Lakewood’s Audacious Activists

Last month, retired editorial director, Brent Larkin of The Plain Dealer published an opinion calling Lakewood voters who supported a charter and mayoral change last November “unlovable losers” in their defeat and perseverance to right a terrible wrong. That wrong being the deliberate sabotage and closing of Lakewood Hospital by execution of a “decanting” plan to transfer patients and services; charging of exorbitant administrative fees to burden the bottom line; and through secret negotiations to privatize millions in public assets without competition or fair compensation. The perseverance of these so called “losers,” resulted in the collection of thousands of signatures that has placed a referendum on this election’s ballot to challenge the deal struck and confirmed by City Council in December 2015. This issue will appear at the very end of the ballot as 64.

Mr. Larkin’s name calling was hurtful. But as I began to question why I was still supporting the cause, I was reminded of Noam Chomsky’s documentary, "Requiem for the American Dream" in which he discusses how wealth and power have worked to reduce democracy and attack solidarity throughout history. Those principles and the public backlash have been at play here in Lakewood.

One striking observation can be made when comparing a snapshot of Issue 64 supporters taken at their recent Solstice Steps “flash mob” to one of Issue 64 opponents as they marched in solidarity in the July 4th parade. Most of those at the steps can be identified as people of relative wealth and/or power. The majority are public managers and directors, elected officials, members of local boards, appointees of city commissions, and their family members. Many have known each other and worked together for years. Those in the parade however, are more representative of the general Lakewood population. They came together from all walks of Lakewood life to oppose the deal. Few knew each other before the hospital closing announcement. Funding of the campaigns led by the opposing groups are equally out of balance as confirmed by campaign finance reports.

But even the name calling and uphill climb against financial and powerful forces have failed to stop these Larkin identified “zealots.” Opponents of 64 continue to fight for truth and justice. In addition to the ongoing taxpayer lawsuit filed in May 2015 seeking damages for the city, a more recent action was filed in the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals seeking an order to compel the City of Lakewood to produce public records concerning the Master Agreement that closed Lakewood Hospital and related matters. Thus far, the city has denied most public records requests and there is concern about shortened record retention periods.

Whatever the outcome of the election, I am proud to have been on the side fighting for a better plan for Lakewood than 64 provides. One that addresses the risk to lives due to delayed medical treatment; the inconvenience and hardship experienced by vulnerable residents; the loss of healthcare services and accompanying jobs; the loss of tax revenue; the loss of economic activity; and the loss of public assets. One that holds parties accountable; encourages market competition; demands fair compensation; and comes about via an open and transparent process.

This November as Avon celebrates the opening of their new, state-of-the-art, full service, inpatient hospital, I hope history will be written that the people of Lakewood stood up against money and power to demand fair care for their neighbors as they had for over one hundred years prior.

Keep Lakewood strong. Say, no thanks, we deserve a better deal, by voting AGAINST 64.

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Volume 12, Issue 22, Posted 5:52 PM, 10.25.2016