Is Cleveland ready for a change election?
Certainly, it is in dire need of a transformation in leadership in the mayor’s office and administration.
We’ve had major change elections in the past when mayors and their administrations have shown cracks in ruling that could not be ignored.
This is a comparable time, I’d say.
Poor leadership. Serious problems. Few solutions.
This is a description of the leadership of Mayor Frank Jackson and the decomposed Cleveland City Council.
What do I mean when a say “Change election.”
Fifty years ago, under Mayor Ralph Locher, Cleveland voters demanded change.
It resulted in the election of Carl B. Stokes as the first black mayor of a major American city.
Forty years ago, Cleveland, led by Republican Ralph Perk, yearned again for change.
A former backer, Dennis Kucinich, stepped forward.
In each of those instances the reigning mayor of Cleveland was dismissed in the primary, never reaching the final race for mayor. Thus leaving the position open to a new person.
That should be the case in 2017. Jackson’s time should have run out.
Stokes defeated Locher in 1967 after almost winning election in a three-person race in 1965. Stokes ran in 1965 as an independent but in 1967 as a Democrat. He defeated Locher and Frank Celeste, former Gov. Dick Celeste’s father, put in the race by Republican interests that wanted Stokes to win the primary. I believe the reason was simple. Stokes would not win in a one-on-one race with a white candidate, even a Republican, they reasoned. That candidate was Seth Taft, a partner of the leading Cleveland law firm, Jones Day, then Jones, Day, Coakley and Reavis.
In 1977, Kucinich ran against Perk with a third candidate Edward Feighan. Perk did not survive.
The political climate in the mid-1960s was explosive but it didn’t mean Locher, elevated to mayor when Anthony Celebrezze was called to Washington by John F. Kennedy, was an easy opponent for Stokes. The city then was less than 40 percent black.
Similarly, in 1977, Perk was not an easy knock over for Kucinich, who had helped the Republican become mayor by backing him in 1971.
I had thought a four-term as mayor would be a record for Jackson but I was wrong. Tom Johnson, considered our best-ever mayor, also served four, two-year terms from 1901 to 1909. Thomas Burke and Celebrezze—who didn’t finish his final term—were elected four times. Their terms, however were for two years, not four as Jackson has enjoyed, thus longer than any other if he gained another.
Stokes ran in a time when Cleveland was called “a recipe for violence.”
The business community especially wanted Locher gone. That would not be the case with Jackson, who has been an obedient servant to the power elite.
Two issues were corrosive on the body politic. Urban renewal had caused mass movement, mostly of blacks on the east side. As one federal housing official told me: “We’d like to get out but we don’t know how,” comparing Cleveland to the nation’s problem with ending the Vietnam War.
There had been the Hough riots in 1965, followed by other violence. Negroes, as blacks were called, understood the racist conditions they suffered. In 1966, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission came to Cleveland in reaction to the obvious civil rights crimes here. It stated: “The list of accomplishments is very short and the agenda of unfinished business is very long.”
Poverty was increasing. In Hough, from 1960 to 1965, median income slipped from $4,732 to $3,966 and in two other areas of some 60,000 black’s median income was lower than in Hough.
In another dramatic figure, the building trades employed only 13 blacks among 11,500 workers. How shameful.
The police-citizen relationship was even worse than today. One officer, known as head of the “Red Squad,” told a Congressional committee, “What we need is a law that would let us charge them all (black nationalists) as conspirators… before an overt act is committed. Wouldn’t this be far better than to wait for an overt act?” I guess he never read the Constitution.
Ironically, today Jackson could face the same kind of reaction for his tone toward the Cleveland police. It was called the “defensive, isolated, parochial and mistrustful of the public it serves.” He didn’t seem moved to action.
Today’s police-citizen relations may be even worse in many respects.
Now, under Jackson, a black mayor, the U.S. Justice department found:
Our investigation concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that CDP engages in a pattern or practice of using unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. That pattern manifested in a range of ways, including:
The unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons; The unnecessary, excessive or retaliatory use of less lethal force including tasers, chemical spray and fists; Excessive force against persons who are mentally ill or in crisis, including in cases where the officers were called exclusively for a welfare check; and The employment of poor and dangerous tactics that place officers in situations where avoidable force becomes inevitable and places officers and civilians at unnecessary risk.
Apparently, the May 2016 ruling hasn’t shocked the Jackson Administration into action. A monitor of progress recently ruled the city’s progress “not up to par.” More than a year later.
The business community in 1967 feared more civil disturbances and the bad publicity it would trigger nationally. Cleveland was still a powerful Fortune 500 corporate city.
(For a full discussion of “Who Governs” please check this examination of 25 years of Cleveland Mayors.)
Business elites also had long-held ulterior motives. They long wanted the city’s electric power system. Ralph Besse, chairman of the board of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co., formed and chaired the Inner-City Action Committee. It ripped Locher with big supportive headlines in the Plain Dealer. Locher hit back with the charge that the business community gave not “one real constructive action.”
Under Locher there was no reason to doubt the city would maintain Muny Light, the city’s power system. Stokes promised to sell it, though he change him mind once in office. The city still has an electric system.
Muny Light, as it was known, however, played a role in the next change election.
