Our thin skinned Princess Mayor

Well it didn’t take long for our Princess Mayor to learn that not everyone is enamored with her royal highness. After her “State of the City Address” the comments on Facebook were less than kind- about her hair, makeup, clothes. This is nothing new- Rhine McLin was constantly mocked as Mayor McHat- and for her funky glasses with one round lens and one square. When Gary Leitzell continued to wear his earring, some scoffed as well. Back before the Internets- Mayor Richard Clay Dixon was often called Mayor Diction- because of the way he mangled/mumbled words.

None of them sent email blasts to their supporters or made a blog post about how wrong it was.

Nan of course, was hurt, and published her second post since she’s been elected. Note, she didn’t even bother to post a thank you after buying her seat.

I want to talk about moving Dayton forward, they wanna talk about my eyebrows!

This past Wednesday I gave my first State of the City address to a standing room only crowd in the Dayton City Commission chambers. In my speech, I shared the Commission’s priorities for the coming year and our vision for creating jobs and economic opportunities for the residents of Dayton. You can watch the speech in its entirety here.

Much of the news coverage was fair and shared the ideas discussed in the speech. Unfortunately, one Dayton Daily News reporter decided to go another route with her unfair internet coverage of some comments that attacked how I looked and what I was wearing.What I wear is not news. Internet musings related to my appearance is not news and random irrelevant remarks posted on a Facebook page should not be the focus of mainstream news reporting.

via STOP Media Sexism!.

I’ve already caught hell for stating that I don’t think anything Amelia Robinson writes for the Dayton Daily news is worth reading, so count me as neutral here. And, this line from the piece in question should prove it:

“Oh, and New Jersey Mayor Chris Christie is fat.”

For the record Ms. Robinson, States don’t have mayors- they have governors, but, the cold hard fact is that the piece that Whaley calls “Media Sexism” is really in support of our Princess Mayor- saying that women shouldn’t be judged by the way they look or dress, but by their substance. I’m sure our Mayor will be calling the DDN editors on Monday demanding Robinson be fired.

My rule on this site for comments is generally you can say anything you want about me as long as it is opinion and not false. You can call me ugly and say my mother dresses me funny.  You can’t say I’m a bank robber. You can’t talk trash about other commenters. You also can’t accuse people in public office of criminal behavior- unless it’s already well established. I try to keep things civil.

When it’s unsigned- it means nothing to me. If you are willing to sign your name, it has more veracity. That’s why my recent nomination to the Dirtbag Ohio hall of fame by anonymous pissants makes me laugh. They even used the See You Next Tuesday word to describe me. I’m sure our Princess Mayor would have called the FBI out if they’d called her that.

Quite frankly, both A.J. Wagner and Gary Leitzell defined Dayton’s number one problem as marketing and changing our image. Leitzell’s solution to lame media coverage and crap like this was to only talk to them when he had something positive to say about Dayton- refusing to comment on things like when we made the top 10 list for most vacant cities. He was way more media savvy than people gave him credit. Wagner talked a great game starting out in his campaign, until he fastened on to the “Dayton lost 9,000 jobs line” which pretty much sank his campaign. Princess Nan just defined her mayorship half way through month two by her thin skin and low self-esteem.

Lucky for her, no other news outlet should touch this with a ten foot pole. Only the DDn which no longer knows how to report news, or recognize it when it happens, would waste time reporting on what a few dozen idiots write on Facebook.

Word from inside the paper says Robinson is told to write this kind of crap. If anyone should be fired, it’s the editor who let the “Mayor Christie” of N.J. is fat line get published. Then you can look at the idiots who think what people say on Facebook matters.

First lesson for elected leaders: never let others define the conversation if at all possible. Second lesson- it’s never about you- but about your community.

If Whaley wants to change the conversation, she needs a thicker skin yesterday. She also can stop doing things like hiring campaign flunkies like Hilary Browning as a commission aide- without posting the job.

There, that’s a story the DDn could write about, one that matters.


TedX Dayton- bravo!

TED talks started out as an invite-only exclusive party for the Illuminati. Technology, Entertainment, Design. But thanks to the web- everyone can go- forever into eternity. TEDx is allowing other places in on the fun. Think of it as the minor leagues- but, the reality is, everyone has a shot to become the next big viral thing- if you nail your subject.

Despite being a tech conference, I was a little relieved when the orders came to put away the digital devices – no tweeting, posting, etc. It allowed me to concentrate on what was being said- I took notes- the old fashioned way- with a pen and notebook.

So on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, a little over two dozen people took the stage and threw up their best, from Dayton, Ohio. Overall, everyone in the audience thought that today it was an awesome day to be from Dayton, Ohio- from the music and dance performances that broke up the talks to the neuroscientist trying to stimulate brains with electricity to help people identify the enemy in pictures taken by drones- nobody left thinking they’d not gotten their $50 worth and then some.

I knew or was connected to about a third of the people who took the stage- which is as it should be in a small town. The event ran like clockwork. I saw lots of people I knew in the audience- and quite a few I didn’t. I’m sure people who were there will continue to talk about a lot of what they saw and heard today- for quite a while. The interesting part is, once the videos go up- will any of them go “viral”- which ones will connect with people and become a minor legend? The beauty of TED is that even though it’s highly produced – there is always an element of surprise. To me, that’s the beauty of the day.

South Parker Elizabeth Rasmussen and her sisters in Good English kick off TedX Dayton 2013

South Parker Elizabeth Rasmussen and her sisters in Good English kick off TedX Dayton 2013

The first one was listening to my neighbor and her sisters play a short set to open up the show. Elizabeth Rasmussen and her sisters, Celia and Leslie have a band called “Good English” and while I doubt they’ve played too many gigs at 9 a.m., it was cool to say, hey, that’s my neighbor, as the curtain rose.

I’m not going to run down every speaker- but, as someone who prides himself on trying to make others think, these were the things I really liked. Chris Wire talked about thinking without depending on a smart phone and Google. I’ve always been of the mindset that memorization of facts isn’t always as important as understanding concepts and being able to apply them. I always figured I could look something up- I just never expected it to be as easy as my iPhone plus Google- Chris did an awesome job of encouraging people to search for new answers- to show the value of creativity in answers- even when you have to punt. I thought this was particularly pertinent today- as I had to read in the Dayton Daily news how once again, some “leader” in Dayton is touting us as a distribution/logistics hub. Yawn.

