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Cleveland Mayoral Candidate Ken Lanci Asks for Support at Gospel Concert

Flanked by pastors, Ken Lanci addresses the audience. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
Flanked by pastors, Ken Lanci addresses the audience. (Nick Castele / ideastream)

Lanci’s campaign billed the event as “Faith, Hope and Love for a better Cleveland” -- a night to remember people who have gone missing and those whose lives ended too soon.

A video early in the program showed pictures of the house of Anthony Sowell, convicted of murdering 11 women, and the house of Ariel Castro, who imprisoned three women for about 10 years. The video promised that Lanci would bring change.

And the headliner for the night, gospel performer VaShawn Mitchell, sang about rebirth.

In another video, Lanci’s family described him as a loving father and grandfather.

Several pastors took the microphone to endorse Lanci -- one described Lanci’s years as a volunteer minister at the state prison in Grafton.

Master of ceremonies Jae “The Gospel Kidd” Williams even seemed to be trying to defuse any skepticism people might have about whether a white candidate who moved this year from the suburbs back to this majority-black city can really represent the interests of its citizens. Williams told the mostly African-American audience that Lanci cares.

“I found a white man who has so much love in his heart -- he got this whole building, he gave us all free opportunity to come and enjoy," he said.

Lanci’s wife Linda said she loved the people she had met on the campaign, and asked the audience to spread her husband’s name throughout the city. She called Lanci her best friend.

“As you know, in marriage it goes up and down," she said. "But we’re here with God’s grace and his love.”

Lanci walked onstage in a bowtie and black tuxedo that shimmered under the lights. He told a story that’s become familiar on his campaign trail of a near-death experience six years ago. He says God gave him a second chance to serve others, and his decision to run for mayor comes from a sense of religious mission.

“What we have to bring back is faith, hope and love," he said. "So when I made that decision, I decided I am not going to be a politician. I am not going to be political. I am going to be biblical.”

He said a win in November wouldn’t just be for his campaign.

"We will be victorious on Nov. 5 in God’s name, for his glory," Lanci said.

Lanci highlighted the story of Joanne McWhorter, whose son Mustafa was shot and killed near a library on Cleveland’s west side this year. Last year, he had been beaten up, and a video of the attack was posted online. On stage, McWhorter thanked Lanci and his wife for their support.

“It was the start of my healing," she said. "And I know this service is divine.”

At the end of the night, Lanci and his wife Linda took the stage for a slow dance to the song "The Impossible Dream." Some audience members joined them.

Before the dance began, Lanci said some people have called his candidacy an impossible dream. But he said with the help of his audience, he’s confident he can win.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.