A FLOWER THAT BLOOMED IN PITTSBURGH

MAF in goal

Former Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury makes a save during a Stanley Cup playoff game.  His surname is derived from the French word for “flower.”

Marc-Andre is gone.  For sure.  Beyond any measure of doubt.  The stellar and uniquely gifted goaltender of the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins has officially become netminder for the NHL’s shiny new expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights.  (See what they did there with the name?  I guess all “nights” in Las Vegas must be “golden,” but I wouldn’t know because I’m apparently one of only twelve people in Youngstown who’ve never been. I’m also at a loss over the missing “Las.”  Oh, well.  I digress.)

There has not been a more emotional departure of this nature since BJ Hunnicutt hugged his surgical colleague Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce and bade him farewell at the M*A*S*H 4077 when the Korean hostilities (which did not last nearly as many years as the television series) came to a conclusion.   When Hawkeye’s helicopter lifted off the pad to take him home, he saw that his best wartime buddy had spelled out in painted white rocks a word BJ found way too difficult to even utter:  Good-bye.  I think if the hockey fans of Pittsburgh could have found a way, they would have done the same thing for Fleury from the top of Mt. Washington.

So what exactly endeared Marc-Andre Fleury to the denizens of The Burgh and legions of Penguin fans in North America to cause an such an outpouring of bittersweet affection?

Well, for one thing, he was a pretty good goalie.  Brought onboard when he was 18, Marc-Andre spent 13 seasons backstopping the Pens, collecting three Cup championships and posting a 2.58 career goals against average, often contorting himself into positions thought impossible for homo sapiens in efforts to keep a 6 ounce disc of vulcanized rubber from going past him into the net.

But great statistics and highlight-reel saves are just one part of the picture.  This reminds me of that scene in Patton when German Field Marshal Rommel asks an aide for background on the famed American Army general and gets a recitation of Patton’s resume.  “You haven’t told me anything about the man!” chastises Rommel.

Well, there are three things that stick in my mind about Marc-Andre Fleury the man.

First is his sense of humor.  I could probably name a few goalies who took themselves a wee bit too seriously, even one perhaps that wore a Pens sweater, but Fleury was never one of those guys.  He could be self-effacing.  He could be a prankster popping out of a teammates hockey bag in the locker room.  He could be kissing the crossbar during a game when an opponent zinged a slapshot off the bar behind him.  Or he could do a spot-on serious mashup from Slapshot.

Second is Fleury’s concept of teamwork in the ultimate team sport.  First of all, no other position player in the four major pro sports is expected to be on the field, diamond, court, or ice for the entire game like a goaltender.  He spends over twice as much time on the ice as your most elite forwards or defensemen.  He’s the last line of a team’s defense.  For woeful teams whose defensemen resemble fence posts or have forwards whose familiarity with the rink extends only to the offensive zone, he’s the only line of defense.  And, arguably, no one’s flaws are more noticeable than a goalie’s because those mistakes are drawn to everyone’s attention by flashing red lights.  And if he has the misfortune of being scored on at the visiting rink, then he suffers the additional indignities of blasting horns and sirens, cheering multitudes, and the occasional bottom-feeding freshwater fish that gets lobbed onto the ice.

It’s a tough gig with a lot of pressure and no one can blame any goaltender if he occasionally gets a little out of sorts because of a bad day at the office.  Or because the career clock ticks louder with each passing game, each passing season.  But Marc-Andre Fleury handled ALL of this with such grace and – well, I don’t know if it can be aptly described because it so seldom happens.  Only the players and coaches know for sure, of course, but all of the evidence points to one simple conclusion: Marc-Andre Fleury is the consummate team player.  He supported and respected his mates when on the bench, played his heart out for them when on the ice, and seemingly took that same cheerful level-headedness with him everywhere else he went when not wearing pads and a mask.  His new team has players now through the same expansion draft through which Marc-Andre was acquired, but Vegas doesn’t have a team yet.  And they probably won’t until some of that Fleury magic rubs off on ‘em.

Here’s the third and final thing.  I will always remember Marc-Andre Fleury for something he did off the ice.  The UPMC commercial with his wife Veronique and daughters Estelle and Scarlett.

And the outtakes are priceless, too.

I think we all caught a glimpse of the real Marc-Andre Fleury there, wouldn’t you agree?  The genuine, human, flesh-and-blood, father-husband-regular guy who just happened to be among the elite goaltenders of the National Hockey League.

So, Marc-Andre, you’re a rare Flower, a unique specimen that even Phipps Conservatory has never seen.  You’re leaving a shining city of rivers for a brightly lit jewel in the desert.  You have a new team, a new bunch of guys who will be counting on you.  But please, remember this:  No matter what, you always have a home in Pittsburgh.

And, yeah, it’s really hard to say, so let me spell it out for you in the most meaningful way BJ and I can:

Goodbye

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Remembering a special “Father”

Gods Backyard 2017

The altar in “God’s Backyard” at the Carmelite Monastery on Volney Road, Youngstown, OH

On Fathers Day I usually like to scribble a few words about my cherished dad who passed away at the tender age of 99 years, 8 months, and 9 days – he so wanted to hit the century mark – but today while Norman Patrick Travers is foremost in my thoughts, there’s another special “father” I had in my life who deserves a moment or three of warm and affectionate reflection.  A “father” who slipped away to the Home Office, as he liked to call it, five years ago this past Friday.

This particular father bore the title of Father.  Father Richard Madden, OCD (Order of Discalced Carmelites).

Fr Madden

Fr. Richard Madden, OCD

When I first met Fr. Madden in 1980, he had been in Youngstown already for 25 years. As a 31-year-old monk born in Philadelphia and ordained in Milwaukee, he helped establish the Carmelite Monastery on Volney Road on Youngstown’s south side.  The rear of the monastery abutted Mill Creek Park high on a hill above Pioneer Pavilion, a setting he fittingly called God’s Backyard.  On Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings, Father never failed to start his celebration of the Eucharist with a nod to The Creator’s scenic backdrop – followed by a weather report.  It usually went, “Well good evening my friends and welcome to God’s Backyard on this (beautiful and sunny/cloudy and threatening/rather humid) day…”

God I miss hearing that.  Just as much as I miss hearing “Now have a great day no matter what” at the end of Mass.

