In first State of the City speech, Cleveland Mayor Bibb makes change a focal point
Updated: 10:33 p.m., Wednesday, April 13, 2022
In his first State of the City address, Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb said the city would set its expectations higher as it undergoes “a true period of transition and change” for the first time in two decades.
Bibb marked his 100th day in office Wednesday, which he called the “first major milestone in the marathon for change.” In the 45-minute speech, hosted with the City Club of Cleveland, he ticked off his administration’s early moves to hire new leadership and tackle long-standing challenges.
“We said that Cleveland can’t wait, and we meant it,” the mayor said, echoing his campaign slogan from last year’s mayoral race. “Cleveland, the wait for change is over.”
The mayor spoke at the Maltz Performing Arts Center on East 105th Street, at the edge of University Circle in the Hough neighborhood. The center is part of the campus of Case Western Reserve University, where the mayor received business and law degrees in 2018.
Bibb, who noted that he succeeds the city’s longest-serving mayor, said voters gave him a mandate to change the way City Hall does business. The first three months of any job are a test of character and commitment, Bibb said.
“I am committed to delivering on the changes you called for,” he said, “and I will remain forever curious, never accepting things as they are, but always striving for how they ought to be.”
In those first three-and-a-half months of his mayoralty, Bibb has negotiated amendments to the police consent decree to incorporate a voter-passed oversight amendment, made changes to West Side Market tenant leases and hired a strategist to coordinate the city’s effort against lead paint.
The mayor called childhood lead poisoning “one of the most urgent issues facing our city.” It falls to his administration to implement a law, passed under Mayor Frank Jackson, requiring rentals to be certified as safe from lead paint.
Bibb acknowledged his administration’s shortcomings in handling January’s major snowfall, which left behind impassable roads that paralyzed the transit system. Even though the city threw all the resources it had at the clogged streets, it was not enough, he said.
“We fell short, and I fell short as your mayor,” he said.
Calling public safety his top priority as mayor, Bibb said the city would work to bolster staffing in the safety forces. Cleveland has struggled for years to keep pace with the rate of police retirements, a problem that has continued into Bibb’s administration.
Bibb also highlighted efforts he’s made that pointed in the direction of criminal justice reform. He changed a city policy in order to make it easier to send people to a county jail diversion center. Last week, he moved to expunge minor marijuana misdemeanors, a decision that still must be approved by city judges.
The mayor also criticized Gov. Mike DeWine and statehouse Republicans for changing Ohio law to allow permit-less concealed carrying of firearms.
“This decision moves the needle on gun violence in the complete wrong, complete wrong direction,” Bibb said.
Bibb previewed some coming changes to the city’s housing policies. He said his administration would introduce pay-to-stay legislation aimed at helping tenants facing eviction, as well as measures meant to protect federally subsidized renters. The city will also roll out a new residential tax abatement policy soon, he said.
The mayor also touched upon his efforts to reform the city’s response to resident complaints for service, saying Clevelanders deserved the same level of service received in the suburbs.
One of the city’s two call centers for those complaints was unstaffed at the end of the Jackson administration, administration officials have told council. In a press conference after his speech, Bibb said his staff had completed an audit of the remaining 311 call line, with plans to update it over the next 12-24 months.
After his remarks, Bibb took a few audience questions curated by the City Club on such issues as housing security, the well-being of Black women and coordinating street and sewer repair.
Bibb positioned Cleveland as a “city on the rise” in his speech, saying it could provide a national model for police reform, neighborhood revitalization and city management.
“Let’s not be afraid to set our expectations higher,” he said. “No more waiting on D.C. or Columbus for change, or reacting to the hand that we were dealt. We must be the change, but more importantly, we must give ourselves both the permission and the courage to dream once again as a city.”