There were some inspirational stories that were built to play on heartstrings- I was born poor, but look at me now, wasn’t worthy of a TED talk, although it was a perfectly nice story. However, there was one thing that I did agree with- “champions work together”- something Dayton needs to learn. We do a great job of finding faults with people in this town- “you’re not black, you’re too smart, you’re Jewish, you’re suburban, you’re urban” some sort of way to divide us- instead of bringing us together. This topic came up more than once. Dayton needs to be able to be proud- and if all the 1,000 or so people there today could take the pride they felt today out into the community- we might have a good start on things.

But, I wanted to stick to surprises- things that made me think. Marta Wojcik from Poland asked  “is a place worthy of being the vessel of your memories”- and was talking about nostalgia for comfortable touch-points to your past. She surprised me by talking about creative place-making- vs. our treating our buildings and heritage as disposable. She celebrated the arts- and artists and designers for the ability to create unique things in our community as compared to our penchant for sprawl. I thought of all the people I met in my last campaign- and the memories they shared with me of growing up at Mallory park pool- or at the Roosevelt center- or before that the school- and to think we’ve undone those vessels for what? Finding out later that she was the director of the Westcott House in Springfield took a bit of the wonderment of her presentation out.

Hearing a guy named Roosevelt (and yes, he’s related to the president by the same name) get up and talk about Abe Lincoln as the answer to our modern dilemmas of the divergence of wealth and poverty and the earth and ecology was a reminder that there have been seemingly daunting challenges in the past- that visionary leadership was able to steer a course to a solution, even if it did entail the deaths of more Americans than in all our other battles put together. Learning from history so we don’t repeat it is always thought provoking.

Instead of hearing the same old STEM nonsense- listening to Dr. Nathan Klingbeil explain that by eliminating conventional math prerequisites to get into engineering they have created more engineers, just by approaching the process with an integrated approach. Calculus is only one part of being an engineer- solving problems creatively is another, and Dr. K demonstrated that by taking a different approach, they could have dramatic changes in graduation rates for engineers at Wright State.

When Judith Ezekiel took the stage, I was totally unprepared for her discussion “Changing race”- talking about cultural racism in a way that forced the audience to self-examine. Jewish, black, rich, poor, educated- all the issues wrapped up into one. If there is one talk I’d want to listen to again, and be able to pause, rewind, replay- it would probably be this one. We have race issues in Dayton and if there were someone who could lead the discussion in a meaningful way- I’d put Judith in charge in a heartbeat.

Another surprise came from Justin Howard, proprietor of the Black Box Improv Theater on E. Third St in the Cannery. Although I despise the idea of TedX being used as a commercial for a business- which several people did, Justin demonstrated his passion for improv by winging the whole thing- including pulling an audience member out (we wondered if she was a ringer) and launching into an improv skit with a word shouted out from the audience (me- with blasphemy). Why Justin is doing his thing in Dayton was because he thinks Dayton is a city that’s “blank and ready to go.” He also cautioned us that “no one in Dayton is important”- which I thought was the perfect thing to be said during this day of celebration of Dayton- that we have to start bonding together and championing our city- together.

When asking my friends about what they liked and didn’t like- Dr. David Shuster came up more than once. He took the stage wearing one blue latex glove- and I kept thinking why the Michael Jackson impersonation. Toward the end of his talk he rolled up his black t-shirt and started sticking himself with the acupuncture type needle as a demonstration to make his point. That apparently grossed them out a bit. Oddly, I ran into him on Saturday at the 2nd St. Market- I was wearing my TedX t-shirt, and he stopped me and asked me what I thought. The needle wasn’t what bothered me, it’s that he started out saying that his field- Electrodiagnostic medicine, wasn’t well respected or liked by some. I told him there was no need to start with a negative (a lesson learned on the campaign trail the hard way) and that he hurt his credibility more than helped it with that lead.

I was totally unprepared for SSGT Deondra Parks who shared her story of sitting in a bookstore when a neo-Nazi came in and started shooting black people before shooting himself as his way of “celebrating Hitler’s birthday.” Her strength projected into the audience, her story of forgiveness and triumph was powerful- yet, for some reason, she didn’t get a standing ovation- while the “white woman who was born poor” did. Odd. This is a woman who could teach us all how to roll with the punches and come up on top.

I enjoyed the talk and piano performance of Steffin Johnson, a Stivers grad and now adjunct piano instructor- but, again, he started with the dismissal of a stereotype- that just because he’s a black piano player people expect him to play Fats Waller or boogie woogie. He asked can you tell a person’s color by listening to the music? I once walked out of a Dayton Daily news editorial board session when I asked them to retract a line in a review of a “G Love and Special Sauce” album that started out with “listening to this album, one could hardly believe that they are white” or some such nonsense. I didn’t want to be “endorsed” by a paper that thought you could tell what color someone was by the kind of music they made- they endorsed Bootsie Neal and Dean Lovelace and dismissed me as a crackpot. So much for taking a stand in Dayton, Ohio. Thank you Steffin for bringing this subject up and for the marvelous performance.

I was mesmerized by my friend David Stoneburner’s son- Dillon “Stoney D” with his dance moves as we returned from the “cookie break.” His performance won’t change my life or make me want to learn how to “Pop and lock”- but, it was amazing to watch.

I understand that everyone has different trigger points- and that some ideas connect better with others and that this is just my opinion- but, the last speaker, London Coe of “Peace on Fifth” was the one who gave me a new way to approach what I’ve been trying to do on this site and in my campaigns for office- she said we need to “Date your City.” Go out and explore the wonderful things, meet the people and share and celebrate the talent that we have here. It was the perfect ending to a day full of inspired presentations from the best that stepped up and it was the rallying cry for a city sadly short of pride. We have a lot to love in Dayton, we just have to stop dwelling on the negatives which are so easy to point out as I watched A.J. Wagner do as he self-destructed his campaign talking about Dayton as a dying city.

Dayton is awesome. And, next year at TedX I hope to be on stage. This was Dayton at its best.


