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Reflections from Lakewood: A Talk with Mayor Madeline Cain

Tuesday, December 30, 2003 at 11:21 AM

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Perhaps one of the most talked about stories out of northeast Ohio this year was the controversial West End Development project in Lakewood. It not only got major play in local headlines, but became a national fixation as well. Lakewood Mayor Madeline Cain was at the story's center: painted as a villain by some, and a hero by others. With only days left in office, Mayor Cain sat down with ideastream's Renita Jablonski and reflected on being the leader of one of Ohio's best-known suburbs.

A holiday wreath hangs on the door to Madeline Cain’s office in Lakewood City Hall. The gold letters under “Office of the Mayor” will soon be replaced with the name of long-time councilman Thomas George. Next to the door, is a wall with more than a dozen portraits of Lakewood mayors past, each one a black and white photograph, all men, in suits and ties.

Madeline Cain: To have demonstrated as the first woman mayor that this administration could manage tax dollars prudently and at the same time to demonstrate that we could be aggressive in rebuilding a city.

Mayor Cain says she has a long list of accomplishments she’s proud of when looking back at her years as a politician, first in the Ohio House, and then the last eight as Lakewood’s mayor.

Madeline Cain: How many people today can look back on 15 years of public service with really no controversies, well, I mean…

Sound of protestors: Council and mayor are blighted! Their houses aren’t being torn down! Save our homes! Save our homes!

The mayor recognizes that some would disagree. That’s thanks mainly to the mixed-use development project Cain supported building in Lakewood’s West End neighborhood. It would have meant bulldozing dozens of homes and several apartment buildings.

Madeline Cain: Lakewood, like all inner-ring suburbs, we have very high taxes and, particularly property taxes, and property taxes, 75-to-80% of those taxes go to our schools. If we are not able to support an outstanding school system, then this community’s future looks very, very bleak to me. That’s what the West End was trying to do for Lakewood and so I truly believe it’s a tragedy.

The mayor’s support of the $151 million West End project remains in the national spotlight as other inner ring suburbs continue to watch to see if in the end, after legal battles and ballot initiatives, the city will be able to use eminent domain as a tool for economic development. Mayor Cain says it’s something she wonders herself.

Madeline Cain: I don’t know the answer to that question, I really do not know. And it’s hard for me to at this point get my arms around that and those issues. I am confident that the mayor-elect is committed to pursuing something relative to the West End and I will support his efforts.

The mayor admits that the issue may have played a factor to her bid for re-election but says overall she’s pleased with the outcome.

Madeline Cain: This was also the largest turnout that we have seen in a local election in decades and so I look back on this as one of the most vibrant and energizing years in this community’s history.

But this is not what Cain hopes she’s remembered for. She instead points to other initiatives like creating an office of Community Relations, and for the transition a few years back to a combined EMS and fire department. She does say though, that she would have liked to make more headway in other areas.

Madeline Cain: Over the course of eight years it wasn’t until the last two years that we really started to devote energy and resources to improving our recreation infrastructure here in Lakewood.

Construction is ongoing to improve the infrastructure of Lakewood Park. This summer, work will begin to open up the park’s edge to include the lakefront. Boardwalks and paths to the water’s edge will be built. The plans include having a full beachfront eventually developed. In the coming months, the mayor says ground will be broken for Rockport Square, a project including 100 condominium units with live-work lofts on both sides of Detroit, just east of city hall. She makes sure to re-iterate that no homes will be taken for that project. 2003 will certainly be a year that Mayor Cain will remember, as will many Lakewood residents. The mayor says if she could do it again, she wouldn’t do anything differently.

Madeline Cain: And I really don’t walk away with any regrets. And I think that’s, I think that’s a good way to close the door behind you and move towards the next one.

But Mayor Cain says she’s not closing the door to politics, though she won’t say whether her name will be on another ballot in the future. For now, she’s taking her experience into the classroom. Next month, with the start of the new semester, she’ll be teaching a class at Cleveland State called “State government and politics,” watching any developments in the West End situation from the sidelines. In Lakewood, Renita Jablonski, 90.3.

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