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Eastern Lake County Chamber of Commerce's Coffee Contacts; Not a Crime to be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America; The Seven A. Minter Endowed Forum; C.A.M.E.O.'s annual Holiday Party


Although Wednesday, December 13th, was our first truly snowy day in Cleveland, we still managed to take in several events by driving slowly and allowing for time.

First of all, we went to an Eastern Lake County Chamber of Commerce's "Coffee Contacts East" held at the "Spring Hill Winery" on South Ridge West in Geneva.

Because, the skies were growing increasingly ominous and snow flakes were starting to fall by the time we got there, we decided to stay only a little while but we did get to make the acquaintance of Ms. Cindy Swank Cole and Mr. Tom Swank who are two of the four co-owners of "Spring Hill Winery" that had a deliciously warm log cabin type of ambiance which was perfectly suited to a cold day like this one.

We also chatted for a moment with Ms. Beth Debevec of "Debonne Vineyards" who told us that the Fall Season was perfect in temperature and that they had enjoyed a "wonderful" harvest this year. In fact, the previously evening they had picked the grapes to create "Ice Wine". We learned that in order to successfully do this, the grapes must be naturally frozen when picked and pressed immediately. So, to be sure, the presses at "Debonne Vineyards" will be going full force on this day cold weather or not.

We made a good move by leaving "Coffee Contacts East" so early because we had time to stop off at our home in the Collinwood area and make sure that the heater was still working and our water pipes had not frozen. We usually leave a faucet dripping when the temperature is in the high teens/low twenties like it was on this day.

We then headed over the the "City Club of Cleveland" to attend a program in which the speaker was Professor Peter Edelman, who is the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law and Public Policy at "Georgetown University Law Center" and faculty director of the "Georgetown Center on Law and Inequality". He also worked in various capacities with both U.S. Senators Robert F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy as well as the Clinton administration from which he resigned because he disagreed with aspects of the 1996 Welfare Reform Bill.


Professor Edelman was there to talk about his recent book, "Not a Crime to be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America" in which he contends that due to a get-tough, zero tolerance attitude on crime at all levels coupled with the popularity of tax cuts, encouraged by Mr. Grover Norquist (who was part of a panel at the City Club just two weeks ago) and first implemented by the Reagan administration, the states and localities were starved for funds so they started increasing fines for those charged with minor offenses which they couldn't afford to pay which lead to a lot of incarcerations which included an inordinant amount of people of color. As an alternative form of punishment, people lost their driver's licenses for offenses that had nothing to do with vehicular infractions and got into even more trouble when they were stopped for the police and discovered to be driving illegally.


Besides loss of driver's licenses, there have been a lot of wages garnished and tax refunds seized to pay these heavy fines. Along these lines, if a person complained to the authorities about a housing infractions committed by his/her landlord, the latter simply passed the substantial penalties to the tenant which has sometimes lead to an eviction. Plus, since the localities were still strapped for cash, entities like private prisons (or alternative punishment industries), bail bondspeople, and debt collectors flourished.


Professor Edelman (who is incidentally the husband of Ms. Marian Wright Edelman, President and Founder of the "Children's Defense Fund" among other noteworthy accomplishments) indicated that what lead him to start researched this situation was the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. He said that he really learned a lot from his studies.

Our friend, Ms. Meryl Johnson, let us look through her copy of the book and we discovered that it tackled specific issues that need to be addressed like people with mental illnesses being sent to jail, unconstructive ways of dealing with parents who cannot/will not pay child support, and sending students who have misbehaved in school to a judge for disciplinary actions that in the past were addressed by the schools.

Let us say that Professor Edelman made it clear that illegal actions like those stated above are very serious problems that need to be dealt with but it is the way that we are dealing with them that needs serious discussion. Plus, all the discussion will not matter much if we do not address the issue of "ending poverty as we know it" and he was optimistic that we can do this based on the evidence that quite a few of the anti-poverty programs that came into being during the Nixon administration (surprisingly he did not mention President Johnson) really worked  in terms of lifting people out of poverty and that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan couldn't be more wrong when he contends that they did not.

Professor Edelman called upon the audience at the City Club to become active at the grassroots level regarding issues that they really cared about including those he had talked about. He also praised the work of law offices (both private and non-profit) for taking on difficult cases in the interest of the public.

During the course of his speech, he smiled at the students from the "Hawken School" in Chester Township who were visiting the City Club and said that it was young people like themselves who would determine our future. We, ourselves, had met these young people earlier in December at an HOLA meeting in Painesville which was the day before they were visited by Ms. Margaret W. Wong who they really liked.

Before the program started, we chatted with Sister Marian Durkin who is on the leadership team of the "Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine" and shared a table with Ms. Kathryn Terrell and several other people who work at the "Boys and Girls Club of Greater Cleveland" who told us that they used to work with the refugee agencies on an exciting program that encouraged foreign-born youngsters to share their cultures through music.