When Stokes left office he tried a scheme that would place his chief aide Arnold Pinkney in the mayor’s office. The plan backfired with Kucinich, a popular West Side politician and Democrat urging the election of Perk, a Republican.
Perk ran a shoddy administration, similar to Jackson in its ineptitude and reliance on corporate interests.
His Republican image of a man of the people and close to the grassroots corroded over time. A no-tax Republican, the city suffered the lack of resources and finances.
His tenure was marked by the sale of city assets. City parks went to the State of Ohio; the sewer system went regional and the $32 million the city received evaporated quickly; the city’s transit system was made regional with little payment to the city; the city’s port operation also was made regional; the city’s stadium went to Art Modell by lease.
So the no-tax city frittered away assets. However, even that was not enough.
Now, Perk, rather than seek any tax increases and but with few more assets to sell, began to misuse city bond funds and put the city precariously in debt.
How would he escape this?
The plan, I believe, which led to the Kucinich reversal on Perk and plan to run himself, was the Perk plan for one more sale. This time he’d sell Muny Light to CEI, thereby have the funds to bail himself out of trouble of raided bonds.
Perk also sought to keep good relations with the business community by seeking the first of downtown tax abatements.
Squire, Sander and Dempsey, now Squire Sander Boggs, wrote the state legislation to allow abatements. The first was to be a new National City Bank building at E. 9th and Euclid.
The city had to declare this area—the location of major banks as National City, Cleveland Trust and Union Commerce—a blighted area. No problem. It was done.
Kucinich saw his chance.
He ran on keeping Muny Light as a major platform of his bid.
One problem—State rep Edward Feighan got into the race too. Feighan was also a Muny Light supporter.
Kucinich needed another issue. Tax abatement. Unfortunately for Feighan, he had voted for the Squires legislation in Columbus. He chaired the committee.
Kucinich, always eager and able to batter opponents, had his issue.
Why would one of the nation’s most profitable banks, National City, now PNC bank, which had been collecting land for years, maybe decades, to build a new office headquarters, require tax abatement? Plus it was at the corner of Cleveland’s historic bank center.
It was a good question, Kucinich battered home. It was his kind of issue.
Perk, however, left a time bomb that eventually blew up on Kucinich.
A 1967 study by two Cleveland State University professors—Edric Weld and John Burke—foretold the story. There was only one copy, sent to the city. It remained hidden.
Not totally. Cleveland magazine and my newsletter—Point Of Viəw—got copies.
Here was its clear message:
“In 1968, only 10 percent of the city’s gross debt was due for repayment within one year. By the end of 1973 a full 33 percent was due for repayment within one year, while 55.5 percent was due within five years,” said the report. The five years was diminished to two years.
I started the article in April 1976 this way:
The impending sale of the Municipal Light Plant to the gouging Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. may have less to do with Muny’s incompetence that with the fiscal irresponsibility of the Perk Administration.
The rapid sale of city assets that have been accumulated over decades feeds the apparently inexhaustible thirst of Mayor Ralph Perk and his cronies for more funds.
Certainly it was time for a change election.
Perk finished third and was out. Kucinich won by some 3,000 votes.
Why Kucinich didn’t immediately call for an audit of the city books and charge that Perk had misspent funds I guess no one will ever know. It led, along with many other issues, to Kucinich’s defeat by George Voinovich in 1979, in what could also be seen by some as a change election.
Now it’s Jackson’s turn. We have a tendency to either not watch our politicians or forget too easily their poor service.
Jackson has been even more cooperative with the corporate interests than Perk was, as a stooge for doing what the power elite want. He opposes nothing the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the corporate instrument of control, desires.
We have seen not only the tragedy of a poorly managed police department with the 65 car, 137 bullet manic car chase and killing of two unarmed citizens; the tragic killing of Tamir Rice by an officer that shouldn’t have been qualified for a two-bit security guard.
The list is long. I look at past writings.
Scott Simon of NPR, and a big Cleveland fan, asked a softball question of how Jackson seeks business to move here and gets the answer, “That’s a salesman and a politician. I don’t do those kinds of things,” Jackson responds. He’s more than mere absent-minded this “is what it is” mayor. He’s delinquent.
He’s all for a 20-year increase in the sin tax that passed and pushed successfully for an increase in the wage tax but against a $15 an hour pay push. He has ignored teachers despite his supposed intention to reform schools. He upped the tax, a heavy 15 mills (twice) for schools though the results are not evident. His bromance with Republican Gov. John Kasich may have cost Democrats the state’s top office and more.
Jackson is a Republican at heart if he’s anything. He’s not much of anything, I’d say. Time to go.
Once he was a fine, humane representative of the most impoverished ward in the city. I toured his ward with him in those days. His concern was real. Now he is an arrogant leader who shows little leadership.
The hapless Plain Dealer last time endorsed Jackson with a full-page, front page editorial. Another four years.
The paper—and its editorial boss, Chris Quinn—should be ashamed of itself for not concisely evaluating Jackson in the past four years, despite some excellent but sporadic coverage of his inabilities.
It takes more than irregular coverage, feeble and sporadic columnist critique of the city and an ideologically-obsessed editorial staff lacking the punch of a six-year old.
This will be a change election. It has to be.
The question is: Do we have a change candidate and a change in the climate of a city too involved in cheering itself as it goes begging for improvement of its people.