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Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is retiring, and for the first time in 16 years, City Hall is getting a new leader. What do the seven candidates offer? What do voters want? Host Nick Castele goes on the campaign trail in "After Jackson: Cleveland's Next Mayor" from Ideastream Public Media. Follow: Spotify | iTunes | Stitcher | Feed

After Jackson - Episode 11: Welcome To The General Election

Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley and Ward 6 Councilman Blaine Griffin talk with reporters across from Woodhill Homes. Griffin endorsed Kelley for mayor. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]
Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley and Ward 6 Councilman Blaine Griffin talk with reporters across from Woodhill Homes. Griffin endorsed Kelley for mayor.

Justin Bibb won 27 percent of the primary vote. Kevin Kelley won 19 percent. Add those two together, and it’s a few points less than half the electorate. A majority of voters in the primary picked somebody who didn’t win.

That means both candidates have plenty of ground to gain before November.

Two days after the election, Kelley’s campaign invited reporters to Ward 6 on the East Side. The council president finished fifth in this ward, with about 9 percent of the vote. Bibb won it.

But here, Kelley unveiled the endorsement of a prominent Ward 6 supporter – the councilman, Blaine Griffin.

Griffin is an ally of Mayor Frank Jackson, who also endorsed Kelley. And he’s hoping to take the reins as council president next year. One of Griffin’s main adversaries in that contest is Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack, who endorsed Bibb.

Kelley’s message here was that he has the experience and know-how to run City Hall.

“We talk about transformation,” he said. “It’s a great political talking point. It’s harder to do. But that’s what we’re doing right here. And that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

Kelley’s campaign seems to think that, in framing the debate this way, he has an advantage against his 34-year-old first-time candidate opponent. Just before the primary, Kelley sent out a mailer portraying Bibb as an empty suit.

Justin Bibb and former Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell speak to media in West Park. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]

Bibb’s argument, on the other hand, is that he offers something new.

“I believe that now, not tomorrow, not yesterday, but now is the time for bold, new, dynamic, visionary leadership to move Cleveland forward in this election,” Bibb said at an event with SEIU Local 1 last week.

Local 1 represents many janitors in town. It was one of two Service Employees International Union groups to endorse Bibb. The other was District 1199, which spent money on behalf of Sandra Williams in the primary. The union fought with Kelley over raising the citywide minimum wage several years ago.

Kelley and Bibb are separately revving up their campaigns and seeking out new voters. But they spend a fair amount of time at events together, because the end of the primary has put no end to the steady drumbeat of mayoral forums.


Follow “After Jackson: Cleveland's Next Mayor” on NPR One, iTunes or on your favorite podcast platform. Or catch it every Wednesday at 9 a.m. on the “Sound of Ideas” on 90.3 WCPN.

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