Father Richard Madden was quite an accomplished individual.  In addition to his achievements as a Carmelite, he was a pilot, scuba diver, renowned speaker, and author. And that’s the short list.  He was published in Time and wrote three books, one of which, Men in Sandals, became a best seller.  In fact, the success of Men in Sandals led to an invitation to appear on The Tonight Show back when it was hosted by Jack Paar, but he declined because, I believe, the Carmelites at the time frowned on any such individual recognition within their order.  That’s too bad, because it would have likely been a funny and enlightening interview.

Father Madden’s sense of humor was legendary in the community.  It was one of the reasons it wasn’t difficult to get my step-children to attend Mass at the Carmelite Monastery.  “A laugh and a lesson” is what they called it.  And he could be outrageously self-effacing even in the face of personal adversity such as when he lost a kidney and a lung to cancer. “None of my suits will fit right anymore,” he would say.

His homilies were simple and powerful.  His openness was genuine and sincere.  His smile was warm and engaging.  His compassion was real and limitless.   His soul was made of the stuff to which all souls should aspire.

For many of us here in Youngstown and quite literally other parts of the world, Father Madden’s mere presence enriched our lives beyond measure.  When he passed away on June 16th, 2012, the loss was unfathomable, like losing a beloved member of your family.  Indeed, for anyone who got to know Father Madden, he was an extension of our families.

So today I want to say, “Thank you, God, for giving us Father Richard Madden, OCD.”  To Father Madden I want to say, “Thank you for giving so much of yourself.”  You are deeply missed.

And one more thing.  Happy Fathers Day, Father!

Posted in General interest | Tagged , , , , ,

Why I’m voting for Tony Sertick for judge

Sertick Trio

I hate it when I miss important things.  Things like The Vindicator editorial board’s endorsement of City Magistrate Anthony Sertick back on April 19th for the office of Youngstown municipal judge.

I ignored my own rule of “Look Before You Rant” and launched into a bit of amped-up criticism of the Vindy on Facebook when I thought they overlooked the city judge’s race. My god, I thought, the election is just two days away.  What are they doing?

I’m not going to be too contrite though, Vindy. You’ve probably published something before that deserved my ire. Or you will very likely do so in the future. So you have a credit balance on your criticism account with me, just so you know.

While a Vindicator endorsement can be both a blessing and a curse in a be-careful-what-you-wish-for kind of way, they got most of it right in endorsing Anthony Sertick, especially when they concluded with this: “This is one race in which experience directly tied to the duties of the office clearly does matter. Because of Sertick’s 16 years of seasoning in the hands-on work of the court in which he’d rule, The Vindicator endorses him for the six-year term that commences next January.”

The candidate with the most knowledge, most experience, best skills, and best temperament to sit on the bench of Youngstown Municipal Court is current municipal magistrate Anthony Sertick.  And he owns those superlatives by a wide margin over his opponent and not merely by an “edge” as granted by the Vindicator. He is honest, fair, firm, and, of the two candidates running, has the strongest understanding of the law and an exemplary command of the proper means of administering justice.

His exceptional qualifications for the judicial office being sought were on full display as he sat next to his opponent at a judicial forum hosted recently by The Salon, a progressive women’s group. Sertick was measured and detailed in his responses and explanations as you would expect from a judge.  His perspectives were quite obviously steeped in the experience of having heard thousands of cases, something he started doing as a magistrate eight years before his opponent even graduated from law school.

Like the guy in those insurance commercials, he knows a thing or two because he’s seen a thing or two.

In addition, Sertick has been in the practice of law for 25 years.  His opponent, 8.

He has been an extraordinarily good magistrate in Youngstown Municipal Court for 16 years.  His opponent has been a juvenile court magistrate since just the beginning of this year, a position she is already willing to leave.

He has invested 25 continuous years in the city of Youngstown as a resident while his opponent recently moved from Liberty to the city in order to be eligible to run for the open judicial seat.

Anthony Sertick has served his community conscientiously and with great distinction for many years.  He is more than ready to take over for the retiring Judge Robert Milich. And voters owe it to those seeking municipal court justice that the court remains in tested and experienced hands.

The verdict is Sertick. Remember that on Tuesday.

Posted in Local politics | Tagged , , , ,

CRISIS: Opioid Addiction in the Mahoning Valley

Mahoning County saw three times as many drug overdose deaths this past January as it did in the same month a year ago.  On one single weekday in February there were twelve overdose cases including two deaths in Trumbull County.

The alarming rise in drug addiction, overdose cases, and deaths from overdoses is testing the resources of law enforcement, the judicial system, and rehabilitation programs to deal with the problem.  Just staying even with the advancing epidemic has been a real challenge.

A panel of five experts was assembled by the Brownlee Woods Neighborhood Association on Youngstown’s south side on April 27th to examine the problem and educate residents on what is being done to meet this significant problem head-on.  The panel included:

  • Hon. John M. Durkin, Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas Judge who oversees the drug court
  • Robin Lees, Youngstown Police Chief
  • Jerry Greene, Mahoning County Sheriff
  • Larry Moliterno, President/CEO of Meridian HealthCare
  • Amy Klumpp, Drug Court Coordinator for the mahoning County Mental Health & Recovery Board

By clicking on the above video, you can watch the 54-minute program.   With such a terrible problem currently in our midst, it’s worth watching.

Posted in Local News | Tagged , , , , , , ,

THE MIDNIGHT RIDE OF NORM AND MARY (A SHORT STORY)

A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!

– from Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1861

midnight-ride-graphic

Few things quicken the pulse more than a knock at your back door in the deep quiet of night.  The last time someone came randomly a-knockin’ at the witching hour, it was some young, sloshed soul showing up in search of an alleged long-lost friend.  Of course I took every precaution in answering the knock, looking beyond the drifter at the door to see if a bloodthirsty Mongol hoard was hiding around the corner ready to rush in and pillage our house. As it was, it turned out to be a run-of-the-mill case of mistaken address identity.  God love whoever he was looking for if that person let him into his house.

