To get the convention center right, Cleveland has to beat the Right

In the debate over whether to raise taxes for $450 million convention center and Medical Mart – a medical showroom expected to solve the world’s ills by 2010 – County Commissioners heard from eager businessmen, hopeful citizens, outraged libertarians, and skeptical politicians. They did not, however, hear from any strippers. They probably should have. Because nobody knows better than Chastity and Co. that while taxpayers sink millions into a shiny new convention center, the Religious Right is working to wipe out an industry known for attracting conventions to cities like Cleveland. News flash: as sexy as that new therapy-table display is, the boys from the Chiropractic Association would prefer to have a half-naked 22-year-old stroke their thinning hair into the night. It’s why God made conventions in the first place. But if downstate conservatives have their way, hair-stroking won’t be possible come September 4. After years of trying, Citizens for Community Values --- authors of Ohio’s gay-marriage ban and other classic works of bigotry – finally strong-armed the legislature this year into passing a law that bans lap dances and forces strippers to button up after midnight. The law would give Cleveland “one more competitive disadvantage” against cities that have a “progressive attitude toward adults and their ability to make their own decisions,” Dennis Roche, president of Cleveland’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, told The Plain Dealer in May. According to the editor of a strip-club magazine in Houston, that city lost a national home-builder’s convention after lawmakers banned lap dances. The Ohio strip-club industry is trying to block the law and bring it to a “vote” – some sort of draconian process in which the people actually get a say. Less than a month away from their deadline, they’ve collected 170,000 signatures – about than half their goal, says spokeswoman Sandy Theis, a former PD statehouse reporter. But there’s still hope. In an article in Crain’s Cleveland Business, County Commissioner Tim Hagan recently raised questions about what Forest City – which owns the downtown site where the convention center will likely be built – could do to help the county complete the project without going broke. And while Forest City chairman Sam Miller doesn’t make financial concessions – unless you count the time he accidentally paid full price for a steak at Morton’s – he has the political clout of a Kennedy at a crab feed. If Sam says more signatures should be collected, they shall be collected. And if Sam says the people shall vote down the Stripper Bill – and give those balding back-crackers one more reason to pick Cleveland over Dallas – than the people shall make it so. We don’t know Sam he does it, but he does. And he should. The chiropractors are counting on him. -- Joe P. Tone
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