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Focus on Issue 4 Campaign

Thursday, October 24, 2002 at 2:32 PM

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The vote on Issue 4 is getting a lot of attention heading into the November 5th. The referendum that will decide whether or not to leave the school system in the hands of the mayor is touted by some as the most crucial item on Cleveland's ballot. We've heard much about the arguments for and against - the right to vote versus the needs of the children, accountability to the mayor versus accountability to the people. Today we take a look at the campaigns - where the support is going, and how the messages are getting out. 90.3's Bill Rice reports.

Bill Rice: Last Saturday’s basketball reunion at East Tech was something to remember for former Players. 150 of them, all alumni of high schools across the city, gathered at the tech-focused options school to reclaim the old school spirit. It was anybody’s game during the final seconds of the women’s match-up.

It was an occasion for the players, and an opportunity for the school district to get out and push its latest cause. With less than two weeks before Cleveland voters decide whether or not the mayor should continue to appoint school board members, supporters of Issue 4 are organized and seizing opportunities to get before voters and make their case. And they have no shortage of help. On this day, it was from U.S. Senator George Voinovich, who was Governor of Ohio when mayoral control took effect.

George Voinovich: While I was Mayor of Cleveland one of my frustrations was I’ had no control over the school system. And even though Cleveland was an all American city, I felt we wouldn’t be an all-American city unless we had an All-American school system! That’s what we want.

BR: Voinovich is one of a parade of high profile people to endorse keeping a mayor-appointed board - Governor Bob Taft, Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Several university presidents, all but one city council-person, many area state Senators and Representatives - most of whom originally opposed mayoral control. Much has been made of the idea that the vote concerns the governance structure, and not the people who currently govern. Nevertheless, campaigners for continued mayoral control frequently tout their most marketable figure - the current head of the district. Voinovich was no exception.

GV: ...the best superintendent that this city’s seen in my memory, and that’s Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Let’s give her a big hand for the great job she’s done.

BR: The pro-mayoral governance campaign is well organized and well funded. It’s run by the same committee that pushed Issue 14, the bond issue and tax levy that’s paved the way for a billion dollars in school renovations in Cleveland. That campaign raised nearly $2 million - much of it in 10, 15 and 20 thousand dollar chunks from the business community. It’s given this one a financial jump start by funneling more than a hundred thousand leftover dollars into supporting mayoral control. But the money is coming in slower this time around, says chief spokesman Arnold Pinckney.

Arnold Pinckney: Our campaign goal was to raise a million dollars for the campaign. We are not there yet. The economy of course is playing a role. The contributions are coming and we’re confident we’ll get there.

BR: Pinckney wouldn’t say how much has been raised so far, but TV ads are running, and he says about 60% of the total will go into electronic media.

On the other side of Issue 4 is a much smaller, much poorer, but nonetheless adamant group of campaigners. Tim Bennett spends a rainy Wednesday morning passing out literature outside Dave’s market on Cleveland’s east side.

Bennett’s group, the Committee to Save the Vote for Cleveland Parents and Children, only filed their paperwork to raise money early this month. They, too, declined to disclose how much they’ve raised, but it’s far less than their opponents on Issue 4.

Tim Bennett: We don’t have $2 million…

Lang Dunbar: It hasn’t gone as well as we’d like…

BR: Lang Dunbar is one of the committee’s chief organizers.

LD: And we understand that our opponents have a tremendous amount of money. We are not going to be able to do TV ads.

BR: Nor does the “no” campaign have much in the way of endorsements. There’s Reverend Marvin McMickel, a leading pastor and former state representative. And, says Dunbar, members of the Ward 8 Club reached a “no” consensus at a recent meeting. The campaign, he says, is riding almost entirely on the grassroots efforts of ordinary people.

LD: We’re going to do some radio ads, but our concern is getting out, meeting the people, talking to people. That’s what a grass roots campaign is all about.

BR: Convincing enough people to vote “no” on Issue 4 will be a daunting task in the face of such strong support for the other side. The last poll conducted by the Plain Dealer in September put pro side ahead by a few percentage points. That’s hardly definitive when you factor in a margin of error of plus or minus six percentage points and 18% of respondents undecided. Voters head to the ballot booths on November 5th. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3. 

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