A few nights ago when it happened again for just the second time I was no less cautious.  And my heartbeat was still somewhere between yikes and boing.

I had just turned off one of the cable news channels at the stroke of midnight and was heading off to bed when a soft but steady tap-tap-tap sounded on our back door.  I slowly made my way through the kitchen and peeked carefully through the curtain on the door to see what haphazard caller was darkening the doorstep this time.

Words have not yet been created to fully express the shock at what I saw.

Standing in the breezeway light were my parents.  Yep, Norm and Mary.  And Dad was staring at me with those steely baby blues that said, “WELL?!?

I quickly opened the door.  “Uh … hi.  Can’t really say I was expecting you.”

My mother apologized.  “Yeah, we know it’s midnight and we’re sorry about that.”

“Not really what I meant, Mum,” I replied as they entered, almost floating one might say, into the kitchen.  “It’s a surprise because, uh …”

“Because we’re both dead?”  Dad always knew how to cut right to the point.

“Yeah, that,” I said.  “It’s been at least a dozen years for both of you.  All things considered you look pretty good, you know, deceased and all.  The afterlife must be agreeable.” Dad was in his winter jacket with the big blocks of black and just two shades of gray that I hadn’t seen in decades.  On his head was his curly wool hat that would make any Cossack of Irish descent proud.  He carried a worn folder containing some papers that looked as though it had traveled a thousand miles with him.  Mum was in her long brown plaid coat I had seen her wear to church a million times with a sheer beige head scarf delicately tied beneath her chin. They both looked as I remembered them back in the 1960’s when I was a young teenager.  “So, what’s the occasion? I think about you guys every day but never expected an actual visit.”

Mum smiled. So did Dad.  A little.  Then he exploded.  “WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU DONE?!?!”

I immediately flashed back to that moment when I was a kid and took apart my wristwatch with no clue on how to put it back together.  Swiss engineering wasn’t part of my DNA it turned out.  And wait til your father gets home was never an idle threat. I searched my conscience but couldn’t come up with any real reason for my late father’s ire.

“Watch the language, Norm,” chided my mother.

“I’ve stacked up a ton of indulgences, Mary.  Time to use ‘em.”

“Indulgences?” I asked. “You mean those Catholic get-out-of-jail-free cards I was taught about all the time at St. Mary’s?  They’re really a thing where you are?”

My parents ignored the question.  Dad whipped off his furry lid and laid it on the table.  “Let me start with this: Your mother and I lived during some of greatest presidencies we’ve ever known in this country.  I was just a toddler when Teddy Roosevelt ushered in things like land and wildlife conservation, the Food and Drug Act, and protection from monopolies.  Good luck finding a progressive Republican these days, by the way.  Your mother and I were both young and in love when FDR gave us real hope during the Great Depression. We started raising our family when he led us through a war like no other war we’ve seen on this planet.  At least so far.  Kennedy told us we were a ‘new generation tempered by war’ and ‘disciplined by a hard and bitter peace’ and he inspired us to go out and discover new frontiers and achieve great things. Those were presidents! But now…”

Dad paused.  He shook his head slowly like he did back in the day when Watergate was unfolding.  My mother’s face resembled the sorrow of Our Lady of Perpetual Help to whom she prayed every Tuesday.

“But now,” he continued, “your mother and I are spinning in the mausoleum so fast these days we could light up the west side of New Castle all by ourselves.  What could you possibly have been thinking about when you elected this guy?  It’s suddenly all right to make fun of people with disabilities? It’s okay now to make up your own facts and call the truth ‘fake’?   It’s perfectly acceptable to say you should grab women by their—”

“Norm!” shouted Mum.

“—naughty bits?”  He glanced at my mother, flashed a grin, and then looked back at me.  “’Naughty bits’ is something I picked up from an English fellow.  Graham Chapman.  I think he said he performed with snakes in a circus or something.”

“Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” I offered.

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“Listen, you guys” I said.  “If you spent all your energy just to come all the way back here and bitch about last year’s election to me, you need to know we didn’t support the winner in this house.  Not by a long shot.  We had a goddam billboard for his opponent in our front yard.  Her volunteers used our deck as a staging point for door knocking.  Austrian journalists descended on us for interviews and pictures.  The woman who beat Bernie Sanders for governor of Vermont used my bathroom. So please, for the love of God, don’t yell at me for this debacle.”

Mum loosened her scarf.  “We know, we know.  When your dad says you he doesn’t mean you.  He means, you know …”

“The 63,811,288 voters who bought into his bull—”

Mum cleared her throat.

“—doo-doo.” He sighed deeply.  “They were blinded by his darkness.”

“Don’t you mean his orangeness?”

“It’s near impossible to keep up with all the lies, false claims, and disrespect he piles up on everyone every day.  I mean,” Dad made a noise somewhere between a laugh and a cough, “can you imagine any other president getting away with this stuff?  God knows – and God really does know – every president has had a few moments of, of, of…”

“Doubt and shame,” I suggested, hoping Dad may have bumped into Keith Richards in the afterlife until I remembered Richards wasn’t dead but only looked that way.

“Yeah,”he replied.  “Like Japanese internment camps. The Bay of Pigs fiasco. Prosecuting immoral wars.  But listen, they all took sober responsibility for their actions. Even Nixon understood and appreciated the dignity of the office before he turned into a wretched sack of paranoia and disgraced it.  And let me tell you this: not for a New York minute would any of the presidents I knew take to Twitter in the middle of the night to blame and criticize everyone but themselves for their actions!”

I glanced at my mother. “Twitter?”

“We keep up,” she nodded proudly.

“Evidently.”

“Franklin told me he still feels very remorseful about those camps,” said Dad.  “He wasn’t having one of his best days when he gave his blessing to that.”

“You’d be surprised who your dad talks to every day,” chuckled Mum.

