Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson gave his annual update on the state of the city today at Cleveland Public Auditorium. For the second straight year at the City Club event, Jackson was interviewed onstage – this time by WKYC’s Russ Mitchell. ideastream’s Nick Castele was there, and has this report.
Jackson has just begun his third and likely final term in office, and he described his next four years as tying up loose ends -- especially in the city’s plan to transform its public schools.
He called himself a “realist,” saying voters will be the judge of his progress in 2016, when the 15-mill school levy passed in 2012 is up for renewal.
“That’s why I’m saying that at the end of four years, we will be where we need to be," Jackson said, "in order to say to the public that we’ve kept our commitment, we kept our promise, and we will come back at that time for a renewal.”
Still, later in the program, Jackson said the grades Cleveland schools will get from the state may not reflect the progress they’ve made, because some are starting from low grades to begin with.
Jackson also said he’s not as concerned as many people are with Cleveland’s steep population decline. It’s lost 17 percent from 2000 to 2010, but Jackson pointed out people have begun to move INTO some city neighborhoods.
“And they're growing because we are providing the resources necessary to deal with the challenges and to stabilize and grow those assets," he said. "And as a result of that, they have become neighborhoods of choice. People are choosing to live, work, play and do business there.”
Russ Mitchell also asked Jackson to assess the city’s police force, in light of a grand jury investigation of officers who opened fire on – and killed -- two unarmed people who led police on a car chase. The Justice Department is also investigating police use of force at the city’s request.
“In your mind, at the end of the day, what would you like the Justice Department to say about the Cleveland police department?" Mitchell asked.
"The truth. That’s all that matters to me," Jackson said. "Look, I’m not concerned about covering anything up or trying to promote them to say something positive or create a better image or worse image. All I need is the truth.”
Asked how he would grade the police, Jackson gave them a B. He said they focus on the right issues, but don’t communicate well enough.
When Mitchell asked if the Cleveland Indians should nix their Chief Wahoo logo, Jackson said the decision is up to the team. But he said if Native American groups believe the logo to be offensive, he'd agree.
"If there's Americans -- Native Americans -- who believe that's offensive to them, who am I to tell them it's not?" Jackson said. "So if they believe it's offensive, then it's offensive, and I support whatever they want to do."
At the end of the talk, Mitchell asked a question that anyone who’s recently driven or biked Cleveland’s roads -- or even just seen them -- has likely wondered.
“Everyone I talk to coming in here has said the same thing: potholes. Are these potholes ever going to be fixed?” Mitchell asked.
“Oh yeah, eventually," Jackson joked, drawing a laugh from the audience. "No false expectations."
Jackson says low funding for infrastructure is a national problem that especially hurts cities with inclement weather. In the near term, he said, the city’s bringing on private contractors to join city crews already fixing the streets.
City Councilman Jeff Johnson, who’s openly exploring a bid for mayor in 2017, said the speech disappointed him. Johnson said the city has no good plan for dealing with abandoned houses or with homeowners who owe more than their house is worth. And he took issue with the mayor calling some neighborhoods “neighborhoods of choice.”
“All of our neighborhoods in Cleveland are neighborhoods of choice," Johnson said. "I know what they’re trying to say is that -- create neighborhoods where people want move into. Well I need to stabilize neighborhoods to keep people from moving out and bring people moving in.”
City Councilman Joe Cimperman, who is also mentioned as a possible mayoral hopeful, was more complimentary. He said he was glad to hear the mayor declare Cleveland open to immigrants – something Jackson didn’t quite do last year.
“What he’s talking about is creating a city that’s worthy of them being here," Cimperman said. "I think what you heard today is who the mayor really is. And I want to pursue with him that we be a sanctuary city.”
That’s a city that welcomes undocumented immigrants and takes steps to shield them from questions by law enforcement about immigration status. Asked about that during the program by an audience member, Jackson said he liked the idea but would need to work through whether it was practical.
He’ll have a few years to do it. Jackson’s term ends in 2017.