“Where There Is Love” Dayton Ohio welcomes everyone

Before Gary Leitzell was mayor, there was a growing community of immigrants in Old North Dayton. No one in city hall paid much attention, or made an effort to welcome them to Dayton. Gary, in one of his acts of quiet change, made an effort to reach out to this community- and out of it, “Welcome Dayton” began. Last week, the US Conference of Mayors recognized his little project with an award. No small feat, especially after he was just pushed out of his bid for re-election by two candidates who spent a third of a million to get 7500 votes- with the 2nd place candidate beating Gary by a mere couple of hundred votes (note- he spent less than $1000).

One of the things I’ve always loved about Dayton is how friendly we Daytonians are. Genuinely friendly- everyone says hello- and looks you in the eye when they do. You live here, you know what I mean- especially if you’ve ever been to NYC or Chicago where you’d be looked at as strange for doing the same.

We’ve got a great culture here- a community that does amazing things. And we’ve got people with talent equal to that of any big city in the country. Which is why when I stumbled on this video on Facebook (thanks Aja) I knew right away I had to share it with all of you. I know a lot of the people in this video- but, this just makes me proud to be a Daytonian- and should make you too. Here’s their description from YouTube:

To celebrate the diverse cultures and talents in the city of Dayton, Ohio, a wide array of musicians, singers and dancers came together to create “Where There Is Love,” a music video based on the eclectic globe-hopping imagery and sounds that define Playing For Change. The entire video was shot on-location in Dayton.

This project supports the nationally recognized initiative called “Welcome Dayton: Immigrant-Friendly City,” a plan that seeks to bridge communication barriers and cultural differences throughout the city. The varied performers and lyrical message of “Where There Is Love” are a powerful illustration of that plan as well as the goal of Playing For Change — connecting the world through music.

SPECIAL THANKS TO: Laura Falkner, Eleni Prieto, Laura Rea, Ann Roberts, MB Hopkins & Daryl Gordon, Teri Schoch, Margaret Knapke, Gabriella Pickett, Jean Howat Berry, Doug Merk, Thom Meyer, Karl Berge, Janet Phillips & Feathers, Carillon Park, Five Rivers Metro Parks, Dayton Art Institute, Sunwatch Indian Village and Neon Movies.

Artists include (in order of appearance):

Puzzle of Light (Michael Bashaw, Sandy Bashaw, John Taylor, Erich Reith, Dick Roll); Amber Knicole; Edwin Corporan; Eric Lamboy; Gina Stough; Pourover (Dennis Rotterman, Lee Rotterman & Keith Wimberly); Michael Kotur; Frank Dixon; Leahy-Good (Rick Good & Sharon Leahy); Raymond Roach; Jay Martinez; Burundi Royal Court Drummers; DACA Tai Chi & Dance Group; and Seefari (Tom Carroll)

via Where There Is Love | Playing For Change (HD) – YouTube.


UpDayton Summit 2013- Local hopes and odd prophets

Note: This post is long. It’s a Sunday morning, New York Times Magazine type piece, that tries to bring some of Dayton’s recent development history into perspective compared to what Mayor John Fetterman has done in Braddock, Pa., star of international attention. Please set aside 10 minutes to digest it.

Dayton, Ohio, is the capital of consensus, committees and groupthink. Listening to one unnamed politician you’d think that he/she spends all day going from one committee to another. With committees come meetings- and from meetings come other sub-committees and more meetings. We’re also good at creating “master plans”- of which we have shelves of them.

UpDayton isn’t like that. It’s a group that’s committed to making things happen. Find something we can do to make a change right now- or at least in the next 6 months. They harness the energy of young professionals and funnel it into things we can see. Be it murals under bridges, murals on bridges, internship programs, etc.- they actually try things.

The annual summit is a way to get people to meet, talk, share their ideas on how to make Dayton a better place and stop the “brain drain” of young people leaving our city.

I went to the first summit 4 years ago- and I attended the 4th yesterday at the Dayton Art Institute. Luckily they’ve moved away from clickers and twitter to face-to-face talking and sharing. The first exercise was for everyone to write down two ideas on a card- and then they started a game like musical chairs where everyone walks around while the music plays and swap cards- until the music stops, and you then stop and discuss and score with the last person you had exchanged cards with. You then have 5 points to award between the first idea on each card. This was repeated three times and you could add “builds” to the idea to enhance it. Ideas with high scores were shared with the group between each exchange round. It was a good way to say hi to a lot of people- and end up having a discussion with someone you might not have met before.

I was in the livability group, there was also an entrepreneurship and a campus group. Of course I was a bit out of the age range- but, I wasn’t the oldest, since there were some corporate types and other organizational leaders (local Pecha Kucha founder and AIA Dayton honcho Matt Sauer) and a few candidates.

After the idea generation exercise, we got to hear a keynote by Braddock Mayor John Fetterman PA in the amazing DAI auditorium. While many of us have heard of how desolate Detroit is, or how Hurricane Katrina caused massive population loss, nothing is like what happened to Braddock- which lost 90% of its residents. Fetterman has become a bit of a celebrity- and has managed to put Braddock on the map as a city that claims on its homepage that “Reinvention is the only Option.” Fetterman could be defined as the anti-politician, except when you realize that Braddock’s entire population is less than 3,000 (or 6 times the number of valid signatures you need to run for Mayor of Dayton). Winning an election where it is truly possible to talk to every voter is a bit different than what has to be done in Dayton.

Needless to say, Fetterman is a big man, with a big heart and a focus on youth. He came to town as an Americorps volunteer armed with a graduate degree from Harvard in Public Policy. He ran for office because things had to change in his opinion. His main goals were to stop the killing, because Braddock had a gun violence problem- and to make the place safe for kids. Playgrounds, art spaces and public areas- from community centers to public gardens were keys to transforming the psyche of a town that was down on itself. He also managed to create a youth work program that gave every kid in town a summer job. Of course, it helped that somehow Braddock became a pet project of Levi Strauss, whic donated a lot of money to the city for using it and its people for an ad campaign. Also, the aesthetic of post apocalyptic entropy has attracted movies to use Braddock as a backdrop for movies of that genre. Not exactly the glossy beauty shot you use to attract people to move in and invest in your city.

