Like a hummingbird racing down skyscraper avenues, the Radio WERE traffic copter tears the cover of sleep off this black metropolis. Inside, pilot and writer scout out the awakening city.Skip to next paragraph
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It's been four years since this steely amalgam of culture and industry, nestled in the nape of Lake Erie, declared financial default before a snickering nation. Two years have passed since the city made good on its loans and, for the most part, reversed the political symptoms that caused it national embarrassment. The fact that more are aware of the former story than the latter - a poignant comment on the nature of the media - is what this reconnaissance mission is all about.
From here in the skies, the metaphors abound: dawn over the lake, sun beaming like a beacon off the limestone landmark Terminal Tower, ribbons of gleaming headlights stream from 130 healthy suburbs into a downtown replete with spanking-new building projects.
Yet a week on the ground will abolish the need for poetic allusions to any localm awakening. The major part of that task lies with the rest of the country - waking up to a Cleveland that has long since bounced back and is doing exceptionally well.
Beyond insolvency, what this town has lived through bears repeating only to emphasize what has been left behind: Thirty-one-year-old Mayor Dennis Kucinich vetoed more bills than anyone in the history of Cleveland. He capped two years of antics by announcing city-employee layoffs - on the very day his brother was arrested for bank robbery. The Cuyahoga River that divides the city became known less for its barge outlet to the lake than for the number of times it caught on fire because it was so polluted. The lake itself came to be considered more an offshore sewer than a waterway. ''We could eliminate the Soviet threat to Poland ,'' Clevelanders heard as recently as last January, ''by renaming it Cleveland. Nobodym wants to go therem .''
But take a look at the city now.
There's Doric-columned City Hall, its back to a revived lake fed by a vastly cleaner river. Inside, the man most often credited for the political, economic, and physical renaissance will give credit to everyone save himself. Republican mayor George Voinovich sits in his tapestried office and praises just about every civic group from the Cleveland Foundation to the League of Women Voters.
He lauds the Operations Improvement Task Force that recruited 89 top Cleveland executives for four months in 1980. Their time was equal to donations of $4.2 million, and it was contributed by city companies for a study and analysis of every facet of city government. The recommendations - 70 percent of over 200 have been implemented - are seen here as the single most important undertaking since Gen. Moses Cleaveland stepped ashore on the bank of the Cuyahoga River in 1796 and founded the city.
A couple of blocks from City Hall is the Rockefeller Building. From his 13 th-floor law office George Forbes, the black Democratic president of the city council, overlooks the lake and some of the run-down inner city he hopes to revive during his tenure. He extols the wisdom of the voters in passing a tax increase during a recession, the advantages of a smaller city council, and a four-year instead of a two-year term for mayor. Now, he says, the mayor doesn't have to begin politicking the second year, defending the record he's only had a few months to build.
And Mr. Forbes celebrates his nonconfrontational relationship with the current mayor. Mayor Voinovich, he says, is the best in his 10-year city-council tenure, which also included the term of Carl Stokes.
Taking a low sweep across town you can see the office of Cleveland Plain Dealer publisher and editor Thomas Vail. For 20 years he has viewed the town through conservative Democratic glasses. He mentions the surprise of outsiders when Cleveland was recently rated 14th of 270 municipalities (tied with San Francisco) by Places Rated Almanac. The features that made up the rating ranged from climate and recreation to culture and education. This adds evidence of a high livability quotient to the stack of recent independent studies showing the town's revived fiscal health.