Cleveland Mayoral Contenders Face Off in Crowded Primary Debate

Mayor Frank Jackson, right, talks with State Rep. Bill Patmon, center, and former East Cleveland Mayor Eric Brewer, left.
Mayor Frank Jackson, right, talks with State Rep. Bill Patmon, center, and former East Cleveland Mayor Eric Brewer, left. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
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At Friday’s City Club debate, Mayor Frank Jackson said Cleveland has “a bright future” because he’s “willing to put the work in,” while his challengers argued the three-term mayor has failed to remedy the city’s many woes.

The mayor’s eight opponents piled on early in the 90-minute debate.

Former East Cleveland Mayor Eric Brewer reminded the audience of the 2012 cross-town chase that ended in a 137-round shooting by police that killed two unarmed people. Councilman Zack Reed gave the mayor a failing report card in his handling of lead poisoning and infant mortality. Brandon Chrostowski, the founder of EDWIN’S restaurant, laid a heap of ills at the mayor’s feet.   

“An exploding murder rate, a growing opioid epidemic, and untenable lead crisis, failing schools, a population decline of 56,000 people, decaying neighborhoods,” Chrostowski said.

Mayor Jackson saved his rebuttal for his closing statement. He told the audience, as he often does on the campaign trail, that he lives in the Central neighborhood, and that the city’s troubles touch his family personally.

“Anybody who wants to talk about the illusion of what should be, that’s a nice conversation,” Jackson said. “But when it comes down to reality, I deal with it because I go to bed with it every night.”

Jackson continued: “And when you live in reality, you have anxiety. But when you have anxiety, that means you have to own success. You have to own failure. You have to own it and you cannot blame somebody else. What have you done? What have you done? You ain’t raised nothing, and you ain’t done nothing.”

Watch the full debate below:

Violence and Public Safety

After opening statements, the moderator, ideastream’s Rick Jackson, asked the candidates how they would bring down crime.

Zack Reed pledged to fire the safety director and replace him with Police Chief Calvin Williams. He also said he would reduce violence by helping people find jobs.

“Secondly, we need to put surveillance cameras throughout our neighborhood,” Reed said. “Why is it that we have surveillance cameras downtown to protect the people downtown, but we don’t believe we need surveillance cameras in our neighborhood? And then thirdly, we need to hire 400 community-based police officers.”

Two candidates, Robert Kilo and Fresh Brewed Tees owner Tony Madalone, said the city hasn’t supported police officers.

“They are not the enemy,” Madalone said. “They need to be supported, and that’s what I would do. I would focus on supporting them to build morale internally. We would have a different police department on the streets if they feel supported, and they feel like the administration has their back.”

State Rep. Bill Patmon held up what appeared to be the findings from the Justice Department’s civil rights investigation into Cleveland police. He said he would follow the city’s police reform agreement with the DOJ.

Breaking Out

With limited speaking time, the challengers only occasionally criticized one another, focusing instead on promoting their own platforms.

Councilman Jeff Johnson touted a lead paint inspection plan and said the city needs to enforce housing code.   

“We also have to be able to help the homeowners,” Johnson said. “We lose too many people from leaving the city. Second only to Detroit. The housing issue is one of the key ways to making the city great. Not championships. Not bars or restaurants in the East Flats. It’s housing.”

On transit issues, Johnson said he’d create an office of transportation at city hall. Eric Brewer, the former mayor of East Cleveland, said he wanted more RTA lines to serve Cleveland neighborhoods.

Brewer also proposed greater city focus on medical care.

“I want Cleveland’s free hospital system back,” Brewer said. “I want physicians on EMS squads to provide the highest level of life-saving care at the scene of a medical emergency. I want mobile clinics providing treatment to Clevelanders in all our neighborhoods.”

Robert Kilo said the city’s schools have made progress too slowly.

“We cannot afford a gradual uptick of a graduation rate. We need to double down by investing in the best,” Kilo said. “We cannot try to reform schools that have historically proven to fail. We invest in the best schools that have proven to work.”

Dyrone Smith criticized public sector unions and said parents should have more control in the school system. A newcomer to politics, Smith introduced himself as an everyman.

“What you should know about me is that I’m nobody, and yet I am everybody, just like you,” Smith said. “I too have sent my children to the same poor-performing schools and been a victim of police brutality.”

The field of nine candidates will be winnowed down to two after the Sept. 12 primary election. In his closing statement, Bill Patmon warned voters to choose carefully.

“Be careful. Be very careful,” he said. “And the reason I said that is: promises, visions, snake oil. Our country suffers from that right now. So if you’re going to pick one of us, use the resume technique. Look and see what we’ve done.”

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