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Mayor Frank Jackson, Councilman Zack Reed Debate Who Has Solutions for Cleveland

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, moderator Rick Jackson, and Councilman Zack Reed laugh after Reed's phone rang during the debate.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, moderator Rick Jackson, and Councilman Zack Reed laugh after Reed's phone rang during the debate.

At today’s City Club debate, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson portrayed Councilman Zack Reed as an amateur with no solutions, while Reed argued the mayor has failed to lead on numerous issues.

Each accused the other of not putting forward a plan for the next four years, as the two sparred for an hour over the police consent decree, lead poisoning, schools, crime and development.

Consent Decree

Jackson said the police reform agreement with the Justice Department offered the city a chance to make holistic changes within the force.

Reed pointed out that the federal investigation of Cleveland police came after a number of incidents that happened on Jackson’s watch. He criticized the mayor for not firing the safety director or police chief.

“The debacle within the safety department, these two individuals got promoted instead of getting fired,” Reed said.

When pressed on whether he agreed with an arbitrator’s decision to reinstate five officers fired for their roles in the fatal 137-round shooting in 2012, Reed said that his opinion didn’t matter.

“You’re running for mayor. It does matter what you think about it,” Jackson responded. “It does matter what you think and it does matter what you do. And it can’t just change from here to there depending on which way the wind is blowing.”

Lead Poisoning

Reed called lead poisoning a crisis that the mayor hadn’t done enough to resolve.

“It’s a pattern under this administration to not show a sense of urgency,” Reed said. “So under my watch, we’re going to make it one of the leading things that we do.”

The mayor’s response: the lead problem is so widespread that it will take a huge investment to remove the threat.

“The magnitude of the issue is great,” Jackson said. “So we need a comprehensive community effort that deals with the public sector, the private sector and the philanthropic sector.”


Jackson said the schools are working on bringing in “wraparound services” to help students with problems that go beyond academics. Asked to grade his progress improving education, the mayor gave himself a C+.

“I’m not going to say an A, because we have a way to go,” Jackson said. “We have a way to go. But I would say a C+, and we’re continuing to work on it.”

Reed replied that the state of the schools rests on the mayor’s shoulders.

“Can’t call yourself a C+ when the state has called you an F on more than one occasion,” Reed said. “I mean, it’s a complete failure, and I don’t think anyone in this room should be happy.”


In mailers and a radio ad, Jackson’s campaign has brought up Reed’s prior drunken-driving convictions. The mayor was asked why he raised the issue a month before Election Day.

Jackson said he wasn’t condemning Reed because the councilman faced addiction, but instead was raising questions about judgment. 

“Even in doing this debate and other conversations throughout my engagement with Councilman Reed, he’s never accepted responsibility for anything,” Jackson said. “It’s always somebody else’s fault. I think that’s a trait.”

Reed said he has sought help.

“I did do something,” he said. “I spent 28 days in rehab. I did do something. I went to the rooms at AA. I talked to my lord and savior, Jesus Christ.”

Plans for the Future

Jackson closed his debate performance saying that he had helped the city through the recession, and would carry it further.

“This is about the future of the city of Cleveland. This is not amateur hour,” Jackson said in his closing statement. “And I have demonstrated over the last 12 years that we have done things and we have moved through some very challenging times.”

Reed defended his own 16-year experience on city council in his closing statement, saying Jackson hasn’t shown a way ahead for Cleveland.

“He talked about, ‘It’s about the future,’” Reed said. “But yet he didn’t lay out what he was going to do for the future.”

Early voting is already underway, and the general election is set for Nov. 7. 

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