“I’m definitely impressed,” I said as I leaned back on the sink and crossed my arms.  “So what’re folks saying about our situation?  What’s the buzz up there … or wherever?”

Dad’s eyes seemed to look off into some distant realm as if people were standing there, offering advice on how to answer my question.  “Well, let’s start with Orwell. He takes absolutely no pleasure from things he wrote in 1984 that are coming true.  Like the elements of English Socialism, especially the one that says Ignorance is Strength. Boy, there’s a ton of that going around.  Hamilton says if the Electoral College won’t do its job and act as a stopper to keep an unabashed demagogue out of office, then they should just abolish it.  Do away with it.  Use it or lose it.  He loves the Broadway musical, by the way.  His favorite song is Yorktown but says the words ‘the world turned upside down’ strike a little too close to home these days.”  Dad chuckled as he considered his next thought.  “Madison has struck up quite a friendship with the angels.  Every time they see him they go, ‘Hey, James! If men were angels—‘ and he goes ‘there would be no need for government!’”

“That quote of his goes over pretty big up there, does it?”

“Yeah,” said Dad.  “Kinda like the ‘O-H’— ‘I-O’ thing they do in these parts, you know?”

The images of my parents hanging out with deceased presidents, authors, and other famous figures from history was almost overwhelming.  “What’re the chief complaints about our current occupant of the Oval Office?” I asked.

Mum laughed that hearty laugh I loved to hear as a youngster.  “That would take an eternity, something we have and you don’t.”

“Well, shoot me your Top Ten list or whatever.”

“Income taxes,” started Dad. “The audit excuse is crap.  He’s hiding stuff.  Like Deep Throat once said, ‘follow the money.’  Do that and his conflicts and emoluments will spill out all over the place.”

“Flynn as National Security Adviser,” followed Mum.  “Common house flies have lasted longer. They need to find out what was going on there.  Playing ‘huggy bear’ with Russia’s never a good thing.”

“This obsession with size,” said Dad, finding it difficult to hide his contempt. “’My crowd was bigger’, ‘my ratings were better’, ‘my victory was huuuuuge,’ when none of it’s true.”

Mum closed her eyes and gently rubbed her forehead.  “No one up here can figure out why he chose to exclude from the travel ban the four countries the 9/11 terrorists were from – unless he’s got a hotel or something in those places.”  She shook her head as she reopened her eyes.  “Security is one thing, but blatant discrimination is quite another.  That’s dreadful.  Did they put a drape over the Statue of Liberty or something?”

“The damn wall,” said Dad.  “Forget about drugs and human trafficking that crosses all of our borders.  No, he has to castigate Mexicans and focus only on the raging hordes of ‘rapists’ in his imagination ‘pouring’ into Arizona and New Mexico and Texas. And the bogus claim Mexico’s gonna pay for it.”

“Dismantling the EPA from the inside with a guy happy to sue it as his favorite pastime,” said Mum.

Dad’s turn again. “Signing an executive order bumping the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Director of National Intelligence out of regular seats on the National Security Council only to fill one with the editor of a fever swamp website.”

“’Fever swamp’?” I repeated with raised eyebrow. “Nice turn of phrase.”

“I stole it from a Republican political consultant by the name of Rick Wilson.” My father then crossed himself as if he had filched a pound of gold.

“Speaking of phrases,” said Mum, “Have you noticed how he likes to use ‘politically correct’ as a pejorative? Apparently, ‘common human decency’ doesn’t sound mean enough.”

“And the tweets!” Dad cried.  “Constantly tweeting inconceivable nonsense every time he gets a wild hair up his—”

“Norm?!”

“—butt.  Maybe the Propecia’s gone to his ass.”

Mum’s eyes rolled up to the ceiling.  Or maybe it was to the heavens.  Then she said, “This president blabs about ‘draining the swamp’ but instead is anxious to make it four times bigger by naming his wealthiest business buddies to cabinet posts like Education, Treasury, and State.”

Dad nodded and added, “The incessant day-after-day-after-day drumbeat of ‘alternate facts’ and his braying press secretary and other spokespeople.  Here, let me read you this from Orwell’s book.” He opened the folder he had with him and thumbed through a few sheets of paper until he found what he was looking for.  “Even now I can’t remember everything so I wrote it down.  George was describing the fascist government’s bending or elimination of the truth.  Here it is: ‘…to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it … to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then draw it back into memory again at the moment it was needed…’”

He paused and then shuddered.  I never saw my father shudder when he was alive. “Can you believe it?” he said. “Written in 1948 and now a best seller again because of all this.”

“Sounds like you have the same grave concerns we do,” I said.  “What’s gonna happen?  Do you know?  Can you tell me?”

“We don’t know and even if we did we wouldn’t be allowed to tell you,” Mum said quietly. “We’re really afraid, though…”  She paused and looked at Dad and then back to me.  “We’re really afraid for Social Security, Medicare, and Obamacare.  I don’t have to tell you how much we thanked God for those first two.  I don’t know how we would have made it without them.  We were gone before the third one came around, but we were too old—”

“—Or too dead,” said Dad.

“—To need it even if it did exist back then.  However, it makes me sick to think of the souls who will be joining your dad and I too early if they do away with the ACA. Oh, it makes me sick.”

All three of us fell silent, letting the fear expressed by my mother fill the room.  It hung in the air like the smell of rotten eggs.  My parents were of a generation who saw their parents live without a safety net, surviving only through the love and strength of family until they simply ran out of time.  I wanted to give Mum and Dad some kind of assurance our future security would be okay, but we all stood there uncomfortably for a few moments knowing that real lives were at stake at a time when many people who held the power of courageous decisions would probably fail.

“Well, let me say this before I forget,” said Dad as he put the paper he was holding back in his folder. “I admit I make my share of jokes at his expense, but impugning him and calling him silly names isn’t good when you’re talking to someone that voted for him. His supporters become even more resolute by taking it the same way your daughter would take criticism of her boyfriend you don’t like – just makes her run deeper into his arms.”

“Should I mention this to Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah next time I see them?”

