Since being elected mayor in 2005, Frank Jackson has balanced the city’s budget during tough economic times without major service cuts or tax increases. He’s been part of a downtown renaissance that includes a cohesive mix of new construction poised to bring a steady flow of people and dollars into the city.
And as head of the city’s public schools, he helped pass a large levy increase to fund an ambitious transformation plan. Jackson says his strategy has not been to work on each of the city’s two dozen or so problems individually. Rather, he wants to spend a third term institutionalizing what he’s built, which he says will ensure continued success.
Jackson wants more time to ensure his work becomes permanent
“Basic fiscal budgetary controls and management, education, community benefits, all these things are there. And if Cleveland is going to have a successful future we have to institutionalize them," says Jackson.
"We do balance our budget in a way that we have appropriate staffing and delivery of quality service. In terms of education, we have to institutionalize an expectation that children receive quality education from pre-K to 12, and then have an opportunity to go to higher learning or go to a trade or have some technical skill for employment.
"In terms of community benefits, we have to make sure that when companies want to come to Cleveland, here are the rules of the game. There should be local contracting, local labor, local suppliers and local good and services.”
Lanci charges the city loses money because it lacks business sense
Jackson's opponent, millionaire businessman Ken Lanci, says the mayor has not done enough to lower the city’s poverty and crime rates, or to improve the city’s public schools where about 60-percent of the students graduate. Lanci made his fortune in the printing business. And he says he would run the city like a business, building a solid team that pulls in the same direction.
Lanci says Jackson hasn’t built a cohesive or accountable team. As an example, he points to a singlebid contract he says wasted taxpayer money.
“They paid $300,000 to a consultant to bring a gasification plant to Cleveland without doing any research as to whether or not it was viable. At the end of the day, when it wasn’t viable, they had agreed by contract to pay another $450,000.
"Now, in business, we would have sued for the $300,000. But in politics that $300,000 went someplace. Nobody wants to talk about it, so thay gave them another $250,000 to go away. That’s wrong, business doesn’t do that, and I would never do that.”
Lake excursions out of Cleveland to draw tourist dollars
To create jobs and revenue, Lanci suggests docking a Lake Erie cruise ship in Cleveland to attract tourists and business.
On the city schools, Lanci says the low academic performance starts at home.
“Seventy percent of our children are raised by single moms. That’s tough for the moms, they have two jobs. They don’t have anybody to help them effectively give the kids the guidance and love we who’ve been successful have gotten. ... We continue kicking the can down the road talking about a different curriculum to make them more productive.
"But at the end of the day, that curriculum that’s been here for Cleveland for 15 years is the same one 25 miles south, east and west, and those kids graduate up to 100 percent.”
Lanci says a mentoring organization he represents has gone into Collinwood High School and had success turning around a group of student’s lives. Mayor Jackson calls Lancis efforts and views disrespectful and condescending.
Jackson says Lanci lacks understanding of Cleveland and its residents
“I imagine he’s referring to the African-American community, the problem is single mothers. I just don’t believe that. We all have challenges in life and many overcome them and many don’t. There are people who don’t have as severe or deep challenges that don’t become successful, and it had nothing to do with being from a single family.
"So I think it’s a very simplistic and stereotypical approach to life that demonstrates a lack of depth of understanding of Cleveland or the people of Cleveland.”
Crime in Cleveland has risen, and Lanci says Jackson is partly to blame. He suggests enlisting motorcycle club members from groups like the Zulus to help mentor seventh grade boys and steer them away from gangs by forming Golden Gloves boxing teams. Jackson rejects that idea. And he doesn’t believe strained relations between the community and police following last November’s fatal police chase and ongoing investigation will hurt his campaign.
Deadly police chase not a political issue for Jackson
“I don’t do politics with these kinds of things; this is serious business. I keep mentioning to people that every time someone asks me this question, they never mention the two victims, the lady and gentleman who were killed in this mishap. So holding people accountable is what we should do.”
He's referring to the police chase last November that involved more than a hundred officers and ended with two apparently unarmed suspects, Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, dead.
Jackson believes a stronger school system and more jobs will mean less crime in the long run.
Voters are mixed
Kathy Krause voted for Jackson when he ran in 2005, but not in 2009, and, she is voting for Lanci this time. Krause doesn’t believe the mayor has done enough for the middle class.
“You need revenues and changes and things like that, but you also need to think about the people. And with the economy today, it’s really difficult for people who are in that mid-range, where you can’t get help for this because you make too much or you don’t make enough.
As for the schools, "My children are no longer in the public schools because of the things I’ve seen. And my neighbors that have kids in the public schools want them out. There seems to be no accountability for some of these kids and what they do, and the teachers hands are tied in a lot of ways.
"There’s got to be a big change in this city, people are leaving for a reason. I’ve seen the city go down so much since he’s started. Some of it’s not his fault, some of it is.”
Jackson cannot solve all of the city’s problems
Krause calls the Cleveland schools transformation plan a lot of rhetoric. But, Clevelander Neal Cox backs Mayor Jackson, and believes the Cleveland native’s love for the city makes him an effective leader. Cox says making progress in any urban school district is a challenge, and attributes some of the current problems to past issues like busing.
Lanci ran unsuccessfully as an independent for Cuyahoga County executive in 2010. And though Cox is voting for Jackson, he respects Lanci’s perseverance.
“I guess, to be fair, prior to casting a ballot I really should see what Mr. Lanci stands for. The last time he ran I thought he had a good chance, but apparently not."
Regardless, Cox says the city's gotten better during the eight years Jackson's been mayor.
"I would tend to believe there’s a fairly good coalition between the corporate entities downtown and City Hall in order for it to seemingly work well. And I would think that undoubtedly has something to do with the mayor’s office.”
Cox says the issues of crime and poverty have not been addressed properly anywhere, and isn't sure any big- city mayor could solve them.