By Roldo Bartimole
In case you haven’t really noticed there is an election for mayor of Cleveland.
The present mayor is Frank Jackson. A real shame.
An “It Is What it Is” Mayor instead of a leader of what Cleveland should be.
In a full front page of the Plain Dealer’s Forum section Sunday Jackson was strongly endorsed. Why is beyond my comprehension.
The problem is that the Plain Dealer hasn’t paid much attention to the job Mayor Jackson has done over the past eight years. So why not give him four more years.
Jackson has been a bitter disappointment.
He is more the mayor of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the representative body of Cleveland’s corporate community, than the mayor of the People of Cleveland. He is supposed to be “of the people.”
Four years ago he ran against Bill Patmon who really was not a candidate but was only a stand-in and anyone who knows Cleveland politics could tell you so.
This time there is an opposition. I call him What’s His Name because he’s not a stand in but simply a man with too much money and a need for everyone to know it.
Cleveland has been wracked with severe problems but you wouldn’t know it by reading the once-in-a-while daily newspaper that has become a shell of itself and a joke, with some exceptions, for a newspaper.
Chris Quinn, you’re really going to have to up your game.
This year despite all the problems that have made Cleveland a national subject, the newspaper has endorsed every sitting candidates from mayor to the most ridiculous council members (Matt Zone wasn’t endorsed since he had no opposition). Even Council President Martin Sweeney who has thumbed his nose at the paper got the nod. Nobody pays a price for failures.
Is it a joke on us? Or is the paper that unobservant.
From firefighters who scam the city to the degree that some don’t seem to work at all to police who neglect serious crime but find 65 cars to fire 137 bullets and kill two essentially innocent people there seems to be no leadership, control or guidance that at least offers some hope for some civic competence and governance.
From charging some $8 for weekly pickup of garbage for services people already should have paid with ordinary taxes to allowing Browns owner Jimmy Haslam walk away with $100 million for naming rights on the stadium the city owns and pays more taxes on land that it charges the billionaire for use of the stadium Jackson is usually absent without leave.
While bragging of downtown (where hundreds of millions of public subsidies flow with promises of another $350 million) resurgence and spotty neighborhood revival, we don’t see the human impact of a city that has slipped below the 400,000 population on Jackson’s watch. Nor do we apparently worry of the suggestion that 40,000 vacant houses in the latest Census data suggest more than future slippage of population. Or the poverty that goes relatively unnoticed, especially in the PD.
I guess we don’t have to worry about a latest Ohio child poverty rate of 24.77 per cent, up 5.25 percent from 2007, according to the Carsey Institute, U. of New Hampshire study.
Cleveland is worse. Second behind Detroit of American cities with 35 percent poverty, up from some 30 percent. Does the PD have an assigned reporter to cover this serious issue?
A city where 11 women are murdered and others are raped and murdered almost at random, and the nation watches as three women are held prisoners on an ordinary street for 10 years and the mayor makes not a move to dismiss those in high positions who missed it all. I’m I asking too much?
Could you imagine this happening in any other city? Could you imagine the press pressure on such a leader in any other city? I can’t.
While Jackson levies a garbage tax there’s not even talk of maybe tapping such institutions as the $3.4 billion Cleveland Clinic; the near $1 billion University Hospitals; the $1.49 billion Cleveland Foundation; the half-billion Gund Foundation. Can no one think of an in lieu of property or income taxes on these institutions?
Tax abatements and other tax subsidies continue to flow into downtown, as do vast city and county subsidies. A few months ago I spent considerable time listing the vast gifts to Cleveland’s sports, real estate and other businesses. You can find it if you look.
Jackson is a poor representative for the city.
Scott Simon of National Public radio and a real long-time fan of Cleveland asked Jackson a softball question of how he asks businesses to move into Cleveland. Jackson responded, “That’s a salesman and a politician. I don’t do those kinds of things…” Really?
Jackson believes he’s above being a politician. What the hell is he then?
Jackson’s seemingly stupid or corrupt deal with the Chinese company Sunpu-Opto with a no-bid, long-term contract for new LED lighting stunk to high heaven. The 10-year contract in a changing industry itself was preposterous.
Jackson’s response, after Council balked, “… we didn’t have a template as to how to proceed. And so it was a little loose and sloppy in some areas.”
No. Any reasonable mayor would have seen a deal as ridiculous. The PD let him get away with silly excuses.