“I’m talking about whatever passes for water-cooler talk among peers these days, not comedy and satire.  Even LBJ said it was part of the price of leadership to be the target of clever satirists.  But ordinary everyday people – your neighbors, people in your community, co-workers, whatever – they don’t have to stand on opposite sides of the street and hurl insults at each other to get their point across.”

“It’s not very nice to call someone ‘deplorable’,” added my mother.

“I agree,” I replied.  “But wearing ‘deplorable’ as a badge of honor is just as bad.  Embracing deplorableness as a virtue is not a good long-term strategy.  Just sayin’.  So what should we do about this fine mess we’re in?”

Dad grinned with his mouth closed like Frank Reagan in Blue Bloods and said, “For starters, I know your eyes roll and you clench your fist as soon as he utters a syllable, but do yourself a favor and keep that to yourself.  Attack his policies and the issues, but try not to attack the man.  In fact, for one day just leave his name out of the conversation and see what happens.  Frankly, I think if he didn’t hear his name on the news every day, he’d reveal even more of his lack of temperament for the job.  But anyway, no one ever solved anything by talking over the next guy.  Listen with both ears.  And then listen some more.  If you listen 80% of the time and ask good, challenging questions and talk only 20% of the time without disparaging the person you’re talking to or about, you might actually effect some positive change.  You have no hope of changing anyone’s mind the other way around.”

“There’s one more thing,” Mum said.  “If you really want to fix things, fix Congress.  Fix the state legislatures.  Outlaw gerrymandering.  Get redistricting back in the ‘compact’ manner that ensures one person, one vote, and makes races competitive again.  Letting lawmakers choose their voters is terrible and unconstitutional. It’s backwards. Voters need to choose their lawmakers.  I never missed an election in 53 years, and hell’s fire, I’d be really mad if my vote didn’t always count for something.”

“You said ‘hell’s fire’, Mary,” observed Dad. “Want to borrow one of my indulgences?”

“Shut up, Norm.”

“Is there something specifically you want me to do?” I asked.

“Well,” answered my dad as Mum smiled her delightfully crooked little smile, “turns out you’re the writer in the family.”

“Yeah, who knew,” I shrugged, looking down at my slippers.

“Please keep writing.  One way or another, valid ideas must continue to be shared.  Cogent opinions must be expressed.  Truth must survive.”

I looked straight back at him. “So you’ve been sent to tell me it’s my job to save America and the rest of humanity?”

My parents howled with a laugh I used to hear only at our Irish wedding receptions and wakes.  I feigned being offended.  A little.

Mum wiped a few small tears out of her eyes as she recovered. “Sorry. That sounded funny and I couldn’t help picturing a ridiculous you in tights and a cape.  And while we don’t doubt you may have a great novel inside you, this is an all-hands-on-deck situation. We need everyone to keep the truth alive.  It’ll be a team effort.  We need very much to make certain truth is never vaporized.  Especially when we see this president putting his hands around the neck of a free press and declaring that ‘the media is the enemy of the people.’ How absolutely un-American and repugnant. So keep doing what you’re doing.”

“No problem,” I said.

“Meanwhile,” she added, “we’re going to keep praying hard for things to change for the better and to make sure the hope of brighter days doesn’t dim.”

Dad reached for his hat.  “We better get going before we ask you for a beer and really start raising hell.” Mum giggled and threw her scarf around her head and tied it again.

“Boy, I wish you didn’t have to leave,” I said quietly as I led them over to the door.

“Keep your chin up,” said Dad. “You know, Lincoln once said, ‘Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.’  Everything you need to know about the way this president handles adversity is in his tweets. As for power, just remember what Kennedy said about fools who seek power by riding the back of a tiger.”

“They end up inside the tiger,” I said, completing the thought from JFK’s legendary inaugural address.

My father looked me square in the eye. “He will ultimately come to regret the tiger he helped create.”

I took a deep, deep breath and exhaled slowly. “It was great to see you both again. I’ve really missed you.  And your timing couldn’t have been better.”

“Midnight?” Dad said with a sly twinkle of the eye.

“You know what I mean.”

“We’re proud of you,” said Mum, a mother’s enormous love glowing in her green eyes.  And without my even turning the door knob, they were gone.

As I stood at the door, my wife sleepily sauntered into the kitchen with her nighttime water glass in hand.  “What’re you looking at?” she asked, ice tumbling into the glass followed by a stream of cold water from the refrigerator door.  I turned to her.  She stifled a yawn and said, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I feel pretty good, actually.”  I glanced up at the clock above the sink.  It was only half a minute past midnight.  Huh, I thought to myself, I guess it’s true what Scrooge said about ghosts being able to do whatever they want.

I started over to the stairway as my wife made her way back up to our bedroom.  As I reached for the light switch I saw that Dad had left his folder behind.  I stopped.  “Aren’t you coming to bed?”  she asked.

Feeling renewed optimism, I walked over and picked up the folder and thought, no way our republic is going chaotically into the night if I can help it. “I won’t be long,” I told her.  “I just have a little reading to do.”

Twenty minutes later I fired up the laptop.

Posted in National Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Ban Boleyn, anyone?

trump-as-henry-viii

Well, hello there again.

Nothing much has been published in this chunk of cyber real estate for a while, but that’s about to change.

Sorry for the extended absence but it couldn’t be helped.  However, with so much going on to write about – a Youngstown mayoral race, the incessant if not irregular drumbeat of White House zaniness, prognosticating rodents from Punxsutawney – it’s time to catch up.  Posts may not be as frequent as originally intended way back when, but on the other hand one should see something new in this space more often than, say, oh, once every three months.

So let’s begin with this.  On my personal Facebook page a couple days ago I posted a little whimsical comment with the photo you see above.  Somehow I got to thinking that if his business acumen actually lived up to his boasts, then Donald Trump might someday start figuring out a way to merge the United States with the United Kingdom.  Here’s what I wrote:

It just occurred to me that if he could find a way, Trump would try to merge the US and the UK under the guidance of Steve Bannon who would be playing the role of Thomas Cromwell to Trump’s Henry VIII. Then he would off the House of Windsor and become the monarch he apparently desires.

