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Ken Lanci Seeks Grassroots Support in Cleveland Mayoral Race

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 7:40 AM

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Cleveland's next mayoral election is just a matter of months away, and many seasoned watchers of city politics say it won't be much of a contest this year. But Mayor Frank Jackson has at least one prominent challenger with genuine desire and the financial resources to back it up. ideastream's Nick Castele reports on millionaire Ken Lanci's latest run for political office.

Ken Lanci is the chairman and CEO of marketing and printing company Consolidated Graphics Group. In 2010, when he was 60, Lanci spent $1 million of his own money to fund a bid for Cuyahoga County Executive. He lost that race by a wide margin. 

Running for Mayor of Cleveland might seem like an even longer shot. But Lanci says he’s determined to mount a viable challenge to Frank Jackson, and he’s courting voters to gather the 3,000 signatures he needs to get on the ballot. 

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, he climbs aboard an RTA bus for what he guesses might be the first time in 20 years. He rides it from his office to Public Square, where he meets a woman named Artrina Collins. He tells her that his reason for seeking office comes from his religious faith—and from a near-fatal heart attack he suffered.

LANCI: “I died and God sent me back. He sent me back seven years ago to work for the greater good of all. And that’s—I’ve committed my life to that.”

As for political leanings, Lanci has been something of a moving target. He ran as an independent for county executive. He’s made contributions to Republicans, although he says only as favors for friends. He’s donated to Democrats, too, and he’s running this race as a Democrat. He says that’s where his heart is.

But he’s not expecting any help from the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party. Nor is he counting on support from business groups. He says he’s trying to win the votes of average Cleveland residents.

LANCI: “Door by door, street by street. Meeting the needs of the residents. The forgotten people.”

Lanci drives an expensive car and has lived in the suburbs for years, but he recently moved into a downtown apartment. He tells people he meets that he was born to scarcity in the heart of Cleveland.

LANCI: “I was born on 110th and Woodland, in the projects. My parents were on relief. I know poverty. I know having gone without.”

Lanci says despite Mayor Jackson’s efforts, poverty and crime are high, and the schools are in academic emergency.

When voters ask Lanci about education, he talks about his charitable work. He’s chairman emeritus and a donor to the student leadership program Project Love. And he’s helped kids get free eye exams through the OneSight program.

But Lanci says he won’t change Jackson’s plan for the schools at all. Instead, he says he’d replicate Project Love across the school district.

LANCI: “Bringing in parents that care, grandparents that care and volunteers that care, to be in the schools with these children, to be able to encourage them the way we have done with Project Love.”

One the issue of reducing crime, Lanci says he’d spend more on police. But he didn’t say specifically where he’d find the money. He says there has to be waste in the budget somewhere that could be redirected.

He tells Artrina Collins on Public Square that police and the community need to quell violence together. She pushes him to be more specific. 

COLLINS: “It’s hard to get the community and the police together. You know that’s hard.”

LANCI: “Well it’s only hard because nobody gets up every day and tries to do it.”

COLLINS: “That’s true. Now what do you plan on doing to try to get them there?”

Lanci’s answer: Sit both sides down and talk it out. By conversation’s end, Collins signs his petition.

Former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan says he thinks Lanci has little chance of winning. He says Lanci will have to prove to voters that he understands the issues they face.

HAGAN: “That’s at the heart of it…Can Ken Lanci relate to people who struggle every day? And they want a voice that articulates that struggle and identifies with it.”

Lanci says he’ll try to make that case this summer as he meets voters throughout the neighborhoods of Cleveland.

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Government/Politics, Elections

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