This City Club program was "The Seven A. Minter Endowed Forum" and was attended by Mr. Minter, himself, and his daughter, Ms. Robyn Minter Smyers, Partner-In-Charge of the Cleveland Office of "Thompson Hine". Ms. Minter Smyers introduced Professor Edelman and said that both he and his wife, Ms. Marian Wright Edelman, were "heroes" for her when she was younger and they remain so to this day. Mr. Steven Minter, who has been friends with the Edelmans for many years now, privately told us after the program ended that he considered their work to be "amazing".

Representatives from organizations that community partnered with the City Club on this engagement were Ms. Colleen Cotter, Executive Director of "The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland" and Mr. Raymond Bobgan, Executive Artistic Director of "Cleveland Public Theatre".

In fact, Mr. Bobgan told us about a play that will be performed on January 24-28 titled "How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes" which will present different ways of ending poverty. Afterwards there will be a community dialogue/debate on what method the audience preferred and they will even get to vote on it. After the votes are tallied, a prize will be given to the non-profit agency espousing the approach preferred by the audience.

A couple of months ago we received a notice from "Equality Ohio" that read, "every year, Equality Ohio honors a straight, cisgender ally to the LGBTQ community. Cleveland Allies for Equality is our signature event and our largest annual fundraiser in Northeast Ohio...This year we are honoring former ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link for her unwavering and long-held support of LGBTQ people in Ohio."

So in the early evening we went to the "Music Box Supper Club" in the Flats to spend some time at the ceremonies. We did some research and found out that Ms. Link had held her position as Executive Director from 1990 to 2017 and had accomplished a great deal in her tenure. Here is a link that shows some of them:

Indeed, our friend Ms. Alana Jochum, the Executive Director of "Equality Ohio", said that Ms. Links had done so much that they actually had to edit down what they could talk about there. One of the most meaningful things that she did, however, was that she fought for humane treatment for those suffering from AIDS at a time when many people were advocating for reactionary measures like quarantines.

Without saying, on all issues dealing with the LGBTQ from non-discrimination ordinances to marriage equality, Ms. Link's support could be counted on. Unfortunately, due to the increasingly bad weather towards evening and the fact that we had another event to attend that night, we couldn't stay to see Ms. Link accept her award but we certainly did congratulate her.

One of the advantages of arriving at the "Equality Ohio" event early was that we got to hear Ms. Jochum and Ms. Gwen Stembridge, the Northeast Ohio Coordinator, practice their speeches and we told them that, based on what we saw, we expected them to do fine when they actually addressed the attendees.

Among the points that Ms. Jochum made was that it was largely a bad political year on a national level due to some of the repressive, anti-LGBTQ people that the Trump administration appointed to the federal courts. Nevertheless, on the Ohio front some victories were scored such as Kent, Olmsted Falls, and Akron passing non-discriminatory ordinances and the rapid growth of "Ohio Business Competes" which, as its website read, "is a nonpartisan coalition of businesses committed to achieving nondiscrimination policies at the state level in order to attract the best talent to increase Business-to-Business & Business-to-Consumer relationships, and to grow Ohio's economy."

While we were there, we found out that fellow attendees, Ms. Caitie Milcinovic and Mr. John Corlett were also at the City Club luncheon featuring Professor Peter Edelman so we talked about what he had to say. As we wrote earlier, one of the suggestions made by Professor Edelman was for attorneys to become more active in challenging repressive policies. Along these lines, we met and visited with Mr. Chad M. Eggspuehler, an attorney with "Tucker Ellis LLP" who had devoted a lot of his time to advocating for the LGBTQ.

Yet the snow was really starting to come down so we left early to get to "Kan Zaman" restaurant on West 25th Street where the C.A.M.E.O.'s annual Holiday Party was taking place. Mr. George Koussa, our colleague from "Margaret W. Wong & Associates" stopped by earlier too.

Even though we could only stay a little while since we were worried about the streets which were rapidly growing more snow-caked and slippery, we still enjoyed a great dinner and said hello to our friends and guests of C.A.M.E.O. that were invited to attend. We particularly liked making the acquaintance of Mr. Robert Barry Fleming who is the Associate Artistic Director at the "Cleveland Play House" who was at his first C.A.M.E.O. event and was anxious to learn more about it.

We really appreciated it when our friend Mr. Pierre Bejjani, the President of C.A.M.E.O., publicly thanked Ms. Margaret W. Wong for making a generous donation towards the putting on of this party.

Mr. Bejjani was very accepting when we told him that we wanted to leave soon because we were concerned about our drive home.

As it turned out, it took us about an hour to get from West 25th Street to Collinwood via the surface streets (we drive too slowly to take the freeway in such intrepid weather) but we and our Ford Focus (we have three sandbags in the back to weigh it down so it will be less likely to skid) finally made it home safely and thus this blog was written.

And now...a hot cup of tea!!!


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC



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