Of course, under this scenario Bannon and Melania Trump would both lose their heads, too.

I immediately added my own comment that former acting Attorney General Sally Yates suffered the same fate as Thomas More except on a considerably less bloody level.  Yates, of course, decided not to defend the travel ban to seven Muslim-majority countries imposed by the now infamous Trump Executive Order. My words about Yates prompted a comment from a distant cousin, distant not only on the ol’ family tree but also in miles because she relocated to Texas from Hubbard a few years back.  She said:

Do you truly believe the US should just let everyone and anyone in here without complete vetting them? We aren’t able to go to other countries freely without identification? Wouldnt it be better to help refugees in their own country or a similar country?

Please note the civil nature of her words because these days you don’t get that very often when you bring up anything associated with our new President.  I appreciated that.

Suppressing the urge to jerk my knee, I gave her questions some thought. A day later I replied with this, my entry for a world-record length Facebook comment:

Those are reasonable questions, but be prepared for a rational answer.

First, let’s dispense with the notion that in this day and age any country would throw open its borders without taking precautions. We all know protection from terrorism is what’s at stake here, and that’s not only acceptable but also necessary.

You may be surprised to know that systems for investigating refugees were first put in place under the Carter Administration.  Since then, tighter controls have been added.  Today, a refugee fleeing from the tyranny and violence in Syria is first funneled into the United Nations.  One percent of those – ONE – are lucky enough to be considered for entrance into the U.S.  If a refugee makes it that far, then it’s an 18-month series of investigations by the U.S. before gaining approval.  It’s an arduous and comprehensive process that produces this thought provoker: Why is Syria on Trump’s 90-day travel ban list when Syrian refugees [by virtue of this exceedingly stringent vetting process] are clearly not the chief threat to our national security?

Also on that note, let me ask you this:  How many of the men who executed the 9/11 attack were from countries on the travel ban list?  None.  Most were from Saudi Arabia and the rest were from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon.  Do you want to guess the names of four countries NOT on the list?

Do you know how many nationals from the seven banned countries (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia) have performed murderous acts of terrorism in the U.S?  Again, the answer is none.  However, every single person involved in domestic terrorism from Boston to San Benardino in recent years was either born in the U.S. or a legal citizen and none were from the seven banned countries.  [And I didn’t even mention home-grown domestic terrorism hall-of-famers Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, Ted “Unibomber” Kaczynski, or Dylann Roof.]

Yes, we have to use all of our resources to fight terrorism and protect our country and our families, but Donald Trump is not displaying any of the skills or intellectual capacity that such an effort requires.

Which leads me to this final question: Why would any rational Commander in Chief boot the Director of National Security and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff off the National Security Council and invite them in only when deemed necessary?  Why would they be told to stay outside the room for regular meetings in favor of a known conspiracy theorist and demagogue like Stephen Bannon?  This is cause for very grave concern.

I, like you, am very concerned about our nation’s domestic security, but the extraordinarily poor execution of Trump’s travel ban with its overtones of discrimination speaks volumes of greater risk than it does for our safety.

I don’t really think Trump wants to be king.  Or at least, God, I hope not.  It was just a fleeting moment of satirical fantasy, this Henry VIII scenario.  But what remains is this incredibly dark and angry period of history into which we seem to be continually sliding.  And that is something to really worry about.

So on that outrageously cheery note, yeah, I’m glad to be back.

Posted in National news | Tagged , , , , ,

Endorsement: The case to retain Judge Shirley Christian

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In writing an endorsement of Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Christian, the difficulty is in knowing where to start because there are so many good things to say about her.  But let’s start with this:

“Judges wear legal professionalism and precedent as a mantel that secures legitimacy for their decisions.”

Those are the words of Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler, words that succinctly express two of Judge Christian’s greatest qualities as one of Mahoning County’s current common pleas jurists: She is the consummate legal professional, and she is a remarkable student of the law (especially having graduated with distinction in the top ten percent of her law class at Ohio Northern University – whoever said “A” students become judges was right).

Now before presenting just a few of the many reasons why Judge Christian’s accomplishments as a common pleas judge have earned her the privilege of remaining on the bench, a few words about her opponent are in order.  You might be familiar with him if only because of the ubiquitous yellow and black yard signs displaying only his last name: D’Apolito.

Lou D’Apolito?

No, he’s already on the Common Pleas bench and his term doesn’t expire for two more years.

David D’Apolito?

Well, it could be, but he doesn’t need all those signs because re-election to the county court bench in Austintown is not a county-wide race and he’s running unopposed.

Andrew D’Apolito?

No, a retired superintendent of operations for the Mahoning County Sanitary Engineering Department, he lost the Democratic primary for county auditor to Mike Sciortino in 2010.  He terminated his campaign fund two years later and ain’t runnin’ for anything now.

Mark D’Apolito?

Nope.  Not him either.  He works in the City of Youngstown’s law department monitoring the City’s contracts and his name isn’t on any ballot.  Well, not his first name anyway.

It’s funny, but there are so many D’Apolitos in the public eye that The Vindicator ran a photo of the wrong one (it appeared to be Youngstown Kiwanis President Tony D’Apolito) on page A3 of the Friday, October 28th edition where they published a profile of the two common pleas candidates.  This suggests something of a very real issue of voter confusion in this down-ballot race.  There are a lot of voters who will simply vote for the name they recognize by the time they get to a race such as this on their ballot (common pleas is on page two of a six-page ballot in my precinct).  Judge Christian’s opponent has already received the benefit of such confusion from one early voter who confided to my wife that she saw the last name and not the first and cast her ballot for whom she thought was her husband’s old schoolmate, Lou.

So, if you can’t swing a dead cat in Mahoning County without it landing on a D’Apolito, then which one is running against incumbent Judge Christian?  The answer: Juvenile court magistrate Anthony D’Apolito.

