Who's the Devil?

Vote Herman, reelect Kucinich, or shoot yourself? It's a tough choice.

Rosenstrasse Cedar Lee Theater
West Side voters would do better to elect Carrot Top. - He's done more for us than Kucinich and he's smarter - than Herman. - Getty  Images
West Side voters would do better to elect Carrot Top. He's done more for us than Kucinich and he's smarter than Herman.
The scene was pure Kucinich. Two years ago, the congressman stood in the shadows of Jacobs Field to boldly announce a bill that would force baseball owners to air games on free TV. There was logic to the move.

Since pro sports are among America's leading welfare moms -- in Cleveland alone, they've received about $1 billion in free stadiums and sweetheart maintenance deals -- it seemed only fair that the cableless be allowed to occasionally watch C.C. Sabathia self-combust in exchange for their charity.

Yet Kucinich knew his bill would go nowhere. He'd spent six years as a fourth-string congressman, and had less pull in Washington than most household pets. Moreover, the Tribe's intent to play solely for cable had been discussed for a year; the deal with Fox Sports Net was already done.

Not that any of this mattered. Kucinich had perfected the art of the Hastily-Assembled-Bill-As-An-Excuse-to-Call-A-Press-Conference scam. This wasn't about baseball fans. This was about luring TV cameras, and Dennis preened for the viewers like only Dennis can.

Two years later, of course, the bill has gone nowhere. The Tribe still plays exclusively for Fox Sports. But for one day, Kucinich got to be on television, talking pretty populism and starring in his made-for-TV role as The Little Guy Who Takes On All Comers.

It was classic Kucinich strategy -- play to lose but look good doing it. His West Side constituents got nothing out of the deal. Yet Kucinich got what he wanted. When once asked by Salon to cite his congressional triumphs, he noted a letter Democrats sent to President Clinton concerning the World Trade Organization. Yes, over the last eight years, we've paid this guy exactly $1,156,200 . . . to sign a letter.

Cleveland could get by with subsidizing a stiff if it wasn't in the midst of a depression and we had more competent pols to carry his load. Better to have Kucinich slacking in Congress than attempting to perform a more vital role -- like, say, working the drive-thru at KFC, where he'd take your money, spend a half-hour telling you how great he is, then never make your extra crispy.

But just as Republicans have screwed us in Washington and Columbus, Democrats have screwed us here -- perhaps even more. Through corruption, laziness, mental atrophy, and breathtaking incompetence, they've presided over the destruction of a once-great city. The only thing they've excelled at is getting their in-laws patronage jobs.

Kucinich may be unusual for a Cleveland Democrat, in that his love for talking big and doing nothing is surpassed only by his obsessive self-promotion. Yet they're really all the same guy. Jane Campbell, Frank Jackson, and Jimmy Dimora -- they talk pretty populism too, yet they've achieved the same results as Kucinich.

Which, of course, would be absolutely nothing.

Pop quiz: Name the last fresh idea to come out of the mayor's office, the city council, or the county commission.

An hour later . . .

Bzzzz. Sorry, adopt-a-trash-can is incorrect. But you've been a fabulous studio audience. Thanks for playing.

It's all about incentive. It matters not if you're a serial wife-beater (see Pat O'Malley) or loonier than Kim Jong Il (see Mike White), we'll keep electing you. Call it the curse of the one-party system. If you're guaranteed a job with no real opposition, there's no motive to actually work.

Which makes it tempting to blame us, the rote Democratic voters, for continuing to hire these mopes. Yet it's not quite so simple.

Meet Republican Ed Herman, the 30-year-old Lakewood real estate agent who won the right to challenge Kucinich by beating a barely literate mortgage salesman in the primary.

Herman seems like a very nice man, the kind you'd introduce to your sister. Then you hear him speak.

It's like listening to Ronald Reagan, circa 1982, sans the charisma and passion. Herman sounds like a schoolkid who's cribbed his homework from an encyclopedia, but doesn't quite know what any of it means. He just knows it sounds authentic.

If he were a third-grader at St. Luke's, you'd praise his ability to memorize lines. But he's running for Congress. You call your sister. "Don't go near this guy," you tell her. You fear for the family gene pool.

If Kucinich is emblematic of worthless Democrats, Herman is his counterpart at the GOP. When Republicans actually field candidates within the inner ring, they're usually young, conservative versions of Kucinich -- short on ideas but long on delusion, dreams of weekends at Camp David dancing in their heads. And when the affluent suburbs send them to Columbus, they return the favor by recreating Ohio as West Virginia: The Theme Park. Their greatest success to date: supplanting Youngstown as the epicenter of corruption.

Northeast Ohio has already tested the notion of sending Republicans to Congress. Steve LaTourette built himself a nice career as Tom DeLay's pool boy, covering for the slimy Texan and voting for tax incentives to send your job to India. Ralph Regula is serving as the point man to strip away your overtime pay, apparently believing he's the congressman from Wall Street, not Canton.

Bottom line: If Democrats have screwed us slowly through neglect, Republicans are actively trying to speed the process.

Which offers little consolation to West Side voters. Come November 2, we can either reelect a guy who's torched $2.9 million in taxpayer money sucking up to B-list Hollywood actors (shouldn't this be a felony?), or we can hire a guy who seems to have the mental acuity of George Bush, only without the benefit of professional handlers.

This is our choice.

And this is why Cleveland burns.

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