Tuesday, May 7th, is Primary Day in Ohio, and one of the few regional issues on the ballot involves a little-known agency that wields a lot of power. The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority is asking for a five-year renewal of its .13 mill levy. The levy campaign has both powerful allies and detractors. 90.3 WCPN's April Baer reports.
April Baer: Mayor Jane Campbell has a lot to say about Issue 10 - she's made time to show her support for it at a number of her recent public appearances, including a public meeting on the shoreway. Warming up to the topic of the lakefront planning, the mayor began by telling residents the Port Authority plays a crucial role in several important city projects.
Jane Campbell: Some of you followed the back and forth as we were trying to bring steelmaking back into the valley. If we are able to continue this support for the Port levy, we have the potential to bring the iron ore facility now in Lorain, to Cleveland, so that we can do that work here.
AB: That ore facility will be very important to ISG corporation's effort to re-start the old LTV mills. If the levy passes, and the port's plans go forward, Mayor Campbell says, steel industry jobs will be saved. Levy proponents say the flexibility and speed with which the Port can put together financing is a godsend for planners who are trying to move quickly and efficiently on regional projects. Campbell agrees.
JC: This is not an issue where there's a whole lot of money to have a big fancy campaign. So let me just tell you, at risk giving you a commercial, that's exactly what this is. Issue ten is important, I hope you'll support it. [applause]
AB: While Mayor Campbell's remarks drew applause at the meeting, some in the room felt uneasy with her establishment of a link between the Lakefront planning process and the health of the Port Authority.
No one disputes that the Port Authority has been a strong force in Cleveland's redevelopment. It has provided financing and cash for projects all along the lakefront. Stand on one of the grassy banks above the railroad tracks, and you can point out the beneficiaries.
Tim McCormack: Hope we can see here...
AB: In fact, Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim McCormack urges you to take a good long look at where the Port has been putting its resources. He points to the looming figure of Cleveland Browns stadium, a project which the Port Authority raised over $139 million.
TM: That building is financed by the port bonds. That building - which should be back around Gateway or elsewhere, opening up the lakefront. That's a lost opportunity. If you look to the left you see gravel piles and imported steel stacked up and a very low level of port activity. It is amazing to me that in this whole debate about Port, that nobody - as usual in Cleveland - says "As compared to what?"
AB: McCormack says while the Port Authority's been busy financing high-profile projects like the stadium, the Rock Hall, even a project for Office Max in Highland Hills, the Port's day-to-day business has deteriorated. Statistics for the year 2000 show Cleveland ranking behind the Port of Lorain in volume of imports, and behind Toledo in terms of total trade. McCormack would like to see the Port focus more attention on the day-to-day business of trade, and less on special projects.
Presently McCormack and his fellow county commissioners have the power to appoint three of the nine board members. Since Mayor Campbell appoints the other six, she has much more influence over the kind of projects that will be approved. McCormack says that balance of power needs to change-and he considers Issue 10 the perfect vehicle for a referendum.
TM: It is the first opportunity to challenge to the root system not only how this town governs itself, but emerges-if it ever does emerge-into a more modern approach to designing its future.
AB: The money raised by Issue 10 is slated to be used to imporve docks and otehr infrastructure, NOT special projects, but nevertheless, McCormack says, the levy vote could be an important test for regionalism. He's asking voters to think carefully before giving approval for the current system control over the Port Authority.
A yes vote on the levy would maintain the current tax level, which amounts to $3.55 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home, sending $3.2 million annually for the next five years. In Cleveland, I'm April Baer.