Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson unveils his unconventional portrait

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson's official portrait dwarfs those of his predecessors in City Hall's Red Room.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson's official portrait dwarfs those of his predecessors in City Hall's Red Room. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]

Before Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson unveiled his official portrait Wednesday evening, he told a crowd of well-wishers at City Hall that it wouldn’t look like those of his predecessors.

Unlike the depictions of Mike White, Carl Stokes or Frank Lausche, the oil painting of Jackson wouldn’t stare out at the viewer from inside an office.

“I wanted everyone to understand that Mayor Jackson comes from a community,” the four-term mayor said.

That community – Cleveland’s Central neighborhood – forms the backdrop of the large portrait the mayor leaves behind as he departs City Hall.

Jackson spoke briefly to the audience in the City Hall rotunda before going up to the Red Room – a meeting room in the mayor’s office – with his family. The painting was already mounted high on the wall.

The audience watched on a live video feed as the mayor and the artist, Rob Hartshorn, pulled a red drape off the portrait. At about six feet tall, it dwarfed the images of former mayors beneath it.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson's official portrait, painted by Rob Hartshorn. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]

Standing outdoors and partially in shadow, the quiet mayor greets the viewer with what’s not quite a smile. Behind him, children watch a youth football practice at Dwayne Browder Field.

Cutting into the frame is a sign for Lonnie Burten Park, named for the former city councilman and friend of Jackson who collapsed and died suddenly in 1984. Five years after that, Jackson ran for Burten’s old council seat, beginning a 32-year political career.

Cleveland’s skyline rises behind the field. But in front of the Downtown towers is a brick building representing the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority apartments in Central – “brick city,” as Jackson said his wife, Edwina, put it.

“I’m prominent in it, but it’s not all about me,” the mayor said. “It’s about the community.”

Jackson’s experience of the neighborhood and its tragedies have long been part of his political – and personal – identity. Next to the lectern as he spoke Wednesday night was a large photo of his grandson Frank Q. Jackson, who was fatally shot in September, and the mayor’s daughter, Janese, who died the following month.

The mayor didn’t just pose for the portrait in an artist’s studio. According to Hartshorn, the two drove through the neighborhood together as Jackson reminisced.

“There was a story on every – a story about that corner over his entire lifetime,” Hartshorn said. “Neighborhood after neighborhood, just witnessing his face as those memories came to him.”

The unveiling ceremony drew city officials, council members, politicians and allies of the mayor to the rotunda. Insurance magnate and Jackson supporter Uberto Fedeli, who chairs the mayor’s legacy committee, delivered opening remarks.

Mayor-elect Justin Bibb worked his way through the crowd. So did Maple Heights Mayor Annette Blackwell, who is running for Cuyahoga County executive. Council President-elect Blaine Griffin chatted with attendees off to the side of the rotunda.

Everyone in attendance wore masks to thwart the spread of the coronavirus.

After Jackson and his family left the Red Room, others entered in small groups to take photos of the portrait.

Included on a small plaque at the bottom of the frame, in letters that were difficult to see even through a camera lens, were the five words that have become the mayor’s abstruse catchphrase:

“It Is What It Is!”

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