But, here is where I get frustrated with Dayton. We don’t trust ourselves to listen to our own home-grown talent. We send more people with vision packing than we empower. I can go back 20+ years and remember the battle’s Commissioner Mark Henry had to fight to work to get “McHenry Town” to happen. McHenry lived in the McPherson Town neighborhood (I can’t remember if it was a historic district yet) and believed in Oscar Newman’s concept of “defensible space”- where blocking off neighborhood access was used to stop non-residential cut-through traffic, cruising for drugs and prostitution and generally to give people a clear set of boundaries to work within. It was a bold experiment, and to Henry’s credit, McPherson town made great strides. However  it is the smallest Historic District in Dayton, so great strides were easy. We didn’t run Henry out- he stepped down from the Commission to go to law school at UD and never came back to Dayton proper, instead, decamping to the suburbs where he could raise his kids and send them to public schools that would give him his money’s worth (you only get one chance with your kids- it’s not like a house which you can walk away from).

But, there was another person with a plan in McPherson Town- his name was Michael Kern. He was a slightly ADD guy with a side of professor Harold Hill (from “The Music Man”). He started buying options on McPherson Town properties left and right. His goal was to acquire rights to 25% or 30% (or some number) and then have the city step in and use a process like eminent domain, to grab the rest of the properties that were in a negative social equity position (or run-down in lay terms). He was looking for using something much like a Tax Incentive District (TID) to reinvest in the district and pull it all up at once, quickly, so that it would become attractive to banks again (at that time he was running into the same obstacle I ran into with buying my house- banks didn’t do home loans to people for houses under $25,000 because homes shouldn’t be that cheap.). Instead, the city jumped on him with the full force of a bunch of Imperial Stormtroopers for every housing violation on his existing properties and put him in jail. Exit Michael Kern. (Kern’s efforts were pre-internet, making it hard for me to research and link to his plans- I think a case study analysis of this might be eye-opening, on how Inspector Gotcha and Mr. Status Quo killed ambition at the threshold of opportunity.)

The last visionary out of McPherson Town was my friend Bill Rain. Bill was working for Bass Systems (a local company that sold checkout system technology to retailers like Target) as a major accounts rep. He was living the good life, when he got the developer’s bug. He put together the deal that put the “one stop center” on Edwin C. Moses Blvd. in his spare time, got a decent check and next thing he was looking to leave Bass and go all in on creating new downtown living spaces- our first true, home-grown urban pioneer developer. We’d already watched the city throw money at McCormick Barron, the YMCA and who knows who else to rehab the old Y into “the landing” and build the new condos along the river on Monument, but Bill had to fight every battle on his own, and took the old butt-ugly Pinsky produce building on St. Clair and gave us the “Lofts on St. Clair” (not to be confused with the St. Clair lofts which came much later) which he and co-developer Dave Williams each had to buy a unit in order to get banks to go along. From there, Bill did the Ice Avenue lofts- a building that was so structurally weak on one side, most thought it should have been torn down, instead, Bill got engineers to figure out how to put it back out of catywampus-ville, and a whole bunch of new downtown living space was added. He was the flint for the fire that became “The Cannery” when he bought the first building at the corner of Wayne and Third, and struck up a relationship with Beth Duke who had the 4th building down the street. Arguably, the Cannery has been the most successful privately developed downtown housing, even though it did end up in bankruptcy- probably in large part caused by the road blocks that the city and HUD added to the project. (Originally, the second floor was to be offices, for a work/live possibility and to decrease the need for parking- since the uses alternate, but HUD supposedly said no to funding office space). Rain dropped out of that partnership to do the Schwind building, where he got his chain yanked by both the City and CityWide Development, to the point he left town when the DeBartolo Company offered him a development position in Tampa. Yes, DeBartolo, as in Eddie, former owner of the San Francisco 49ers and at one time owner of something close to 80% of the shopping malls in this country. Not good enough for Dayton, but good enough for a guy on the 250 richest people in the world list. The Schwind has just made the news again as being wrecking ball material, because an out of town developer is being welcomed with a million dollar gift, to create Sinclair student housing. Had the same deal been offered Rain, it would have happened years ago- without tearing down a piece of history.

As a side note, because the city decided to subsidize the YMCA to the tune of at least a half-million, Joe Moore of Moore’s Nautilus pulled up stakes and moved out of Downtown and swore off ever investing in the city. That’s the problem when tax dollars are used for private development without open bidding and fair playing fields – something Dayton seems to excel at.

So, back to Mayor John and his dystopian utopia. The big man spins a mean marketing machine, and has managed to covet attention to the plight of his neighborhood sized “city.” The real solution to Braddock’s problems probably lie in a total overhaul of the jurisdictional rules of Pennsylvania. What we have here is a “city” about as far from Pittsburgh as Vandalia is from Dayton. And the “city’s” population is about what we have in the total of South Park and Twin Towers combined (or less).

Here is where the UpDayton crowd could have looked for our own transformational leadership. People who are doing things right here in D-Town. No bald heads, big tattoos or the bravado that being a spoiled rich kid allows- since the part that Fetterman leaves out is that he works most of his “magic” by being a big fish in a tiny pond, with a bit of family money being channeled through a non-profit that he runs and comes from his dad and his own pocket, appended with money from Levi’s and other foundations, like the Heinz foundation.

Here we have Jan Lepore-Jentleson slaving away for almost twenty years, trying to navigate around the edges of the bureaucratic labyrinth of federal poverty reduction programs to create East End Community Services. They are building community in a neighborhood that suffered the exact same kind of de-investment that Braddock did. Although Xenia Avenue’s business strip was nothing like it was in the 1950s, much of the blue collar jobs were gone, and all that was left were the watering holes and an odd feed store which is now her base of operations after they moved Xenia Ave. Feed to the ‘burbs as well.

We also have the tag team of Theresa Gasper and Mike and Holly DiFlora, who’ve been part of gentrifying South Park for the last 5 years, investing about $3 million of their own money in a neighborhood that’s been pulling itself up by its own bootstraps for the last 30 years. Change comes at a snail’s pace in Dayton unless you have the blessing of the people in the back room who used to run this town. They were the people who brought you the Schuster Center, Riverscape and Fifth Third field, but, the sad thing is, unbeknownst to many, their ranks have thinned to almost non-existent these days- as Mead, Reynolds & Reynolds, Danis Construction, NCR and others all either left town or had to struggle with their own demons brought on by the massive economic melt-down that set this entire country back 100 years.

