Wasn't life as a battleground state glorious? It was better theater than any reality show.
Northeast Ohio, cast as the perky, Midwestern-blonde bachelorette, was fawned over by doting suitors. Sure, as catches go, we had some blemishes, including more than 100,000 jobs lost since 2000 and the highest poverty rate among U.S. big cities. But, roses in hand, we were courted like a Hollywood starlet. Even our big-city sisters, Columbus and Cincinnati, seemed a little jealous of all the attention we received.
Bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger flexed his political muscles for his guy in the state capital. But Martin Sheen, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tyson Beckford and P. Diddy all came knocking on our door. So did Marisa Tomei, Hilary Swank and Mary J. Blige. And lest you think this was strictly a "left" coast celebrity blitz, Gen. Tommy Franks and country singer Sammy Kershaw added some star power on the right.
We were wooed with concerts by everyone from R.E.M. to the Dixie Chicks. We feasted on some ol' fashioned stumping from the candidates and lively debate from the vice-presidential hopefuls. Even our election-eve date — John Kerry's "Fighting for Us" rally — was a festive affair with a Browns Stadium-sized crowd turning out to cheer John Glenn, Bruce Springsteen and their candidate for the ring.
Cleveland was an awkward, yet charmingly quirky love interest that night as Eric Fingerhut led the crowd in cheers of "You say ‘Finger,' I say ‘hut'" to keep his name on voters' minds, Dennis Kucinich bounced across the stage with Tiggerlike energy and Stephanie Tubbs Jones pulled some silky undergarments from her bag to symbolize the "pink slip" she wanted to hand out on Election Day.
But with Nov. 2 behind us, the spotlight has been extinguished, leaving us to confront sobering realities in the dismal light of day.
At a time when educational success is vital to a city's future, Cleveland is in drastic need of more money for its schools. Yet 55 percent of voters rejected the district's $68 million tax increase. And, in a shining example of why our East-West divide must be put to rest (see "East vs. West — Get Over It," page 118), the vote was more deeply divided than in the past. A mere two-dozen West Side precincts voted for the levy, while 180 on the East Side OK'd the increase.
Statewide, a near-record 286 school issues appeared on Ohio ballots with just more than half gaining approval. In Northeast Ohio, only 20 of 51 school issues passed. And the numbers appear to only be getting worse — not surprising since the state's funding formula has been declared unconstitutional four times. More than a third of the state's 613 districts project deficits or low balances over the next three years.
The state's economy doesn't look much better: Ohio has accounted for about a third of all jobs lost since 2000.
And, yes, it bears repeating: Almost one in three Clevelanders live in poverty; the city's median household income, $22,978, ranks last among American big cities.
Yet rather than figure out an equitable way to fund our children's educations or wrestle with the social and economic impact of lost jobs — a "moral" issue if ever there was one — our state's most pressing concern on the November ballot — passing Issue 1 — makes intolerance an amendment to Ohio's constitution. Rather than rallying all our resources to make things better, we're pushing creative, talented people away.
Even with Election Day behind us, Northeast Ohio is still a battleground. The work ahead is tough, with nothing glitzy about it. Turning around our schools, jump-starting our economy, attracting talented young people and easing the suffering that surrounds us is going to require gritty, back-breaking heavy lifting — all of us working together toward one goal of bettering our region and our state.
But at least manual labor is one job at which we excel. n
Masumi Hayashi, the fine-art photographer and Cleveland State University professor whose work appears in this issue ("The Price of Liberty," page 114), is opening the Masumi Hayashi Museum, a virtual retrospective with more than 150 pieces of her work in five Web galleries. It debuts online Dec. 15 at www.masumimuseum.com.