Candidates Get Low Marks For Answers In Second Cleveland Mayoral Debate

Residents who asked questions in the second Cleveland mayoral debate are pictured.
Clockwise from top left, Sonia Monroy, Leah Hudnall and her son Dom, Rhonda Jones and Courtney Green asked questions of the Cleveland mayoral candidates.

By Conor Morris, for the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative

How can Cleveland create more jobs that pay a living wage? How can the city support Hispanic business owners? And how can the Cleveland Metropolitan School District attract new students?

These were all questions that came directly from city residents during the second Cleveland mayoral debate on Aug. 17, hosted by Ideastream Public Media and The City Club of Cleveland. The questions during this round challenged the mayoral candidates to envision a city with a strong economy, a clean and safe environment and a robust public education system. Just as we did after the first debate, the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative reached out to residents who asked questions  to see what they thought of the candidates’ responses.

Retaining Young Professionals

Courtney Green, an educator at John Hay High School in Cleveland, asked: “How do you plan to cultivate a system of support to retain our cities’ young professionals, specifically those who have been born and raised in Cleveland, and/or come from historically  marginalized communities?”

Green’s question notably caused a tiff between former Councilman Zack Reed and current Councilman Basheer Jones, who said young people are not given opportunities to become involved in politics, a point  Reed disputed.

Green said she wished all the candidates – not just Reed and Jones – had focused on the questions asked. Neither provided a clear answer to her question, she said.

“There’s a lot about what they did do and what the other person didn’t do or did do, there was a lot of that this weeknight, and I’m like, “Come on now!’” Green said.

Former U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Cleveland Council President Kevin Kelley and Ohio Rep. Sandra Williams said the city needs to do a better job of providing basic services and amenities to retain young professionals. For Kelley, it was safe neighborhoods and good schools. Kucinich also mentioned public safety and said the city needs to be cleaned up and its entertainment districts should be bolstered. Williams said high-quality public education is needed.

Nonprofit executive Justin Bibb said Cleveland needs to invest in its cultural assets to better reflect its status as a majority-Black city, while opening up opportunities for people to work in city government. Attorney Ross DiBello noted investments in cutting child poverty and improving public transit have significant returns on investment, and suggested starting there.

Green said she appreciated the talk on improving the city’s basic services, especially well-maintained roads and safer pedestrian infrastructure. But she added that there’s not enough attention paid to connecting young people to job opportunities and resources that already exist.

Supporting Hispanic Businesses

Sonia Monroy, an activist who lives in Cleveland’s Old Brooklyn neighborhood, asked the candidates if they have visited Hispanic businesses in Cleveland to learn about their needs, as well as what they will do to ensure those businesses’ success.

All of the candidates responded with varying examples of outreach or interactions they’ve had with the Hispanic community in Cleveland, but Kelley was the only one to mention a specific business – the 787 Market on Memphis Avenue in Old Brooklyn. DiBello mentioned the candidates’ first debate hosted by the Hispanic Roundtable, and said that organization, along with others in the city, deserves transparency about how city funds are used to support businesses. Jones said he sat down with business owners at the West Side Market and lamented the city’s failures with that facility, while pledging the city would do more business with Hispanic and Black business owners under his leadership.

Monroy said she wasn’t impressed with any of the candidates’ responses. She said she hasn’t heard of any of the candidates actually doing the kind of deep listening to Hispanic business owners that she’d hoped for. She said these business owners face unique challenges and have never been supported fully by city administration. She, in particular, took Bibb to task for mentioning his interactions with Metro West, which is not a business, adding that he and the other candidates need to actually sit down with the owners themselves.

What About Education?

Debate around what the Cleveland Metropolitan School District needs to be more successful was another theme throughout the night. Mill Creek resident Leah Hudnall and her son, Dom, asked the candidates what they will do to attract new young families to enroll with CMSD, noting that many times, “perception outweighs reality in the quality we have in the public education system.”

Kelley said he agreed with Hudnall, noting he moved his daughter from a charter school to a public school after receiving a call from a CMSD outreach coordinator. He said more of those coordinators are needed to actively recruit students. Bibb said there needs to be more investment in teachers, as well as more investment in out-of-school support programs like the Boys and Girls Club. Kucinich advocated for bolstered pre-kindergarten programs, and called for more testing for lead poisoning of children.

Meanwhile, Jones said schools need more funding for wrap-around services and to promote the social-emotional wellbeing of children; Williams said Ohio’s grade card system needs to be reformed and that she would meet with parents personally; Reed advocated for job readiness programs for students, including turning Collinwood High School into a vocational school and DiBello said he would push for more extra-curricular opportunities for students, referencing music and arts programs, chess clubs and children reading to adoptable dogs.

Hudnall, who said she comes from a long line of CMSD graduates, said she was mostly pleased with the discussion.

“I would love to learn what an elected school board might look like, and if it’s a good route for us as a city,” she said. “I definitely couldn’t agree more that we need teachers who respect the neighborhoods in which they teach, and the children that come from them.”

The Cleveland mayoral primary election  is Sept. 14, with early voting available now. The top two vote getters move on to the Nov. 2 general election.
 

This story is sponsored by the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative, which is composed of almost 20 Northeast Ohio news outlets including Ideastream Public Media. Conor Morris is a corps member with Report for America. You can email him at conor@thedevilstrip.com.

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