Fetterman is a master of telling a story that, upon closer examination, is more like being elected High School Class president than being a force of nature coming to save the urban world (my high school, Cleveland Heights High, was only grades 10-12 and had 2,400 students). When he talks about winning the election by one vote, it was in the Democratic primary where he was going against a 2-term incumbent. The total vote in that election was less than the number of signatures Gary Leitzell had to get to get on the ballot to run against Rhine McLin, and there was no 6-to-1 spending disparity in that race. When Fetterman is asked about how many people have followed his lead and moved to Braddock to do their art thing, he masterfully extrapolates the numbers by saying “it was like 4,000 people moving to Pittsburgh, he said, which sounded like a lot. The actual number is currently 23, in 10 households.”

He also exaggerates the numbers in his presentation by listing what was on Main Street in 1955, and then says shows all the zeros for what is left now. They didn’t have an optician in 1955, but they do now, but he fires for effect, not for the facts.

I’m still a fan of Mayor John. He has somethings dead on right. Safety is key. No one wants to invest where people are getting woken up by gunfire, boom-thunk cars cruising your hood, or having your welcome sign “sponsored by the Crips.” He is making changes and the most telling fact of his speech was that the woman who called him “full of shit” in the Rolling Stone article, who was the “borough manager” was later to have been found with her hand in the cookie jar to the tune of $178,000 of the town’s money. I’m pretty sure she would have been able to keep her scam going, just like some people in Dayton have done for years without getting so much as a sideway look because we don’t have a single elected independent leader, except Gary Leitzell, who isn’t a 6’8″ 350 lb independently wealthy guy able to blow the whistle on his own, since the size of the whistle needed to explain things to everyone in Braddock is a $15 megaphone and in Dayton it takes a lot more (it’s doubtful that Braddock has its own newspaper that’s in bed with the local charlatans who line their pockets with tax dollars like we do.).

Dayton has its own reasons for being on the world map, and not as a dystopia. The Dayton Peace accords make Dayton a mythical place to most in Europe, which may be why Mayor Leitzell’s reputation is better in the London Financial Times than in the Dayton Daily News with his “Welcome Dayton” initiative. His $10k challenge to run for commission which was ignored by the old school politicians who wouldn’t know either change or a great marketing idea if it hit them with a two-by-four is another example of why Gary Leitzell may be the most under-respected mayor this city has  had in recent times (especially considering we’ve had a string of do-nothings or claim everythings in the center seat).

Leitzell isn’t a polished public speaker, although he can hold his own. While everyone in the audience at the UpDayton summit will remember the big sloppy man in shorts (Fetterman blamed his kid for spilling a slushy on him before he left Braddock for the roadtrip to Dayton) for showing his big tattoo of Braddock’s zip code on his arm, Leitzell had to endure a ton of crap for having a small earring by our politically backward establishment. I’ve gotten criticized for wearing jeans and not having a tie on the campaign trail- I doubt Mayor John hangs a rope around his neck ever, because, well, he looks like a skinhead and doesn’t smile according to articles in Rolling Stone and the New York Times.

Sure, compared to Braddock, Dayton looks great was Mayor John’s anthem. “All you young professionals, come on over to my playground and do the urban homestead” was his underlying pitch. While he made it clear what he was up to was Sisyphean in scale, when he talked about housing prices, Dayton is a much better deal than Braddock, we have amazing value here for those looking for it once you move just slightly off the bottom of the basement deals.

Maybe next year, UpDayton will look a little closer to home, because we have our own storytellers, who maybe haven’t been on the Colbert report, or been written up by Rolling Stone, but have done really amazing things. Not that I’m criticizing the UpDayton crew- but, isn’t it almost ironic that UpDayton couldn’t find someone in Dayton to talk it up? We’ve got the talent here, and it needs to be heard.


To read more about UpDayton over time on Esrati.com search “upDayton”
Another article about Fetterman- Harvard Magazine: Wrought From Ruins
An article about Braddock PA street art.



The opportunity costs of subsidizing Midmark’s move

On Wednesday, I went to the city commission meeting to speak against handing over tax dollars to a private corporation. As usual, I was working with somewhat faulty information that I’d received from the “Dayton Daily news” in that the money was being approved by the City Commission, but was actually ED/GE funds which are from the County sales tax collections. Either way, it’s tax dollars collected to provide government services being taken from our pockets and put into the pockets of a private corporation. Here is the basics from the PR run in the DDN:

Midmark Corp. will relocate its corporate headquarters to Dayton by July.

The medical, dental and veterinary health care equipment provider said Thursday it has completed lease negotiations and will move the headquarters, to be renamed Midmark Center, to the 1700 South Patterson Building on the University of Dayton’s River Campus. The building once housed NCR Corp.’s headquarters….

Midmark received $100,000 in economic development funding from the city of Dayton to move the jobs. The estimated payroll of the employees moving to the city is $10.8 million, which will generate about $242,000 a year in taxes for the city, according to the agreement between the city and Midmark.

The new headquarters will take up more than 23,000 square feet on the fourth floor of the 1700 South Patterson Building.

via Midmark base coming to Dayton.

Originally, the city had hoped to put Midmark into one of the empty buildings they built via CityWide Development in “Tech Town”- another squander of tax dollars on subsidies of a few private businesses with money that should have been spent on providing best in class services to all citizens. That deal fell through- but UD stepped up, by offering even cheaper space in the NCR HQ building they got for a song when NCR bailed on Dayton. There are unanswered questions about how much UD pays in property taxes vs what NCR paid in property taxes on this property, but that’s something for a paid reporter to investigate.

There is the interesting sidebar to this story, that Midmark’s CEO & President Anne Eiting Klamar also serves on the UD Board of Trustees, making this yet another sweetheart insiders deal.

But before I share my speech, let’s take economics 101. Opportunity costs are the costs of actions not taken, now, and over time. While the five year payback in “income taxes” received sounds wonderful on the $100,000 “investment”- let’s look at the real costs that have already gone into that process.

We’ve paid a myriad of “economic development” people good money to go out and sell out city primarily by whoring tax incentives and deals, instead of selling on our inherent value that we offer. In turn, the money that we’ve wasted on them, and these deals (most of which had no real penalties or clawback provisions and many went far south of positive for the city) has cut our ability to pay for essential government services- like road paving, leaf collection, safety forces, parks and recreation programs, thus making Dayton a less attractive place to live and less safe of an investment- thereby sending a message that we’re a poverty riddled city, much like the ugly girl offering to pay and let a boy have his way with her so she can go to the prom.

