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Ward 14 Election Year Profile

Tuesday, May 8, 2001 at 3:19 PM

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An interesting city council race is brewing on Cleveland's near west side, where prosperity has left several historic neighborhoods at a crossroads. Nelson Cintron, Cleveland's first and only Hispanic councilman, is defending his seat from challenger Joe Santiago. Cintron's first term in ward 14 has been a time of renewal and prosperity for neighborhoods like Ohio City, Clark-Fulton, and Tremont. But at the same time Cintron's made some enemies, as the citywide debate over urban renewal continues. 90.3's April Baer reports.

April Baer- When people talk about the Cleveland renaissance, they often mean the kind of thing that’s happening in ward 14. This area, just west of downtown Cleveland, have been going through slow but steady renovation, and is now home to some of the priciest residential and commercial real estate you’ll find outside of downtown.

Part of the secret of ward 14’s success has been its ability to capitalize on ethnic diversity. The newly renovated West Side Market, a veritable United Nations of food, packs shoppers in on Saturday mornings. And just down the block, one of the ward’s newest businesses is the Puerto Rican bakery Lelolai, serving up traditional favorites like flan, and cheesecakes flavored with tropical fruit.

Co-owner Francisco Alfonso, who, with his wife, owns Lelolai, says one man who deserves thanks for ward 14’s good fortune is Councilman Nelson Cintron.

Francisco Alfonso- In the early stages of the process when we needed to find some information about what financing was available. I went to Nelson.

AB- Cintron, he says, helped him make contacts with city development staffers who helped he and his wife Alma through the process of starting their own business.

FA- The times that we spoke to him and his staff he was very receptive. He was there. We didn’t need any funds from the City, but he was there - and here we are!

AB- Nelson Cintron’s success is closely tied to ward 14’s. The last time council districts were redrawn, local leaders deliberately shaped the lines so that Latino voters would have significant power. In 1997, Cintron’s election fulfilled that promise. But in the four years since, the love affair with the city’s first Hispanic councilman has cooled down in certain neighborhoods. Cintron has taken flak among residents in Tremont, a small strip of which is represented by Cintron, for failing to deliver any community development money to their block clubs. This winter, when Cintron visited the Tremont West Development Corporation’s annual meeting, to unveil plans for a new development of houses in the area, the Tremont crowd’s applause was more polite than enthusiastic.

Nelson Cintron- Scranton village housing development is alive and moving forward.

AB- Some voters saw the project was too little, too late. So this cluster of Tremont voters pledging this fall to support one of their own. Joe Santiago is a nutritionist and decorated Navy veteran who’s built a name for himself working on safety and traffic issues.

Joe Santiago- Currently there’s no recreation in ward 14. Recreation is a very big issue in the entire ward. Also, I would like to assure that first and second generations still can be residents and not be displaced in our neighborhoods, people came to Ward 14 because it was affordable.

AB- But Santiago also says he wants to ensure the neighborhoods don’t miss out on development grant money - money he says Nelson Cintron failed to deliver.

JS- It hit us so hard in some places that some residents are still suffering from that.

AB- The feud between Tremont and Cintron is a complicated one. There’s bad blood over Cintron’s proposal last year to open a restaurant with full bar where some residents said alcohol wasn’t wanted. And while West Siders pride themselves on their diversity, some Tremont homeowners mention suspicions about Cintron’s Latino power base, Margaret David, who’s white, is a senior citizen, active in her local block club, and has owned a home in Tremont for decades, and she’s not shy when you ask her if Nelson Cintron’s doing a good job.

Margaret David- No I think he’s partial to his people. I live over by Scranton road, and we don’t get anything over there.

AB- However, Mrs. David feels no qualms about supporting Joe Santiago, who she believes would not be overly influenced by his Latino roots.

MD- I don’t think he would b/c he’s in the ethnic part of Tremont...I think he would be with everybody.

AB- Beyond the complicated web of personal disputes, race, and politics in Ward 14, it may be that the heart of the dispute is the dilemma every Cleveland neighborhood must confront: the political changes that happen when neighborhoods start going upscale. John Popow is a 33-year native of Tremont; a former block club president, who runs a bargain computer hardware store across from his home on West 14th. He takes his lunch whenever one of his four children remembers to bring him a plate.

In some ways, he’s a figure in the middle. This Russian-American, lifelong Tremont native was once president of his block club, but decided to quit when he felt the dispute with Nelson Cintron was getting out of hand. Popow says he’s watched his street go through enormous changes - in average income and boundaries.

John Popow- When it first started happening, yeah, a large, Caucasian group moved in. More money than people around here used to make. It was cool to be in Tremont.

AB- But Popow hasn’t forgotten the neighborhood’s past. He’ll tell you about the times he was stabbed and shot walking home, and show you the South Side tattoo he got when he was 12 years old. He says he sometimes gets angry at the way his neighbors fight over development money, and his resentment is characteristic of the way some people in other parts of ward 14 view their new neighbors.

JP- As far as this race goes, people are scared of Tremont. It seemed like that was their goal, to chase out who they didn’t want and bring in who they did.

AB- The incumbent Nelson Cintron Junior prefers to downplay the election year disagreements that are splintering the ward. He denies he’s been holding out on wealthier neighborhoods.

NC- I had to make a decision. We were promoting high end projects throughout the ward, and I had to cut some of those agencies overhead costs. When I cut the Hispanic Business Association, when I cut Clark Metro to the bone, a lot of them didn’t complain. I would tell that group, are you better off now, or were they better off twenty years ago when things were not happening.

AB- Ward 14’s election, like so many others around town, may hinge on the redistricting getting underway later this month in Cleveland City Council. If the ward’s lines are redrawn to favor Tremont, or if Cintron’s Latino power base is split, ward fourteen could once again be looking at a whole new power structure, and a new set of priorities. The City’s general election happens November 6th. April Baer, 90.3, 90.3 WCPN.

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