One of the sad stories of the Vice Presidential Debate in Cleveland is that of Cleveland itself. While the debate hype pushed my hometown into the spotlight, other recent developments have not been so kind:
America's Poorest Big City
The Census Bureau reported that Cleveland is the now the poorest major city in the United States, with a staggering poverty rate of 31%, two and a half times the national average.
The Incredible Shrinking City
In two generations, Cleveland has lost almost half its population. in 1950, Cleveland had 950,000 people. In 2000, the city was down to 498,000, despite valiant though ultimately unsuccessful efforts to keep the city above the half million mark. When I left in 1972, Cleveland had about 725,000 people and was far and away the largest in the state. Today, that title goes to state capital Columbus, which now tops 700,000 (in large part due to annexation).
The Death of Public Education
To add insult to injury, it was very painful personally to have Cleveland be the site of school voucher advocates' greatest success to date. In its 2002 decision in Zellman v. Simmons-Harris, the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 majority upheld Cleveland's voucher plan. The Cleveland voucher plan clearly constitutes government funding for religious activities. Even more disturbing is the knowledge that Cleveland will be the starting point for what will be an all-out assault on public education should Bush and the GOP maintain their electoral lock on the White House and Congress.
Once upon a time, Cleveland was "the best location in the nation." By the 1970's, with rust belt decline, the burning Cuyahoga River and Mayor Ralph Perk igniting his own hair during a factory tour, it had become "the mistake by the lake." After the failed "Cleveland's a plum" campaign of the 1980's, the city seemed set for a rebirth in the '90's, with the Flats, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, three new stadiums/arenas and more.
That makes the recent news all the more disappointing. I won't give up hope. One day the Browns will win the Super Bowl, and put the traumas of Red Right 88, the Drive, the Fumble and the Move to rest. Hopefully, the city of Cleveland, too, can look forward to brighter days.