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OFFBEAT: Can comic's take on Cleveland save Sandusky?

Tom Jackson • Mar 23, 2010 at 6:24 PM

By TOMĀ JACKSON, Register county-state politics reporter

Drew Carey -- the comedian, the "Price is Right" host -- wants to save Cleveland.

The Cleveland native has been making a series of videos designed to showcase his ideas on how to move the city forward and has been doing a series of interviews and appearances to promote the videos.

Obviously, people in Erie County has an interest in whether Cleveland is doing well or doing badly. But the videos also are interesting because Sandusky in many ways is a smaller version of Cleveland. Like Cleveland, Sandusky is a once-prosperous northern Ohio port city that's been hurt by the decline in manufacturing jobs.

Carey, in a page one interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer to promote the video series, said he did not understand why a city government such as Cleveland's that is strapped for cash during the recession operates money-losing golf courses and runs the West Side Market, which also does not make money.

The issues he raises could also be relevant here. Erie County operates a nursing home which competes with privately-owned nursing homes. Sandusky's city government has trouble keeping its police and fire departments staffed but runs a greenhouse and a golf course.

Carey, who frequently returns to Cleveland, explained in the interview that he wishes he could live there but has to live in Los Angeles to tape "The Price is Right" and pursue his show business career.

Like many Hollywood celebrities, Carey is something of a political activist, although he is not a typical show business liberal. He has explained that although some of his views sound conservative, he is actually a libertarian. (For example, he opposed the war in Iraq and was not a George W. Bush fan.)

Carey's Cleveland video series, "Reason Saves Cleveland," are available on Reason.TV, an Internet site that serves as the video and podcast operation of Reason magazine. Reason is a politics and culture magazine, similar to The New Republic, Mother Jones or National Review, which offers a libertarian slant. Reason probably offers the best introduction to libertarianism for people who are put off by aspects of the Tea Party crowd.

The videos, each about about 10 minutes long, are in six parts. Part 1 gives a brief history of Cleveland.

Part 2 discusses the city's ailing urban school system.

For parents who live in Cleveland, "the choice is go to a Catholic school, or get the hell our of town and raise your kids somewhere else," Carey explains.

The video suggests emphasizing charter schools, as the Oakland, Calif., school system has done.

Part 3 suggests privatizing city services. Episode 4 covers economic development. Episode 5 advocates for "Bottom-Up Redevelopment." Episode 6, which was set to be released today, is "Bring Back the People."

All of the videos use an existing program in another city as a template for what Cleveland can do.

The privatization video explains how Chicago has privatized some of its functions. Cleveland's red tape and taxation is contrasted to Houston, depicted as more business-friendly.

Each of the videos is accompanied by articles for those who want more information. For example, next to the education video is an article, "Ten Ideas to Fix Cleveland's Schools," which advocates for a number of reforms, including giving school principals more control over how money at their schools is spent.

At the least, the videos and accompanying articles provide some new ideas that could be adopted in other northern Ohio regions.

There's plenty of room for reform.

Outsiders who haven't lived in Cleveland may not be aware of the quality of life the city offers. (I live in Berea, a Cleveland suburb that's next to Cleveland's airport.) People in Cleveland enjoy professional sports teams in all of the major leagues and an excellent arts climate with a wide variety of music offerings. You can get to any event in Cleveland in a reasonable amount of time, without having to battle the traffic you'll encounter in places like Los Angeles.

But many of these offerings can't be sustained without economic growth. I did not realize until I watched the videos that Cleveland ranks only 41st in population among America's cities. It's something I worry about. Could we lose the Cleveland Indians, for example, if management gets tired of trying to run a team in a shrinking market? Will the world-famous Cleveland Orchestra be around forever?

I hope that some of the ideas in Carey's video series will generate public discussion.

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