The D’Apolito family should be praised for their commitment to public service.  They could start their own version of Blue Bloods in Mahoning County.  However, the concentration of influence in government offices, departments, and services by a single family, like it or not, makes some people reasonably nervous.  Should Anthony be elected to Common Pleas where he would join his father Lou, 40 percent of the Mahoning County’s Common Pleas judicial roster would be comprised of judges from the same immediate family.

While Anthony D’Apolito is still living with the embarrassment of having a registered sex offender drive a vehicle for his campaign in last summer’s Struthers July 4th parade, his presentation to neighborhood groups on the current effectiveness and efficiencies of the juvenile system in Mahoning County – where he serves not as a judge but as a magistrate – is impressive.  It leads one to the conclusion he should continue his good work at juvenile court under Judge Theresa Dellick who is also running for re-election.  They apparently make a good team, and by voting to retain Judge Christian the public can keep a successful juvenile team in place while retaining an excellent common pleas jurist.  Everybody wins.

Which brings us back to Judge Shirley Christian.  She was appointed to the bench (over Anthony D’Apolito and two other candidates) when the late Judge James C. Evans retired from the bench two years ago prior to the expiration of his term.  During that time she has reduced the docket by over 36 percent which speaks volumes about her ability to run an efficient court.  It’s a testament to her keeping the gears of justice in motion as well as a sober reflection on her acknowledgement of the real impact the court has on real lives.  She has already resolved two thousand cases in her court since being sworn in.

Judge Christian has established a veterans treatment docket to handle certain felony cases for military veterans. She recognizes that the price for some of the men and women willing to sacrifice their lives for their country has been to return to civilian life only to tragically fall into homelessness, despair, and a pattern of criminal behavior.  And she sees that real solutions to this problem transcend ordinary incarceration and instead require a structured and meaningful way for the court to assist troubled veterans in rebuilding their lives.

Judge Christian believes it is the work of the court to educate the public on how our system of justice functions.  To that end she has engaged in public outreach to demystify the judicial system, particularly the role of the grand jury.  Her presentations to local service organizations and neighborhood groups are an excellent effort to help reduce misunderstandings and increase public confidence.

Judge Christian is also an experienced trial lawyer, having spent nearly 28 years in front of the common pleas bench handling and litigating complex matters numbering into the hundreds.  These are serious, adult matters requiring serious, adult resolutions.  As Judge Christian has often said at forums and neighborhood gatherings, “Experience at this level matters.”  And voters have a golden opportunity to retain this valuable experience on the bench.

Perhaps no better praise of Judge Shirley Christian has been offered to her than that of the longest-tenured judge on the Mahoning County Common Pleas bench, R. Scott Krichbaum, who before Judge Christian was sworn in said:  “It’s a great day for justice in our county.  She has a wonderful background in experience – a real trial lawyer.  Her confidence is unmatched.   She’s a perfect choice for this position.”

True then and even truer now, the clear choice in this election comes down to the person who is already on the bench, incumbent judge Shirley Christian.  Her efforts to protect, inform, and shape a stronger community coupled with the comprehensiveness of her courtroom experience not only serves her well as a judge, but also serves the cause of justice well in Mahoning County.

There is only one Judge Christian, and she has certainly earned the privilege of being retained for a full term on the Mahoning County Common Pleas bench.

Posted in 2016 Election | Tagged , , , , ,

TRUMP vs. JESUS

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Driving around the county as I do every day, it is hard not to notice political campaign signs springing up everywhere like dandelions in the spring.  Usually every year at this time just before the leaves fall we see all sorts of placards planted in lawns asking you to vote for this candidate or that issue in the November general election.  There are a few signs in particular, though, that have caught my eye lately in the way a plane crash would grab my attention.

Their handmade message is simple.  The operative phrase contains just two words.  But their plea is akin to Walt Whitman’s sounding his “barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world” (something I picked up not from college lit classes but from Dead Poets Society, by the way).  It’s a loud, self-righteous appeal to do something to help us all avoid certain annihilation should a fiery pantsuit-wearing asteroid slam into Washington, DC, next January 20th.

“Save America” the signs say in big, bold letters.  “Save America.”  For God’s sake and for the sake of all future generations of Americans you must vote for Trump and Pence.  “Save America.”

See a sample below.

save-america

The sign above is a bit tidy compared to others I’ve seen.  I guess it had to look relatively nice since it’s at a busy intersection, but some of these signs look like they were produced in a remedial graffiti class at three in the morning after the “artist” was overexposed to too many spray paint fumes.

So “Save America” got me to thinking.  Save America from what exactly? From our democracy?  From our Great American Experiment?  From our freedom to choose intellectually superior candidates if we want?

After Donald Trump’s vanquishing of Low Energy Jeb, Little Marco, and Lyin’ Ted, the real threat to our nation’s legacy must be a real-life fire breathing dragon the Dark Side has labeled Crooked Hillary.  “Save America from Crooked Hillary” the signs imply. The hyperbole would be amusing if it wasn’t such a sad commentary on the state of some wayward minds this presidential election year.

It sounds so dire.  It sort of reminds me of the “Corbett MUST win!” commercials during Youngstown’s mayoral race back in 1987 when incumbent mayor Patrick Ungaro was being challenged by an attorney named Jim Corbett and being painted as an unmitigated disaster in City Hall.  By the way, Ungaro won by a big margin, served as mayor for another 12 years, and Youngstown somehow survived the faux catastrophe that was the drumbeat of the Corbett campaign.

So to save anything be it America, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, or the first colony on Mars, you need a savior.   Obviously these producers of partisan posters with their exaggerated implication of imminent doom have placed the Royal Cloak of Savior-ness upon the shoulders of Donald J. Trump and are demanding votes for him.  Or else suffer the consequences.  But let’s consider that if he’s the Alt-Right’s savior, then how does Trump line up against the real Savior, the only one I’ve ever had at the center of my life?

Among the most profound teachings of Jesus Christ are lessons commonly referred to as the Beatitudes, a word that means supreme blessings and comes from a Latin root for perfect happiness.  In the Gospel of St. Matthew Chapter 5, verses 3 through 10, you will find the text of the famous Sermon on the Mount where Jesus preached these supreme blessings to the multitude gathered there.  Let’s put Donald Trump against each blessing and see what happens, shall we?


