The city of Cleveland has had its one and only mayoral debate. Mayor Frank Jackson and businessman Ken Lanci squared off at the City Club of Cleveland in an hour-long verbal scuffle. ideastream’s Nick Castele reports.
In his opening statement, Frank Jackson said he’s been a diligent public servant who has positioned Cleveland for success through years of work. He pointed out what he considers his successes through his eight years, saying neighborhoods are starting to show signs of rebirth.
"You can see this in Gordon Square, Glenville, Larchmere, Kamm's Corner, Shaker Square, the Collinwood rec center, Zone rec center, community gardens, bike trails, over $400 million invested in street repairs," Jackson said.
And now, Jackson said, he wants another term to carry the city -- as he put it -- over the hump.
Ken Lanci, in his opening statement, which actually preceded Jackson’s, described himself as an innovator whose business experience would help him make the city more efficient and responsive to residents’ needs. But it was shortly thereafter he began his steady critique of the mayor, starting with the state of the school district, which he says has suffered under Jackson.
“Eight years ago, the schools were in distress at the time that Frank came in," Lanci said. "Eight years later, after two transformation plans and millions of dollars, we still have a failed school system.”
Jackson responded to that much later in the debate, saying this plan has financial support from voters who approved a levy to fund it, and support from state legislators who passed a law giving the mayor more power over hiring and firing teachers.
“The difference between that and now is that we have the legislation in place that will allow us to do systemic changes to address systemic problems," Jackson said.
ideastream’s Rick Jackson moderated the debate. He asked both candidates how they would tackle crime in a city that has produced high-profile criminals like serial killer Anthony Sowell and kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro.
Lanci said the community and the police need to work together more closely. To solve conflicts between police and residents, Lanci proposed a board made up of six pastors and six police officers.
“That group of people, when we have an issue, will sit down, talk and solve those problems," Lanci said. "No negotiation that I’ve ever had -- and I’ve negotiated multimillion-dollar deals -- ever got solved with nobody at the table.”
Mayor Jackson said high profile crimes don’t tell the whole story. He said Cleveland police have worked with federal law enforcement to secure indictments against gun and drug traffickers. And he said it’s a personal issue to him because he lives in a high-crime neighborhood himself.
“My children live there with me," Jackson said. "My grandchildren live there with me. And when those young people are dead and they get shot, I go to their funerals. Not in a public way. Neither do I have hot dogs and hamburgers at tragedy.”
That was a swipe at Lanci for serving food at some events. Lanci served dinner at a gospel concert and campaign rally that Lanci's campaign described as a community healing event honoring victims of crime.
Asked how best to position Cleveland’s reviving downtown, Jackson said development is moving in the right direction. Lanci proposed bringing in tourists to Cleveland from around the Great Lakes on a series of cruise ship lines.
Jackson said Lanci was inconsistent and unpredictable -- in the mayor’s words, like a fish out of water. Later, Lanci said Jackson had flip flopped by backing off plans to manufacture LED lights and build a trash-to-energy gasification plant.
The last question of the debate addressed the subject of race. Lanci is a white candidate seeking votes from a majority black city. Mayor Jackson is African-American. The two were asked how they’d bridge Cleveland’s sometimes stark racial divide.
Lanci said Cleveland is still suffering from inequity.
“What about the residents?" Lanci said. "I was here in 1968 for the riots. I have seen those neighborhoods. You know what? Go through the neighborhoods.”
For his part, Jackson accused Lanci of being in the mayoral race more to feel good about himself than to serve the city. The mayor said Lanci condescended to the people of Cleveland and their challenges.
“And when you face these challenges, and you face them from an ivory tower, and you just decide to move back to Cleveland because you believe you have a burden, you’re not going to get the results you’re looking for," Jackson said. "Believe me. I live here. My family lives here.”
Votes will soon be cast in this election. Between Oct. 1 and Nov. 5, Clevelanders will have their say on the future of the city.