The Iceman Cometh

Ken Lanci has a vision. And yes, a sweet car.

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After a failed bid for County Executive in 2010, the business guru-cum-philanthropic kingpin now has his sights set on the 2013 mayoral race—"I've all but thrown my hat in the ring," Lanci confirms. Though he's known in the business community as "the turnaround guy," his friends call him "Ice," a sobriquet that belies his obliging demeanor and thriving charity initiatives. The self-made millionaire sat down with us to dish on police brutality, tight whips, neck tats, and coming back from the dead.

A Diet Coke Man, I see. I was hoping you were about to bust out some Bud Lights from the mini fridge.

I'm not really a drinker.

How'd you settle on the soaring eagle logo? It's very majestic.

I've had an affinity for eagles since I was a kid. In 2010 when I ran, it was a chance to show a new vision.

I'm guessing you take issue with the Transformation Plan?

I take issue with the fact that the intent is good, but the results will be the same. If a $700 million budget has not proved or provided the results that we all want, what makes people think that adding $68 million, just 10%, is going to actually give you a different result if you're dealing with the same administration? You cannot do what you've always done and expect a different result.

You look at Jimmy Haslam, the new owner of the Browns. Here's a man who put out a billion dollars, comes to our community, and is going to make a dynamic difference.

You turn failures into successes—that's your motto. Do you think that Cleveland's a failure?

I can tell you that the crime is too high when children are being killed on the streets—that's a failure. I can tell you that the education system is a failure, in spite of all the hundreds of millions of dollars that have gone into it. I think African-American men have a 25% unemployment rate. So, failure? Yeah. And it's not only the last 8 years. I was born on 110th and Woodland in the projects and my parents were on relief. Nobody ever thought I would make it—it was assumed I'd be a bricklayer.

You're a dapper man, by the way. I'm digging the cuffs.


I know that development is one of your strong suits. Do you have any plans along the lines of the Downtown Lakefront Plan? How does your "turnaround" model apply to commercial redevelopment?

First, I don't know why it hasn't been developed. You have to have a vision. You have to have a plan. And you have to determine whether or not it's worth going forward on a turnaround. Somebody has to get up every morning and say, "How do I make it better today?" If you don't have a company where people can't wake up that way, you're destined to fail. It's a team that wins. It's never "I," contrary to what Michael Jordan said.

In Martin Luther King's "The Measure of A Man," he talks about the three phases of life, the triangle. One phase is being able to work and take care of yourself, the second phase is to help family, and then last—and most people don't get to the third phase—is to give back. I've been blessed. I died.

Uh . . . oh, you mean the heart attack? White light and everything?

I saw the bright white light. I've tried to say it's angelic, it's euphoric—I can't find the word to describe it. Grace of God. They brought me back with medicine, but there's no way I would have been where I was at without divine intervention. Now, I'm not a holy roller. I was raised Catholic. I try to live my life and treat people the way I expect to be treated.

What do you think about the use of force policy?

I believe that police brutality doesn't work. But it's very hard to pass judgment on somebody unless you've been there. You could be serving a warrant and get blown away. In a lot of those cases, they're not provided the tools they need to be more efficient. Presence is 90% of safety. When people see cops and can't do their stuff, they move on.

On the crime side, I'm convinced that re-entry after prison is a waste of time. I'm a logical person. I wouldn't say I'm super-intelligent. All that money should be redirected to teaching in prisons. How do you release a man who's been in prison for four years and tell him "Monday morning, you're gonna show up on Carnegie and you're going to meet your parole officer and do this re-entry program." What are you going to do your first night? You're thinking about women, booze, and a good time. How do I know that? I'm a man. I can tell you Monday morning when he's supposed to be there, number one he's already forgotten, number two, there's someone lying next to him who's a lot more attractive than going down to Carnegie.

What would you say to critics who might malign you for just being some random, crazy, rich dude? Do you think your philanthropic efforts are a sufficient counterweight to that?

One of the things—you didn't ask—but one of the things that I'm sure will be thrown at me is.—

The car?

Well, the car, for one. I got a new Bentley, so they've got something new to talk about.

You retired the Maybach?

I traded the Maybach for a Rolls Royce Ghost, and I just traded the Ghost for a Bentley Mulsanne. Pretty car. But the one thing people say to me is, "You're going to have a big problem with being a carpetbagger."

Yeah—you're leasing an apartment downtown but you live in a mansion in Brecksville.

Oh, it's not a mansion. But I am renter.

So are you living downtown?

The apartment isn't finished. It'll be done when I come back from Punta Cana next week. I've been here my whole life. I'm not a carpetbagger. I've owned—by choice—businesses in Cleveland my whole life. I don't have to be here.

How did you feel about the Occupy movement? Did you feel vilified as a member of the 1%?

I found that a little offensive. We're no different. I was poor. Why do I become a different person when I elevate my financial status? People gave me such a hard time about my car.

Including us.

Here's some facts: I do have a very nice car. I've loved cars since I was a kid. Always tried to get the best car I could get. I could have a condo in Florida; I don't. I could have a yacht; I don't. And I don't have a girlfriend. The cost of a car pales in comparison to the expense of those other things. I have a car that the average person doesn't have so I can't be "in touch." Listen. I started out with a '56 Chevy with the back doors welded shut.

You know what I like about you?


You're solid. You don't have any weird facial piercings or those big plugs in your ears.

Aw, and here I was hoping you had full tattoo sleeves under your blazer.

I shouldn't tell you this, but I have three tattoos. Is that thing off?

What? Are you serious? Of what?

I have an angel on my chest, like a Christmas angel. I have "Ice" on my right arm.


That's what my friends call me. Ice is very strong, but it has a calm connotation.

And what's the third?

I have a rising sun on my other arm, with "7/19/07." That's the day I died. My friends and I joke about who's going to be the first to get the neck tattoo.

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