Maybe, if we had invested the hundreds of millions we’ve squandered on these “ED” projects over the last 20 years, which benefited a few, at a cost to the many, NCR wouldn’t have left in the first place?

While Midmark may not have any direct competitors in the region, there is also the undemocratic aspect of giving to one company while not giving to their competition- since there are no open competitions for this money, with a guaranteed equal opportunity for all. Banks can’t lend to homeowners with out following the rules of equal opportunity, but our government seemingly gets to pick and choose who to favor. This should be illegal. It reeks of payola to friends and family and political donors much more than it creates wealth. We know that it doesn’t work, because we’ve been losing payroll and investment in the city for about the same amount of time as we’ve been practicing this voodoo juju in the name of good government.

Here is what I said. I was rudely interrupted by the Clerk of Commission as I was finishing up, because the City Commission isn’t really there to hear or respond to citizens at their “public meeting”- they are there to have the shortest possible meeting, so Nan Whaley can get back to her fund raising. For the record, Joey Williams and Dean Lovelace were not in attendance at the March  20, 2013 meeting where this was given:

People often say government would be improved if it was run like a business, but they never take the time to really discuss in depth what business the government should be in.

Apparently, now, the citizens of Dayton are in the medical cabinetry and furniture business- since our tax dollars are about to be invested in Midmark corporation. The payback is supposed to be increased employment and tax revenue for the city- and while that sounds just fine and dandy, it makes me wonder why we chose Midmark- over, well, anyone else?

You see, the tax dollars that are being handed over to Midmark, came out of the pockets of people who are working two jobs just to make their house payments. And their house, well, it’s worth less now because the house a few doors down went into foreclosure and is now occupied by a bunch of dope using thieves, who keep breaking the law and causing the police to visit, oh, 22 times a year on average.

Now those hard working residents, have to buy security cameras, replace the chainsaws that have been stolen out of their garage (twice) and they have to buy new bikes for their kids, a new lawnmower, you get the picture…

Why do hard working Daytonians pay taxes? To hire police officers to stop thieves? To pick up leaves or sweep streets? Apparently not. We pay taxes to invest in Midmark Corporation!

Not only are we spending money on this Midmark giveaway, we pay our hard earned money to hire a staff of “economic development specialists” who seem to believe that they are worth considerably more than a police officer on the street protecting citizens. What if we took those salaries and instead, made sure that Dayton was a safe place to live, where our investments in things like bicycles, lawnmowers, chainsaws were protected?

Maybe it would be easier to live in Dayton and take care of our property, and someone would want to live near us that didn’t engage in crime on a daily basis? Crimes against us.

You see, the criminals stealing my property, aren’t much different than what you are about to do- you are taking my hard earned tax dollar and handing it over to someone else- someone who may even be a business competitor of mine. You are also robbing me of additional police resources- the stuff that I thought my tax dollars were going to be used for.

This isn’t the first time the City has thought they were in a different business than providing services to their residents- I recall a recent initiative to bring a Kroger to the corner of Wayne and Wyoming. Millions of our tax dollars went to acquire options, and property for a grocery store that never came. Just imagine, instead of spending over a million dollars to own an empty lot, you’d spent it on doing the peoples business- police protection, I still might have my bicycle and my chainsaw and my lawnmower- and I wouldn’t be down here wasting my time trying to get the city to stop engaging in “economic development” and try doing the business of the city- which means making our neighborhoods safe and our city an affordable place to do business.

You could probably even cut your income tax rate- if you stopped doing “business” that isn’t any of your business, nor is it mine.

The way you help Midmark is by not getting distracted from what the business of Dayton is.

If you personally want to help Midmark- take your salaries to  the stockmarket and buy stock in Midmark- but that’s the only acceptable thing you should do for Midmark with my tax dollars.

After I sat down, Mayor Leitzell made the lame response, one that reeks of the weakness of vision of our City- “If we didn’t do it, someone else would.” He told me later, everyone on the commission doesn’t like these deals, but fears not doing it. Of course, if everyone else is doing crack, that’s no excuse to do it too, at least, that’s what my momma taught me (well, almost, since crack didn’t exist when my momma was teaching me the difference between right and wrong).

I have an audio recording that’s 7 minutes long, which starts part way into Mr. Down’s explanation that this is County money, and then my talk.



Two sides to a public lynching of a small business owner: Sidebar

Sidebar 410 in Dayton is now closed, as of 30 July 2012. Former employees have weighed in with their comments below. It’s not pretty. This post has generated an unreal amount of traffic and comments very quickly.Of all the things I’ve posted since 2005, this has the most backstabbing, vitrol in comments to date. Some of these people worked for Mr. Higgins for almost 2 years- yet totally forget all the paychecks that did clear- and the tips they made, at one of the hippest places we’ve had. Please read the post carefully, because I still don’t believe it deserved the vitrol.

My very first clients for The Next Wave were restaurants. The Video Deli, The Third and Linden Market, Sodexo Marriott’s in house catering for Hobart in Troy, Pacchia. Since 1990, I’ve worked with many small businesses, but, of all of them, restaurants are by far the toughest. Employees act more like free-agents, you are judged by every single transaction based partly on personal taste, and with the advent of the Internet with sites like Yelp, Urban Spoon, Trip Advisor, FourSquare, Facebook and Google Places, every single customer can write a lousy review with impunity.

A Harvard professor did a study and differences in Yelp ratings can have significant effects on revenue. Big impacts.

Plus, depending on weather, and a whole bunch of other factors, restaurant owners almost have to gamble every night on stocking ingredients for making your meal. Predict wrong either way and it can be costly. It’s a very fickle business and I have the utmost respect for every single independent restaurant owner. I also love and appreciate the local character they infuse into a community- if the old adage about good cooking is the way to a man’s heart, a good local restaurant scene is what gives a community a heart and, a personality.

