Opinion | Steve Loomis, media doomed RNC with fear
It took more than a year, but the numbers are finally in.
And they aren’t all that pretty.
Sure, the Republican National Convention was quite a party for some [see Donald Trump’s scrapbook].
It also proved to be a quiet, modest foray for most others [see Dan Gilbert’s casino checkbook].
And compared to the riotous rancor predicted – almost guaranteed - in the months leading up to Cleveland’s national moment, the RNC was a protesting dud.
There weren’t thousands of bikers and truckers for Trump raring to go rasslin’ with Black Lives Matter supporters. Anarchists didn’t burn down Euclid Avenue. Our streets weren’t bullet-riddled or bloodied.
But there was pre-RNC fear. Lots of it. And it cost Cleveland.
And fueling the pre-RNC tension were the local and national media anchored by one, large Cleveland cop, eager to speak and strike fear to anyone holding a microphone: Cleveland police union boss Steve Loomis.
It doesn’t take two studies to draw that conclusion. But that’s what Cleveland got Thursday morning. Two distinct dollar estimates, $40 million apart. One shows the RNC generated 30 percent less revenue than expected. Some 4,500 would-be visitors stayed home.
Fear indeed swung the heaviest hammer on Cleveland’s big moment.
And it was Loomis taking the lead role as RNC-fear monger. During one lunch before the RNC, his cell phone rang incessantly. All calls from TV news producers and reporters eager to hear more doom.
"The city of Cleveland has been absolutely irresponsible for preparation of this convention," Loomis would say.
To CNN, FOX News and the others, Loomis delivered, voicing what proved to be grossly exaggerated concerns of violence. There weren’t hundreds of arrests. Just 23.
But in those pre-RNC weeks, Cleveland was braced, almost wincing as the convention approached. This was a nation roasting in turmoil. Officers shooting unarmed black men. Officers being ambushed and killed in Dallas.
And then there was Trump, the most polarizing candidate ever, making a stunning rise amid racial upheaval and domestic discord unseen in America since the 1960s.
And as the RNC approached, there was Loomis, feeding the media frenzy. He cried out that his fellow officers were untrained and ill-equipped. He promised disaster and blamed City Hall.
Yet, his comments went largely uncontested by Mayor Frank Jackson and Police Chief Calvin Williams.
All the while, fear mounted. Travel and work plans changed.
At another turn, Loomis told the media that the city’s poor planning was causing many police departments from across the country to refuse loaning officers to the RNC. Surely, there wouldn’t be nearly enough officers to contain all the riots, he cautioned.
And Loomis never gave up.
"There's definitely going to be guys that are going to get hurt," Loomis told Sinclair Broadcasting Network's "Full Measure.”
He kept on going.
“My guys, (and by that I mean ALL uniformed police officers) are completely and totally set up for failure. Little or no gear or training to date, very little help from outside agencies, historically violent protesters at RNCs (without Trump factor),” he told The Atlantic shortly before the RNC.
Earlier, Loomis told reporters he would hold City Hall responsible if his fellow officers got hurt.
He promised protest and violence would unfold in Cleveland. And the public and media believed him. Of course, they did. They trust their police.
“I want to hold [the city’s] feet to the fire to get us the things my members need to do their jobs," Loomis told reporters. "And if this thing goes bad, we will be on record on why it went bad."
Behind the scenes, City Hall leaders were quietly infuriated. Prior to the convention, one Cleveland councilman agreed to interview with WKYC about RNC safety concerns. But the councilman abruptly canceled the interview after talking to a more senior council member, who urged silence.
Many in City Hall thought – but never countered publicly – that Loomis’ predictions of violence were not only misguided, but geared to hurt the city’s image
When the most vocal cop in Cleveland speaks, people listen. And Clevelanders and its visitors, clearly listened with their feet.
Office workers took vacation time or worked remotely from home. Some government offices closed down entirely.
Restaurants expecting to flourish were dead. The West Side Market, a popular tourist destination, was almost barren.
Even the downtown Horseshoe casino, which should have been a magnet for tourists, reported its worst month ever. They lost $1 million.
Only as the RNC unfurled, and peace won over hate, did Chief Williams speak out. And the media were ready. It was clear that the narrative was changing. They needed a new leading man. And Loomis and his dire predictions were cast aside.
It was too late.
Loomis’ job isn’t to promote the city. It’s to promote and protect his officers. But in the end, his warnings of doom proved shallow, empty, maybe even a little vindictive.
And as the beans were counted, fear cost Cleveland millions. But Loomis and the media he used to extol fear lost, too. They lost credibility.