JESUS:  Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I can’t imagine anyone more poor in spirit than a young man who is beaten, tortured, and held captive for five years in some dank Hanoi hellholes.  Does Trump empathize with this noble naval pilot who was willing to sacrifice his life for his country?


JESUS:  Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.

Meek and Trump will never be found in the same sentence.  Except here.  To prove a point.

trump-tweet-losers-and-haters-screen-grab


JESUS:  Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Did Trump show the slightest empathy toward a Muslim family whose son gave, as Lincoln once said, the “last full measure of devotion” to his country?  Nope.  His first impulse was to attack them for their criticism of his call to ban all Muslims entering the U.S.

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JESUS:  Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.

Justice comes in many forms: legal justice, social justice, and economic justice to name three.  The Citizens for Tax Justice released their study of Trump’s tax plan a couple days ago which found that the top 1% of U.S. earners will get a 44% share of his tax cut while the lowest 20% get the crumbs of a two percent share.  Under Trump, blessed are they that hunger and thirst for they shall continue to hunger and thirst.  It builds character.  For the full analysis, click here.

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JESUS: Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Toleration and forgiveness are not among Trump’s attributes.  Here is some evidence.

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JESUS:  Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.

And he pats himself on the back for not saying nasty things about her mom and dad because Chelsea Clinton was in the room at the first debate.

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JESUS:  Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

I don’t think slipping someone the ol’ knuckle sandwich was what Jesus had in mind in keeping the peace.


JESUS: Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Yes, let’s imply that Mexicans are rapists, thieves and druggies; that it’s perfectly acceptable to call a beautiful Latina woman “Miss Housekeeping” and “Miss Piggy”; and that those who practice a particular religion should be subject to some nebulous thing called “extreme vetting” even though sons and daughters of Muslims lie beneath the sign of the crescent moon and star in our national cemeteries.

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The only thing I can think of that Jesus and Trump have in common is that they both draw big crowds.  But it ends right there.  After that, Jesus relied on a miracle to feed the masses.  Trump’s miracle is when he doesn’t stiff the caterer.

Trump is a bellwether to legions of blind followers.  I expect not one of them to rest a finger on their chin and say, “Hey, wait a minute. Maybe I should rethink this.”  They will deny all of the above and let the Alt-Right guide and bend and mold the hatred in their minds which they now think is acceptable to embrace.  And their response to the above evidence of his boorishness will usually start with the same three words, “Yeah, but Hillary…”

It’s okay not to like Hillary Clinton but it’s not okay to regard this hard-working, honored civil servant with bitter, ugly, unjustified hatred and to treat her candidacy as a harbinger of Doom.  I would rather see the “Save America” coterie come to their senses, recognize the exaggeration and condescension in their message, and at the very minimum find a way to consider Clinton in the same fashion as political humorist P.J. O’Rourke who endorsed her with this backhanded Compliment for the Ages:  “She’s wrong on everything but at least she’s wrong by normal parameters.”

Hillary Clinton is prepared, is committed to her country, and will not lead this nation into some wildly melodramatic end-of-life-as-we-know-it chasm. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a clear and present danger to our future.

“Save America” indeed.  “Corbett MUST win!”  Youngstown survived and is a vastly different, better in most ways, city than it was at the end of the first decade after Black Monday.  Likewise, when the sun rises on November 9th, our republic will still be in one piece.  However, it does not need a conceited, misogynistic, xenophobic, self-serving, thin-skinned amateur to “save” it.

I know my Savior and it’s certainly not Donald Trump.

Posted in Presidential Election | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Pardon the Interruption

20160926_184639I’m sorry there have been no posts for a week. I’ve been feeling under the weather but hope to resume writing soon.

Posted in Uncategorized

SO, ABOUT YOUR LETTER TO THE EDITOR (Vol. 2)

About Your Letter… is a weekly feature of PFT330.  Observations are culled from select letters to the editor published in newspapers in the 330 as well as the 216 and 412. 

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Two letters are high on my radar today.

Sounding the diversity alarm

A writer to the editor of Youngstown’s Vindicator this morning invested some ink in making diversity a threat to our republic, alleging that heterogeneity is a danger to the country if it is not held in check by unity.  Wrote S.M:

“I agree with the ideology of presidential candidate Donald J. Trump: ‘We must be very careful that we do not permit people into our country who do not desire to assimilate and support our values.’

“Yes, diversity and unity can co-exist in a thriving Republic but when diversity continues to out trump unity, we will begin to fall just as many great republics have in the past.”

I wonder how the writer feels about this:

“… [I]t is that fundamental belief – I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper – that makes this country work.  It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family: E pluribus unum, out of many, one … there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.  There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America…

“We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.  We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.  There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

“We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”

Given S.M.’s evident embracing of Trump’s narrow immigration views, my guess is the above quote is not their cup of tea if only because it comes from President Barack Obama.  However, S.M. and the President clearly agree that unity and diversity are celebrated hallmarks of our great American Experiment. There is a subtext in the letter, though, that suggests diversity should be filtered through a single lens as it sounds a warning that if inclusiveness isn’t held in precise balance with unity, then like matter combining with anti-matter we will all get annihilated.

Gen. George S. Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”  Unity and diversity can indeed co-exist, but it needn’t be a zero-sum game.

Under construction: Don King Way

There is an apparent movement afoot in Cleveland to name a street after native son Don King, the fight promoter who’s still alive at 85 and known not only for hair in his younger days that looked like salt-and-pepper ornamental beach grass but also for legions of lawsuits filed against him by boxers and allegations of ties to murder and the mob.   Writes M.C. in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“Don King has a well deserved reputation for decades of thuggish and criminal behavior. It reflects badly on the Cleveland City Council to name any section of any street ‘Don King Way.'”

I’m okay with it as long as the street they have in mind is crooked and like his business dealings is one-way and veers off into a dead end or over a cliff.

 

Posted in Letters to editor | Tagged , , , , ,