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August 11th, 2008
Fannie Lewis didn’t have a degree from Harvard University but her common sense wisdom could often exceed the judgments of the Ivy League learned.
I can’t count the hours I spent with Fannie at committee and Council meetings over 20 or more years. I do know she took up a lot more of my time than I wanted. She could go on and on and on.
Yet there were times during those long disputations when Fannie – that’s what most people called her – would zero in smack on the problem everyone else was dancing around.
The last time I saw Fannie Lewis was at a hearing more than two years ago.
I wrote: “Fannie often displays the wisdom of a hard life lived.”
And she did live a hard but productive life.
At the time I wrote, “I approached her as we both waited for an elevator. Age has caught up on her. I’m not sure she recognized me at first. She is bent by time but that’s physically. I believe she still could win re-election in Ward 7 even if she had passed. (And whoever runs to replace her better wish there isn’t another woman with the name Fannie Lewis.)
I went on: “I told her that I wished I had kept a record of her truisms through the many, many years I’ve observed her at City Hall. She simply smiled.
“She had spoken another gem that afternoon.
“Fannie told the standard lineup of suits at the table when millions of dollars were being discussed (for the Wolstein Flats project),
“’A hammer hurts whether it hits you in the hand or the head.’
“The context was about the power and damage of eminent domain.”
Fannie could be a tiger and she could be a gracious comforter. She knew when to be one of the other.
I always said you needed a visa to get into her Hough 7th ward. She controlled it that tightly and not always graciously. She didn’t appreciate competition.
During one long six-hour discussion as Council leadership tried to give Gateway boss Tom Chema cover, Fannie summed up what they were trying to do with disgust:
“Stevie Wonder can see what’s goin’ here,” she said.
At another long meeting about two parking garages the city eventually built for Gateway, Lewis had trouble with the demeanor of then Council President Jay Westbrook and Finance Chairman Jim Rokakis. They gave little time and much disgust to protesters who wanted to speak against the proposal.
I wrote that Westbrook “gave Lewis a look of condescension, asking her if she had finished in such a manner that the question took the tone of a put-down.”
Lewis was having none of it. “Quit being facetious with me,” she told Westbrook and then “caught him where it hurt, his past.” Westbrook had been a radical when he entered Council. “You and I came into this Council screaming about the same things (corporate rip-offs of public money).” Then she had a warning, “Don’t play me cheap.”
At the same meeting Lewis predicted what would and did happen with the garages built for Gateway – huge losses for the city in the millions of dollars each year.
Lewis, brought up on farm land, summed up the eight pieces of legislation used to complete the parking deal: “This ties up the city like you tie up a hog.”
Last 5 posts by George Nemeth
- My letter to the Brad and Joe show - June 10th, 2011
- Creating Conversation - June 7th, 2011
- Justin Bibb on CLE and DET - August 23rd, 2010
- Cleveland International Film Fest Year 34 - March 18th, 2010
- A tale of town city workers - February 8th, 2010