I wrote at the time how the legislation was fast-tracked: “I’m told by one Council member that the legislation by-passed other Council committees such as the Utilities, Economic Development and Legislation. In other words this had the stamp of a Rush job. The membership of the Finance Committee typically has only the strongest supporters of the Council President, in this case, Marty Sweeney and Mayor Jackson politically allied. That they couldn’t put together enough votes for passage suggests caution.”
Jackson also wanted to by-pass the rule that a deal of more than $50,000 had to be bid out.
The PD’s Mark Gillispie wrote clearly at the time of the stench in this deal.
Jackson similarly backs a smelly deal for an incinerator/gasification plant, opposed by environmental forces here as totally bogus at $180 million.
Jackson has been pliable to a fault when it comes to cooperating with the powers that be. Despite knowledge that gambling hurts low income people, he endorsed the state issue for a gambling spot on Public Square, went along with the Convention Center/Med Mart deal without proper compensation to the city. He’s all in favor of the useless Opportunity Corridor, a $350 million unnecessary project that has strong elements of racism in bypassing black areas to the benefit of major University Circle institutions. Adequate streets through African-American neighborhoods would take traffic to the same destination.
He’s all for another unnecessary desire of the elite – a redo of Public Square at the measly cost of $40 million. What’s another costly misuse of public funds and including a major disruption of public transit routes? Indeed, the whole plan is to get black people away from Public Square and the Horseshoe gambling joint of Cavs owner & billionaire Dan Gilbert. The gambling doesn’t belong on Public Square in the first place.
Jackson is compliant to a fault.
He’ll certainly be on board next year for an extended sin tax at the cost of several hundred million dollars in very regressive taxes. A sell-out of major proportions considering the strong opposition of the original sin tax by political figures as then Rep. Louis Stokes and Rep. Mary Rose Oakar. Not to mention the anti-tax vote of Cleveland residents who strongly opposed the tax though it passed with suburban votes. They knew who it would hurt most – ordinary people.
Although praised for the school “reform” plans and passage of a heavy 15 mill levy, Jackson followed plans devised by foundation sources to be paid for by his constituents. He started this “reform” move by ignoring Cleveland teachers. Now we see that the school system is having trouble hiring teachers for its schools. One would wonder why. Jackson depended upon the Greater Cleveland Partnership, as he usually does, making him mayor of the Establishment, not the city’s citizens.
At the time, Teacher union head David Quolke said, “This is not a plan to educate children in Cleveland. Rather, this is a plan to blame unions and fire teachers.” He’ll find truth in his words.
It also played into the hands of Gov. John Kasich who was trying to destroy public unions on the state level. Jackson’s has played footsie with the Republican governor to the detriment of state-wide Democrats. It will show up to Democrats pain in the upcoming state elections.
But Jackson may as well be a Republican. He acts as one.
Jackson’s positioning of old Mike White job-holders and refusals to make changes when conditions demand them suggest an inability of Jackson to manage. It has damaged the water department and municipal light system and surely others. We may not know for years what injury the city has sustained in this period.
The mayor is stubborn to excess. It reveals itself in his obstinacy to stick by his police and fire chiefs and safety directors when events advise strongly change.
Unfortunately, there isn’t the public energy of the 1960s to reveal the pain that’s out there. Instead, we have vigils upon vigils, covered by the news media, especially TV, as if they are answers to these desperate conditions.
Jackson is an unusual mayor. He told me in July of 2009 that he didn’t want to be a Council member. He also said, “I didn’t want to be Council President,” and followed by saying, “I didn’t want to be Mayor either.” He got his start after his friend Lonnie Burten died unexpectedly young. Jackson replaced him.
I might have believed him once. I don’t any more. I believe he does want power. That he enjoys the power I think now is self-evident.
He may even enjoy it too much. I believe he’s become too enamored of power.
I once thought of Jackson as someone with humility. I don’t believe it now. I believe he’s become too sensitive to criticism, though he gets little of it.
It’s surprising that candidate What’s His Name has gotten under Jackson’s skin though the campaign has received so little coverage.
The Plain Dealer, the major source (sorry to say) of public information, has become a shell of itself, a news outlet that now plays to clicks on computers. So it gives people circuses of sports coverage, dumb-downing its readers.
Better people don’t think too much about things.
So now we will have four more years of Jackson, a mostly absent leader.
In 1991 he was awarded the Second Annual Joe Callaway Award for Civic Courage in Washington, D.C. He received the Distinguished Service Award of the Society of Professional Journalists, Cleveland chapter, in 2002, and was named to the Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame, 2004. [Photo by Todd Bartimole.]