Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has a reputation for being a man of few words. But late last week, the mayor played Cleveland tour guide for reporters for four hours, as part of his campaign for a third term. ideastream’s Nick Castele was there, reports the mayor offered a view of the city through his eyes.
Last Friday morning, reporters, the mayor and his campaign staff boarded Lolly the Trolley outside Jackson’s political headquarters.
Businessman Ken Lanci is challenging Jackson this year. And as the trolley toured through the city’s neighborhoods, Jackson seized on what’s becoming a central theme of his campaign -- that he’s an experienced mayor who knows Cleveland.
“And that’s why people who want this job just be having a good conversation," Jackson said. "But I do the work.”
Work, Jackson says, that requires difficult and unpopular decisions -- like laying off city workers, including police officers, as he did several years ago in order to keep the city’s budget under control after cutbacks in state funding.
He says that’s in addition to combating issues like poverty and crime – issues Lanci says the mayor has failed to overcome in his eight years on the job.
Jackson says Cleveland’s a real city with real problems.
“We are an urban center – a real urban center," Jackson said. "We’re not Disneyland…We're a real urban center with all the feel, and the smell, the taste, the sound of an urban center. We’re not a bedroom community where we can have the luxury of ivory tower, wine-and-cheese conversations about what you should do for poor people or urban centers. We live this every day.”
But Jackson had another point to make, one he repeated often on the trip: Cleveland is not a monolith; it’s full of neighborhoods, each with different assets and challenges.
At Kamm’s Corners on the west side, Jackson showed off refurbished portions of Lorain Road, with new streetlights and electrical wires buried underground. In Detroit-Shoreway, the mayor pointed out the revitalized Gordon Square Arts District.
In the Central neighborhood, the mayor took a detour to show reporters his house. As the trolley weaved through public housing projects, the mayor reminisced about the neighborhood’s better days.
“That was the hub of Central," Jackson said. "55th and Woodland. You had the farmer’s market like the West Side Market, open-air market. You had hotels, you had nightclubs, you had all -- everything. And it was a heavily -- it was commercial.”
Now, there are fast-food restaurants and gas stations at 55th and Woodland.
The mayor said the neighborhood is still recovering the practice of redlining, in which banks refused to offer loans in economically troubled and largely African-American neighborhoods. And he said the area is feeling the effects still from the demolitions that came with urban renewal projects in the 1960s and 70s. Jackson also wasn’t shy about pointing out vacant land where a factory once stood, or abandoned homes and buildings.
Cleveland State University professor Norman Krumholz was city planning director in the 1970s, one who opposed urban renewal demolitions. He says it’s going to be difficult to revitalize some of Cleveland’s most distressed neighborhoods.
“About a third of the people who live in the city of Cleveland are living under the poverty line," Krumholz said in a phone interview. "In some neighborhoods, everybody is poor…What do you expect them to do? They have no resources. And so if you don’t have any money in the neighborhood, it’s difficult to turn it around.”
Jackson acknowledges these places face significant challenges today. But throughout the tour he claimed he’s making progress, describing law enforcement efforts to crack down on crime, and pointing out streets that workers were resurfacing. He reminded reporters that those were city dollars at work.
And he argued he can make further progress – if given another four years at the city’s helm.