Strickland bears witness

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Mark Naymik writes for Cleveland.Com: In Cleveland’s version of the Gospel of the Chosen One, it is fitting that an Ohio preacher have a role. 
Gov. Ted Strickland bears witness to the beauty of the giant LeBron James banner, which he vowed will stay put.
Gov. Ted Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister, pledged Wednesday to fight for believers’ right to bear witness to a well-known symbol of sports marketing: the 120-foot-high banner of Cavaliers superstar LeBron James that hangs from a downtown building across from the Quicken Loans Arena.

Citing an ongoing state effort to remove the Nike-sponsored sign, whose size and proximity to a federal road put it at odds with state and federal regulations, Strickland performed a sidewalk miracle: He turned the sign into “commercial art.”
Standing across the street from the banner, which declares “We are all witnesses,” he cracked a wide smile, turned and said, “You cannot look upon that incredible display there and not embrace the concept of it being a work of art.”

Strickland said that federal anti-billboard regulations make an exception in urban areas for commercial art.

But the Ohio Department of Transportation argued in an April 2 letter to the sign company that erected the banner, which bears the Nike logo, that it was nothing more than a giant corporate advertising device.

The banner was approved as an art mural by the city’s planning commission two years ago. Strickland said the state’s actions were triggered by a complaint from a federal highway official in town for a convention last year. But Strickland ordered ODOT on Wednesday to back off.

“We are determined to make sure this city has the opportunity to continue to enjoy this beautify display of commercial art,” he said.

Strickland disputed the notion that declaring the banner art will give Nike a special benefit.

“This is not about Nike,” he said. “This is about Cleveland.”

Nike quickly became a disciple of Strickland.

“We are pleased to hear that Governor Strickland is a witness like the millions of Ohio citizens and basketball fans worldwide,” the shoe company said in a statement Wednesday.

Nike said the banner complied with city codes, and it is “confident that the Governor will convert any non-believers.”

If Strickland can’t save the sign, he promised to appeal to a higher power: Ohio’s congressional delegation.