Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson Launches Campaign for Third Term

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson (Photo by Nick Castele / ideastream)
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson (Photo by Nick Castele / ideastream)
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Mayor Frank Jackson said he thought this term would be his last. But now he's hoping for at least four more years on the job.

His campaign headquarters, not far from his home in Cleveland's Central neighborhood, was packed with supporters as he announced his bid for re-election.

For the better part of an hour, people stood to endorse the mayor: City Council members, pastors, heads of business groups, a union leader and state lawmakers, including State Sen. Nina Turner.

TURNER: "He has constantly, throughout his career, been standing up for those who would not, without his voice, have someone to stand up for them."

Even Jackson's opponent in this election, businessman Ken Lanci, was there, watching from the back of the room.

Eventually Jackson took the stage, and told supporters that he came from the same place they did, and that he remembers growing up seeing people and businesses flee Cleveland. He said through it all, he's worked hard for the city.

JACKSON: "All of what I do is for the positioning of Cleveland for the future."

Jackson says he needs to be reelected to solidify the changes Cleveland has seen in the past few years.

At the top of the list: his transformation plan for city schools, which are in academic emergency. The plan got bipartisan approval from the state legislature, and, among other things, gives administrators more power to assign and lay off teachers.

The mayor and the teachers' union haven't always seen eye-to-eye on school plans. Union president David Quolke, who as of yet has not made an endorsement, says the mayor was open to negotiating with teachers, and in the end, they came to an agreement.

QUOLKE: "He decided and we agreed that we are going to do our best to find a solution. And I always use this term, choosing collaboration over confrontation."

The mayor and the union joined together to support a 15-mill school levy that passed in November.

Political science professor David Elkins at Cleveland State University says Jackson's bid to halt Cleveland's decline rests on the schools.

ELKINS: "If the city of Cleveland is going to grow, the city of Cleveland has to be able to find a path by which it's going to attract middle-class families to live in the city of Cleveland. And the way you do that is by improving the city's schools."

Even though the city is still losing population, some parts of it have seen some growth. The number of people living downtown has spiked in recent years. And the mayor has supported the county in guiding to completion the Medical Mart and Convention Center project. There's also been a boom in restaurants and bars on the city's near west side.

City Councilman Terrell Pruitt, a Jackson supporter, says things have changed for the better.

PRUITT: "You don't have to go too far into our recent past when you could take a bowling ball and roll it down Euclid Avenue and not hit anybody."

But after seven-and-a-half years in office, Jackson also faces some big challenges. There's been a spate of homicides this year.

City Councilman Zack Reed says although he's endorsing the mayor, he believes the administration has come up short dealing with crime. Reed wants more surveillance cameras and community policing in his ward.

REED: "Whatever it takes to get this homicide rate down, I think we should be doing. And I don't think this administration has done that…this homicide rate is clearly out of control."

Another challenge for the mayor: the economic fortunes of the residents. About one third of Clevelanders live in poverty, and unemployment is 8.7 percent. Many people live near abandoned homes and properties.

Supporters say the mayor has done the best he can despite a devastating economic crisis and cuts in state funding to local government.

Cleveland State's David Elkins says the mayor does deserve credit for piloting the city through the recession. After all, he says, the city budget is balanced.

But he says there are some troubling issues that Jackson may be called on to explain.

ELKINS: "The thing that has been most damaging to the mayor has been the poor ability of his administration to manage the public safety."

13 firefighters were indicted this year, accused of paying other firefighters to take their shifts, allowing them to do outside jobs. And the mayor is still accounting for last year's police chase that ended with officers killing two people who seem to have been unarmed.

ELKINS: "Those features of his administration are the most unseemly and perhaps will leave the greatest scars on his reputation."

The mayor has a different take. He says he has dealt effectively with alleged wrongdoing in the safety department, holding disciplinary hearings and taking appropriate action.

JACKSON: "We have clear policies and procedures, and there are clear laws and regulations around conduct of public employees and public officials. And we hold people accountable for that."

Jackson acknowledges crime is a problem in Cleveland. He says part of the remedy is improving the education system, and ensuring that residents benefit from economic development projects slated for the near future.

And to accomplish that, he says, he needs another term.

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