"Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?"
LaShawn Pettus-Brown's (LPB) Jan. 23 arrest opens a new chapter on the most intriguing manhunt for a runaway colored man since Nat Turner got nabbed in 1831.
In New York and on the run from the FBI, the 27-year-old former University of Dayton (UD) basketball player thought he was going on a date but ended up under arrest and awaiting extradition back to Cincinnati. I can just see his airport welcome-home committee: Mayor Charlie Luken, Vice Mayor Alicia Reece (maybe not), a few cops and Pat DeWine and Chris Monzel in the I-told-you-so bleachers.
Everyone's been looking for this cat since he allegedly absconded with $184,172 of the city's $225,000 he received in June 2002 to develop Over-the-Rhine's Empire Theater into a black-and-tan fantasy.
Not so fast. Councilman DeWine and former Councilman Monzel voted against LPB's Swiss cheese development plans as this tale of loose friendships, possibly greased palms, a paperless paper trail and a gaggle of lazy-ass political manipulators went haywire.
As it floated down the crapper, the plan took accountability, trust and a potentially life-altering neighborhood development with it. Whoosh.
Charged with one count of wire fraud, LPB faces a maximum 20-30 year prison sentence and a $1 million fine. He also allegedly took a $15,000 deposit on the theater to help develop a musical about O-T-R. He could call it How I Got Over/How I'm Going Under.
The way LPB got arrested makes him dumber than I thought. But there's plenty dumb to go around. And this feels like clubbing a baby seal.
This thing has looked and felt like a made-for-BET movie. But as art imitates life dictates reality TV, it's hard telling what's fantasy and what's reality.
"Make sure you get a picture of all this bad crap we're gonna take out and rebuild for Cincinnati," said LPB, standing in the rubble of the Empire, before he vanished last January. "This is my home, Over-the-Rhine. I love it. That's why I'm dealing with all this."
His martyred tone set the stage for the pending debacle. Here's what's ground through the rumor mill (fact or fiction? You decide):
· Before he received funding, LPB was a city council hanger-on, cracking jokes, hanging out and ingratiating himself with city staffers.
· During his run, LPB allegedly turned up in Australia, where he allegedly tried renting the Sidney Opera House to promote a Jay-Z concert, a deal that Jigga dropped out of.
· Luken and Reece talked council into approving LPB's plan without benefit of experience or a solid business plan.
· LPB's plan snaked through the Community Development and the Planning Department despite resistance from department staffers. Jim Franklin, Luken's Vine Street Coordinator, allegedly pressured staffers to green light two reimbursement vouchers to LPB.
· The $184,172 was supposed to be gap funding, used to fill in where LPB's own money was short.
· LPB listed his total net worth as 1,674,717, which was Japanese yen, not U.S. dollars.
· Assistant City Manager Rashad Young attended UD with JPB.
· There's no proof Reece briefly dated LPB or that her father, Steve Reece, aka Donald Trump(ed), benefited directly from the debacle.
· The Vice Mayor, however, deflects public attention and inquisition from her role in the debacle by saying 19th-century business practices should be investigated to find out how O-T-R got this way in the first place.
In short, council bet the house that one well-dressed, reasonably spoken and well-groomed hyphenated black man would save face in the 'hood, where the livin's greasy and the cocaine is high.
O-T-R is what everyone claims to want to save. In LPB, some found a quick and easy ally set to do the dirty work for which they could take credit. Really, though, LPB is the broke-ass Get Out of Over-the-Rhine Free Card whose shaky credit, nonexistent financial allies and misreported net worth were checked too late.
Accountability aside, in the end it's poor blacks and poor whites who get screwed. No historic landmark, no jobs, no revenue, no makeover. No hope.
LPB's caper ruins the case for daily doses of reparations. That is, real upstanding Negroes with valid business plans and backing might now stand less of a chance of landing valid development deals.
Further, the gaping hole left by the Empire is a reminder of the erasure of nearly every stride we left in the sand since April 7, 2001.
In typical fashion, our mayor remains hopeful, though a little off point.
"There's still plenty of good things going on in Over-the-Rhine and Vine Street, but this gave the effort a black eye," Luken says.
Wrong again, Mr. Mayor. You and Reece gave the effort a sorry-ass black guy.
Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.