Doughnuts are a sure sign that Lute Harmon, Cleveland Magazine's founder, is working on a big project. Whether it involves county government reform or lakefront development, Lute knows how to bring people together, start a conversation and get things done. I'm sure the doughnuts help, but so does his honest approach, his charisma and his civic passion, none of which has dimmed in 40 years.
While I wasn't around when the then-32-year-old Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. advertising copywriter pitched his idea for Cleveland Magazine, it's easy to understand why he had little trouble raising the $200,000 to get the publication off the ground. Forty years later, Lute's founding principles continue to guide the magazine's mission: Highlight what's new and interesting in town, while never forgetting there are issues and problems to be solved. So to mark our anniversary, we offer up 40 reasons to love our city (from the 1995 Indians to the future of our downtown) and a few things we'd rather erase from memory.
We'd like to think that what Lute created might fit comfortably on that list as well, so I asked Frank Bird, publisher since 2001, to reflect a little on our founder.
"Before county government reform was even being thought about, Lute brought together people who had helped with the county government in Summit County. Over a two year period, community leaders met on a Wednesday or Thursday morning in our conference room to discuss what could be done to move away from the county commissioner system. Lute really felt that the only way Cuyahoga County was ever going to turn around was if county government was changed.
"He tells the story, and it's a good story: When he was with the Illuminating Co., there was Columbia Gas and East Ohio Gas. There were people who worked at each of those organizations that concentrated solely on economic development. I think that he felt that people weren't waking up every day thinking, How are we going to get more business in Cleveland? It just became part of his DNA.
"I think that's what Lute's been about ever since he started Cleveland Magazine. He is one of the biggest cheerleaders for Northeast Ohio but at the same time, when he sees something that needs to be done or something that needs to be taken on — whether it's county government or lakefront development — he starts the ball rolling and creates conversation, which, of course, is what the magazine does."