Roldo Bartimole Marks 50 Years As Cleveland's Watchdog Journalist
For decades, journalist Roldo Bartimole skewered politicians, business executives, media and philanthropists—the people who wielded money and influence in Cleveland.
He did it all from the pages of a newsletter called Point of View. He stopped printing in 2000, but continued to write columns on the web.
“My intention is more to stop,” Bartimole said. “Fifty years is enough.”
Beginning The Newsletter
Bartimole left traditional newspapers behind to start Point of View in 1968.
He said he had gone to a meeting the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. Bartimole, who is white, recalled white professors questioning a black speaker. To him, they didn’t get it.
“Here were professors saying, ‘Well when are you going to stop the rioting? When are they going to stop burning the cities?’” Bartimole recalled. “And it was shocking to me that people who were educated people were taking that response, not understanding what it felt like to be black that day.”
In June 1968, he published his first issue of Point of View, attacking Mayor Carl Stokes’ Cleveland Now! program. Bartimole called it a “gimmick” and argued it didn’t go far enough to improve jobs or housing.
‘He Is Not Afraid To Criticize’
He had worked at the Plain Dealer and Wall Street Journal, but mainstream media limited him.
“You get the feeling that you’re not supposed to attack certain people, or you’re not supposed to put out information that’s embarrassing to certain people,” he said.
As publisher of Point of View, Bartimole could speak freely. In 1978, then-Mayor Dennis Kucinich barely withstood a recall vote and refused to sell the city’s electric utility.
Bartimole printed the names and overlapping business affiliations of the people who funded the campaigns to get Kucinich out of office and sell Muny Light.
Former city councilman Jim Rokakis subscribed to Point of View and read his own name in its pages.
“He is not afraid to criticize whoever needs to be criticized,” Rokakis said. “He has been critical of me many times over the years, as recently as a couple of weeks ago, over contributions I made to a city council leadership fund.”
One of Point of View’s frequent targets was George Forbes, city council president in the 1970s and 1980s. Bartimole viewed him as too friendly to big developers.
At a meeting in 1981, Forbes tried to kick the media out of the room. Bartimole protested.
“And he said, ‘I’m not talking to you,’” Bartimole said. “And I said, ‘I’m talking to you.’ And that was like putting a match to gasoline. He got furious. And he really picked—essentially picked me up and started throwing me out of the meeting.”
Taking On Subsidies For Development
Bartimole fiercely opposed handouts for businesses. He tallied up the subsidies, incentives and tax abatements given away for downtown projects led by politically connected developers. He railed against taxpayer spending on pro-sports arenas.
One example: At a 2014 county council meeting, he argued against extending a tax on alcohol and cigarettes to fund stadium repairs.
“You are now taking a silly step and jeopardizing the economic standing of many people with this regressive tax,” he told council members.
Bartimole often criticized local media in Point of View, saying that they went too easy on the powerful. That earned him some detractors in the mainstream press, who now and then accused him of getting things wrong.
Rokakis said Bartimole has stayed true to his principles.
“We are one of the poorest cities in the country,” Rokakis said. “We have been one of the poorest cities in the country. And he has argued forcefully that the decisions we’ve made here have not helped people in this town climb out of poverty.”
‘Point Out, In My Opinion, What’s Wrong’
Cleveland leaders have been eager for decades to celebrate a comeback, but Bartimole has never joined the party.
When asked if there’s anything happening in the city today that he finds any kind of hope in, Bartimole laughed.
“That’s not my job,” he replied.
His job, he said, is different.
“My job is to point out, in my opinion, what’s wrong,” he said. “Because that’s not being done enough.”
In his essay last week summing up his career, he offered advice to Cleveland’s young people: “Don’t compromise. It’s not worth it and it’s not as much fun or as rewarding at the end.”