Photo of a protestor of the Sidebar in Dayton Ohio

The first report of trouble to my cell from one of my team

Yesterday, I got a message from one of my team with a picture of a protester outside Sidebar in the Oregon District. Sidebar employees were standing outside picketing with signs saying they hadn’t been paid. We’ve done business with Sidebar and owner Brian Higgins and have known for a long time that he was struggling. The Dayton Daily News did a huge expose on him and his other business- GSSP services, a mortuary service to the county that picked up bodies and delivered them to the morgue. It was pretty clear then that Higgins had monstrous obstacles to overcome, and this protest was going to be one more.  A friend (thanks Jay) found a piece of real investigative journalism from Chicago from 2009 about Higgins’s  operation there. I wouldn’t wish this kind of PR on anybody, and as a PR pro, it’s hard to straighten things out while people are still being handed knives to stick in you.

I put a simple post on Facebook:

Sidebar employees are out front picketing on E. Fifth Street because their paychecks bounced (again). There are two ways to deal with this- honor the protest and make sure they go out of business- or go, spend money and tip extra well and try to keep a great local restaurant in business.
Considering people are lining up at Chik-fila (sic) to show support for a homophobic corporation, we should be able to go help out a local businessman in trouble.
Will you join me there tonight?

I got a few likes and a load of hatred. The local TV stations had no problem putting this story on the news. The protesters were leaving just as I got there last night a little before 11- as was the last news truck. The place that would have normally been rocking and packed, looked like a quiet Tuesday night.

Sidebar employs about 45 people. It also brought a new level of drinks, dining and style to the Oregon District. I love the quinoa salad, the eggplant parmigiana and the beef saltado pizza. My partner loves their drinks- which were all unique and made totally from scratch- fresh squeezed juices, hand-ground spices and even different kinds of custom ice.

I’m also very connected to that space on E. Fifth Street- having helped launch Pacchia there long ago- after Glen Brailey figured out how to sneak a liquor license in to the Oregon District without paying the premium caused by limits imposed by the city. I want to see a restaurant there succeed- and even more  in other spaces like the old furniture store building a few doors east that has been vacant for 30 years. We need the Oregon to flourish.

What bothers me most is that millions upon millions of our tax dollars have been handed out to “create jobs” and “economic development” in this community- they’ve been handed out capriciously (randomly- or maybe not- some go to big campaign contributors). Sidebar hasn’t been on the receiving end of any of this. I was hoping all the people that Brian has given a free drink to, comped a meal (which he’d always do if he found out you were proposing in his restaurant- or he’d comp some champagne) or helped with fundraisers (I’d been to many there- and even held my last election night vigil there- where Brian comped some food) would come out and support him last night- and help put some more money in the bank. I was treated on Facebook like a pariah.

There weren’t any public protests about the money the government poured into MCSi and Mike Peppel, the CEO who stole millions and got 7 days in jail. Nor, have there been protests about the two-tiered tax system at Austin Landing.

Higgins isn’t the first small business to bounce a check, nor is he the only restaurant owner to owe suppliers, or miss tax bills. The list is long. But, he seems to have become our favorite pinata.

To me, there will be no winners in this. I wasn’t asking for a tax dollar supported bailout last night, I was asking for people to go out and eat and drink and to tip the remaining staff well, just in case there isn’t enough money left to pay them either.

I don’t want Sidebar to disappear. I still miss the copper clad wood-fired pizza oven from the original days of Pacchia. I miss Dominic’s garlic salad and their sizzling cheesy lasagna. I miss Kitty’s downtown with their pompous large menus and Seattle East with their really good chicken breast sandwiches and kettle chips and the movie discussions they used to hold in the back room. I miss Blue Moon’s black and white Tuna over a wasabi infused rice cake- and a certain waitress who gave me a birthday kiss- before she went on to become a reporter and then a PR person. I miss What you eat- the little vegetarian place that preceded the Blue Moon – and their white bechamel pesto lasagna and fresh baked bread with honey butter.

All of these restaurants made Dayton a great place to live, but didn’t get the support of our community, while TGI Friday’s and Applebee’s will long be with us.

We have to learn how to stop kicking people when they’re down and learn how to help them up. I am very glad that Blind Bob’s is going to hold a benefit to help the employees that haven’t been paid- they are another class act that deserves your support, but, I hope there is a lesson in all of this.

Invented in Dayton: Rob Lowe

While Kevin Bacon made the concept of 6 degrees of separation famous, Dayton should be famous for 1.2 degrees of separation- in my time in Dayton, I’ve criss-crossed with Rob Lowe a few different ways, never actually meeting him- but I have talked to him on the phone once. His father was the first attorney willing to take my mask case, his step-mom was crafting her sculpture in South Park for a few years- 2 doors down from my office.

Dayton has been well represented in Hollywood, with Martin Sheen (a South Park native) and Allison Janney joining Rob on the West Wing- as well as all their other projects.

We’ve got the guy behind the storyboards for the Cohen brothers films living in Oakwood- J. Todd Anderson, and my good friend Mike Webber, who has made a bunch of movies, while living in Springboro. We’re well represented in IMDB.

And although I haven’t had a chance to read Rob Lowe’s new autobiography, from the review, it sounds like Dayton gets more than a  mention: from the NYT review:

Rob Lowe’s “Stories I Only Tell My Friends,” by contrast, sticks mostly to the 1970s and ’80s and this mortal coil, though he does share some of MacLaine’s preoccupations. Lowe writes a cohesive, lively and engaging narrative that, despite occasional evasive maneuvering at critical junctures, captures a particular time in a surprisingly evocative way. He recounts his childhood in Ohio; his parents’ divorce; his mother’s subsequent marriages, divorces and emotional troubles; and his unlikely origins as a musical theater nerd. The memoir gains steam when Lowe’s mother (a New Age seeker herself, who come to think of it would have gotten on like a house on fire with Mac­Laine) follows her third husband-to-be to a “spartan” Malibu, taking her sons with her. There Lowe encounters a strange, enchanted world with a sinister undertow, as well as an entrée into the world of film.

via Book Review – Memoirs by Shirley MacLaine and Rob Lowe – NYTimes.com.

I’ve recently noticed several local businesses displaying the “Dayton Patented” logo as a Dayton Original, and although Rob wasn’t born in Dayton- he did spend his formative years here. I’m surprised that we haven’t seen any Dayton Original messaging with some of our Hollywood stars- or our sports stars like Mike Schmidt.

If you’ve traveled in Europe since the Dayton accords, you’d be surprised how well Dayton is perceived- yet, at home, we have no clue to our position in the perception of the world. If we’re going to start undoing the damage to our community psyche- it’s time to enlist all the help we can get.

