The following post is a review of a drama currently playing in Cuyahoga County, where this blogger lives. But I'd like those of you who don't live in Cleveland's home county to read it anyway. Combine politics with some of the more unsavory aspects of human nature, and this production could someday open at a theater near you.
For the past three years, the people entrusted to run Cuyahoga County have been the target of a wide-ranging corruption investigation. There doesn't seem to be one, overarching political scandal. It's just seemingly every elected official in the area getting away with whatever shit they think they can get away with. According to indictments, search warrants, and other FBI reading material, various public figures, some of them with numbers instead of names, have accepted free improvements to their homes, trips to Vegas, massage therapy in Vegas, wide-screen TVs, meals, booze, campaign contributions stuffed in envelopes, and other assorted non-birthday and non-Christmas gifts, in exchange for lower taxes, contracts steered to particular businesses, and county employment (the last seems particularly weird to me. Bribing an employer to give you a job? C'mon, they're supposed to pay YOU!) Elected officials were also occasionally bribe givers rather than bribe takers, enticing people not to run against them in exchange for nonelective government positions. Beats kissing babies.
One of those indicted, known for the longest time as "Public Official Number Two", turned out to be the County Auditor, a familiar face to Cuyahogans as it's plastered on all the county's gas pumps. That's what the auditor does, he regulates gas pumps. He also appraises houses. I'm not exactly sure the connection between gas pumps and houses other than that if you own a home in the suburbs you need a lot of petroleum to get around. Anyway, one of the many charges against the Auditor is that he lowered property appraisals for certain homeowners in exchange for free goods and services. Why did they want the price of their homes devalued? So they could pay less taxes on it (if these homeowners really wanted their property values decreased, all they had to do was hire a couple of hookers to walk up and down the street.)
Public Official Number One turned out be the County Commissioner, a man who resembles Boss Tweed, physically and, according to the indictment, non-physically as well. Except Boss Tweed never went to Las Vegas. Re-read the second paragraph. What happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas. But that's the least of the commissioner's problems. He allegedly had sex with a job seeker, and received free kitchen appliances, a new roof on his house, limo rides, and free appliances from those wanting to do business with Cuyahoga County. Amazingly, he's allowed to keep his job as long as he's out free on bail. He's just not allowed to talk to any county employees or make any decisions involving taxpayers' money. He might as well buy himself a pair of crutches and start quacking.
Once the County Commissioner was indicted, many felt the investigation had gone as far as it could go. But according to the Cleveland Scene , an alternative weekly, the County Prosecutor, whose office wasn't involved in a single arrest (it's all been an FBI production), may now be in the G-men's cross hairs. Not literally, of course. Unless he resists.
The above paragraph was written about 24 hours before the one you're reading right now (you didn't think I write this stuff in one sitting, did you?). In that interim, the aforementioned Prosecuter appeared on the front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Something about getting a friend a job at the county morgue. Story broke in time for Halloween.
Nice county I live in, huh?
Yet it's hard to say what effect all this has on the average Cuyahogan. I suspect a decision by the CEO of Ford or GM to close an auto plant or two would have a greater impact on the lives, and livelihoods, of people living in the county. And if such a decision was made, it wouldn't be local political chicanery but because there's some poor, desperate people in some Third World country willing to do the same work for the price of a Big Mac.
But if these politicians weren't doing any real harm, nor were they doing any real good, and good is what they're pretty much expected, and paid, to do. If they really believe personal gain is their main job function, they should at least tell us so when they're campaigning:
"As your next County Potentate, I promise I'll have a new patio addition built on to my house. I need that much more than my opponent needs that waterproofed basement!"
A couple months ago an election was held to restructure county government. It passed, and we'll soon have a county executive and council rather than three commissioners. I voted for the change, basically to send a message, but I wonder, why would an executive be any less likely than a commissioner to accept an enveloped stuffed with money? Will he have a smaller mailbox?
Every November the stuffed-shirt editorialists lay out a major guilt trip over voter apathy ("people died at Omaha Beach so you could help pick the next domestic relations court judge!") OK. Fine. We all should do our civic duty. But in exchange, the politicians shouldn't regard the average voter as nothing more than a coat check clerk at an orgy.