the night and steal $50 million in injured workers' money," he says. "Somebody gave him permission to have it. And I don't think that question's been satisfactorily answered."

Dann says he's going to launch full-scale criminal investigations not only into the coin scandal, but also into allegations of illegal rate reductions at the BWC for politically connected companies.

"If people have committed crimes, then they should go to jail," he says, "and I'll make sure that they do."

Yeah, it feels damn good. But, if you believe Dann, that's just the beginning.

He wants to treat predatory lenders like organized crime, sending out prosecutors to bring felony fraud cases, putting people in jail.

"It's a lot easier to negotiate a fair civil settlement when people are looking down the end of 10 years in prison."

He wants to review all big-dollar contracts entered into by state agencies before money changes hands (think Diebold and charter schools, among other scams). After all, it's only common sense to have your lawyer OK multimillion-dollar contracts. But in Ohio, Dann's predecessors preferred to just let thieves write their own terms. Under Montgomery, Noe was able to slip a clause into his investment contract that would force the state to sue him in Bermuda. And Accenture, which bungled $63 million in state money for the failed Ohio Works program, was able to wriggle free with a mere $5.5 million settlement, thanks to slippery contract terms the company wrote itself.

Dann's new policy for state agencies: "If you sign contracts that we don't review, we're not going to defend them."

If you aren't pumping your fist yet, if you aren't terribly naive, you should probably stop reading right about . . . here:

Dann says he can't be bought.

He looks you dead in the eye when he says it, as if he expects you not to know that he took much of his campaign contributions from lawyers jockeying for special counsel contracts (think Jim Petro and Roetzel & Andress). But he's got this made-for-TV story to back his claims -- about how he was exercising at the Capital Club when a man introduced himself as a law firm's lobbyist.

"I said, 'Well, that's really nice to know, but you can tell your client that law firms will no longer need lobbyists to get business from the state,'" he says.

Unfortunately, that kind of line usually appears accompanied by the words "paid for by . . ." in fine print.

But just try to imagine that it may actually be true. That for once, we can actually trust somebody, as if we've never been lied to before.

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