Rob- would you like to help? Martin? Allison? Mike?


The Yellow Bike test balloon

Several years ago I proposed that Dayton join Denver in being one of the first to roll out the BCycle bike share system. It would have been about a $2 million investment, and would have put Dayton on the map in the news cycle as a major player and forward thinker in bik- sharing systems.

Several community leaders expressed interest- but, didn’t seem to understand either the costs, the revenue model, or the impact- and especially not the reason behind the seemingly expensive system.

Why are the Bcycle bikes “so expensive” they’d ask? The $3,000 price tag per seat- that’s bike and docking stations- comes from having bikes that are sturdy, safe, easy to adjust, and trackable. Not just so they can’t get stolen (the value of stealing these Bcycle bikes is low- since no parts are interchangeable with other bikes- and special tools are needed to work on them)- and because they have accountability built into them- both with check-out records and GPS.

So, despite having major parking issues at UD, WSU, Sinclair, MVH, LexisNexis – and dealing with these issues with a real solution- we decided instead  to roll out the “Yellow Bike” program. Yellow bikes are brightly painted bikes that are free- and randomly available around downtown. They hit the streets on the evening of the Spring Urban Nights. 50 bikes- free to be used.

A Yellow Bike in Dayton

A Dayton Yellow Bike

Photo of a BCycle

The BCycle- a complete solution for bike sharing

There are no signs explaining the program to riders- although there is a sticker on the bike with small disclaimer style text, and no way of keeping track of where they are, or aren’t. The bikes mostly seem to be an inexpensive mountain bike- far from the style of the Bcycle. The Bcycle has a basket for carrying items, a fully enclosed chain, full fenders, an easy step-through frame, easily adjustable seat and handlebar height, integrated light, bell and tracking system, The BCycle even has an integrated lock. The Yellow Bike has none of these- technically meaning you are riding them illegally if the laws are enforced (please see the post about the DPD harassing an intern for lack of bell and light from this site).

The beauty of a real system like BCycle is that you can actually depend on bikes to be in strategic places and track availability. Also, since the system is a “managed one” the bikes are rebalanced throughout the system so that they are there when you need them- the “magic bike.” Yellow Bike has none of these advantages. In fact- because there are no time limits imposed, nor ways of tracking them, and the number of bikes on the street is easily a third of what the standard formulas would call for – for just downtown, what this could lead to is a “we tried it- and it didn’t work” answer when someone decides to get serious about this concept.

While the city seems to have endless dollars to give away to rich developers and large corporations- we don’t seem to have money for amenities that enhance and add value to our community. Bike sharing won’t be for everyone- but, it does have a lot of pluses to it, including:

  • energy efficiency
  • encouraging healthy exercise
  • alleviating parking issues
  • making the community more affordable with transportation alternatives

Yet, we choose to do it half-heartedly.

Unfortunately, somehow bicycling as an alternative transportation option has somehow become a cause celebre of the YUPPIE creative class crowd- as states this graffiti I spotted the other day:

Hipsters ruined bicycles for me

Hipsters ruined bicycles for me



Why Dayton needs to stop acting like a city in decline

Last night, I had the honor of attending the Dayton Public Schools Superintendent’s Scholars ceremony for kids getting straight A’s (yep- one of the Esrati household is brighter than most). There, we got to hear and later meet an exceptional student from Thurgood Marshall High School- Ashley Cooper. Ms. Cooper has a 4.1 gpa, is involved in all kinds of extra-curricular activities and is a Gates Scholar. Yep- she has a free ride to any school she gets in.

She wants to major in Political Science- and is accepted at Ohio State. I think she’s setting her sights too low- but, that seems to be typical in Dayton, we don’t realize that our city will be an undeniable powerhouse in the future- not because we have great leadership, or great schools, or even Gates scholars- but because we have something everyone needs and takes for granted: clean water:

Every gallon of water we use has an economic value — the value of whatever we can actually do with that water, whether it’s brew our morning coffee, grow an acre of wheat, or make a microchip.

Yet in our homes, our schools, our companies and organizations, we typically behave as if the opposite were true. We act as if clean, on-demand water has zero economic value. Especially in the developed world, the value inherent in water is hidden under a cloak of invisibility. Although the water has indispensable usefulness, it rarely has a price.

What’s often oddly missing from the conversation about the business of water is the price of the water itself. The companies that are taking water seriously today have something at risk — their inability to function without reliable water, or their reputation if they squander or damage local supplies. Some see an opportunity in persuading other businesses to try to understand their water risk.

What is so striking is that businesses that start to take the economic value of water seriously immediately start to use it and think about it differently.

via The Business of Water | Fast Company.

Sure the Dayton Development Coalition has their H2Open for business initiative, but unfortunately, we’re still confused about how to work together to sound like a real region on the move.

Just like Ms. Cooper, who could be shooting for Harvard, Yale, Princeton or other Ivy League powerhouses-yet is headed to OSU, we are still wasting considerable energy spinning our wheels in Ohio talking about banning abortion, ending collective bargaining and taxes on casinos- instead of blowing away our insane jigsaw puzzle of jurisdictions that make true leadership and vision a virtual impossibility.

If there is one thing I’ve noticed while watching the Cory Booker show- “Brick City” is that he has a single focus on crime reduction- and that his leadership position changes perception in the community.

We have no local leadership.

Every government authority has been handed over to committee, with city managers, administrators and directors- all given quasi-power and a bully pulpit that’s been cut down to pre-school size.

We forget the power of powerful voices- our school superintendents share the stage with the 7 dwarfs (the school board)- the Mayor has the four mouseketeers, the County administrator has the three blind mice- and our superstars, like Ashley Cooper are constantly surrounded with people without a purpose, without clear authority to go out and change the world.

We’re sitting on the most valuable resource known to man, yet we still fail to capitalize on it.

We’ve got talent like Ms. Cooper- and we fail to recognize it (the only major news outlet to show up in Google results for a search on Ashley Cooper, Gates Scholar is channel 45- FOX!).

How much else do we fail to recognize and capitalize on due to our dilution of leadership capital?

(and note, if you want to see change in Dayton- so that we can vote to change “leadership” mid-course- please contribute to the legal fund to challenge our ridiculous city charter)