Save Lakewood Hospital’s own-goal

The grassroots campaign to defend Lakewood’s publicly owned charity hospital, from a privatization/liquidation scheme, failed for a variety of reasons. The one I think about most often is an entirely avoidable self-inflicted injury, resulting from such trivial explanations as to be absurd.

It’s time the tale were told.

“Save Lakewood Hospital” was a simple message. Based on all available evidence, it was overwhelmingly popular with the community. Lakewood has the right of initiative and referendum, and getting adequate valid signatures was not difficult for this campaign. “Yes, Save Lakewood Hospital” should have been a landslide electoral success. How, instead, did it end up narrowly defeated?

Dishonesty by the schemers at City Hall and the Cleveland Clinic was certainly part of that. No one really advocated “we should close and liquidate Lakewood Hospital.” They evaded, they made up excuses; to muddy the waters, they created an astroturf counter-campaign, a fake newspaper, and put up yard signs implying that a “yes” vote on the 2015 initiative was actually for the “deal,” which many people probably interpreted as meaning “closing the hospital.”

But I don’t think that should or would have been enough without huge missteps by Save Lakewood Hospital, including one all-time example of “whom the gods would destroy, they first drive mad.”

Save Lakewood Hospital didn’t campaign for the “yes” vote it wanted, in 2015, using the message “Save Lakewood Hospital.”

what the fuck?

Instead, the same people involved in Save Lakewood Hospital incorporated a separate “Right to Vote” entity on paper and campaigned with that message. Why? Why? Well, there were explanations, even if they challenge the concept of “reason.”

The first part of the explanation is that for most of 2015, Save Lakewood Hospital was trying to thwart an action which local government obviously intended but wasn’t actually taking. The eruption of citizen protest at the beginning of an election year led Mayor Summers and his crew to go into limbo, basically. While they stuck to their false talking points when obliged to say something, and had proxies out counter-campaigning more aggressively against Save Lakewood Hospital, the government of Lakewood said and did as little as possible related to the hospital for most of the year.

So the lawyers who mostly ran Save Lakewood Hospital came up with a charter amendment initiative to handcuff the city: under the terms of Issue 64*, council and mayor couldn’t close the hospital without getting voters’ explicit permission.

Though probably a little too clever, this shouldn’t have been all that difficult a sell. The schemers tried to pick at wording, etc., but there was really nothing objectionable here for people who wanted to profess that they were acting with transparency, honest intentions, public interest, etc.

In practice, the initiative vote could and should have functioned as a de facto referendum on keeping or closing the hospital—as many people accepted it afterward. “Save Lakewood Hospital,” I remain convinced, should and would have won that contest easily.

I recall, albeit a little vaguely, that some people felt reluctant to present Issue 64 as “save Lakewood Hospital” because the specific content was this automatic-future-referendum charter change. Certainly our ranks were riddled with the kind of goody-two-shoes squeamishness which would prefer confusing voters rather than gasp implying something which was technically less than 100% accurate.

But a second factor really led Save Lakewood Hospital away from campaigning on “Save Lakewood Hospital” and it’s so dumb.

Working backward, it was like this:

  • The initiative campaign avoided the message/identity of “Save Lakewood Hospital,” despite being basically the same group of people and the same cause, in large part because it was incorporated on paper as a separate organization.
  • The “right to vote” committee was organized as a separate organization because the organizers needed a registered PAC in order for the initiative campaign spending to be legal.
  • The geniuses involved eschewed the obvious answer of registering Save Lakewood Hospital as a PAC because of concern that this would endanger access to the public library as a home for weekly meetings.

It gets even dumber, still. The weekly meetings of Save Lakewood Hospital were basically tedious, useless wastes of time once the group had congealed by mid-winter 2015. They were not productive meetings. They were like church. (Someone even said this once.) It would have been madness to conceal the simple and popular message “Save Lakewood Hospital” behind some generic phrase which made no sense to average people, even if the trade-off was use of the library’s free and convenient space for large meetings. But in fact there was no trade-off. The next year, Save Lakewood Hospital did register as a PAC, kept on holding its tedious ridiculous meetings at the public library, and nothing happened. Including winning any kind of victory, even in an actual referendum after Lakewood government did carry out its disgraceful lame-duck vote to close the hospital in December 2015.

The failure in the 2015 election had poisoned the well. It did not make the liquidation of the hospital, or those responsible for it, any more popular; the shocking 2017 finish of all three at-large council incumbents behind two challengers seemed to confirm that. But the ridiculous klutziness in 2015 killed off any public belief that keeping the hospital was really possible. Even though it never needed to go that way.

The moral of the story, if any, is that while sinister conspiracies certainly do exist, their success or failure often has a lot to do with bungling attachment to the most nonsensical of brainworms. (See also, e.g., activity in and around the U.S. Senate at pretty much any given moment.) Reluctance to believe this is, I think, one factor which contributes to the enduring belief in secrets. “That can’t be the real explanation, it’s so dumb it makes no sense, something else must be going on,” people tell themselves.

Sorry but some times—too often—what’s really going on and so dumb it makes no sense are the same thing.

* Both the 2015 initiative on which Save Lakewood Hospital wanted a yes vote, and the 2016 referendum on which it wanted a vote against, were numbered 64 by the Board of Elections. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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