By Anastasia Pantsios
As 2017 gets underway, I find myself looking back nostalgically to the 2005 mayoral season when I worked at the Free Times. Jane Campbell was ramping up her reelection campaign, sending out nearly daily faxes (remember those?). These announcements, clearly intended to keep her name out there, covered everything from her appearance at an Arbor Day tree-planting ceremony to a reminder to parents that it was going to be cold and they should dress their children warmly (no, really).
There were ultimately eight candidates in the primary. The most prominent challenger was council president Frank Jackson, but some of the others had credentials and backgrounds that at least deserved a look. The Plain Dealer, however, decided that Campbell and Jackson were the only serious candidates. They tailored their coverage to that conclusion, dismissing the other candidates with things such as a chart giving “yes” or “no” answers to issues such as “supports building a new convention center” (a project the PD was shilling for).
That was the genesis of Meet the Bloggers, which we covered again a few months ago when its founder, George Nemeth, passed away sadly too soon (he was only 48). The idea was to invite each candidate to a local coffee house or similar space to spend an hour with a group of non-mainstream media people and bloggers to talk about issues and ideas. The session would be posted online for anyone interested to hear.
Seven of the eight did it, including Campbell and Jackson (One fringe candidate with no web presence, listed phone number or campaign office could not be found).
The PD also decided that Campbell was going to win and when polling showed Jackson the likely winner, they ran their own poll that showed otherwise. Jackson, of course, won that race.
Now Jackson is running for a fourth term, with widespread perception that it’s time for someone new, although whether he could have done much more to solve the city’s intractable problems is open to debate. At least one councilman — Jeff Johnson — has announced his intention to run with another, Zach Reed, suggesting he might.
Several candidates are getting attention for their offbeat resumes with intriguing accomplishments, including a youthful candidate, Ja’Ovvonie Garrison, who has organized skateboard facilities, and Brandon Chrostowski, proprietor of EDWINS, the acclaimed upscale restaurant that trains and hires returning felons.
While these are laudable projects, it’s hard to escape feeling that the “outsider” status that often dazzles (and blinds) voters leaves these gentlemen underequipped to address the full range of Cleveland’s problems: poverty, violence, hunger, homelessness, joblessness, unequal education opportunities, inadequate public transportation, contentious policing, abandoned homes, crumbling streets.
Undoubtedly, there will be more candidates including the usual fringe characters, and some of those mentioned may end up not filing petitions by the late June deadline. But the real issue — and what underlies many people’s frustration with Jackson — is their sense that, as always, it’s not the mayor calling the shots but the big business interests represented by the Greater Cleveland Partnership. It’s unclear whether there’s any candidate who can effectively address this and stand up to the downtown corporate big shots in defense of the interests of a population suffering the impacts of poverty and neglect. It should be an interesting year.