Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb pledges urgency, asks neighbors to stay involved

Mayor Justin Bibb delivers his inaugural address Saturday, at the end of his first week as mayor of Cleveland.
Mayor Justin Bibb delivers his inaugural address Saturday, at the end of his first week as mayor of Cleveland. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb on Saturday pledged to carry out his new job with urgency and with the involvement of the many neighbors he met during last year’s campaign.

Bibb, who is wrapping up his first week leading City Hall, spoke to family, staff and supporters in a ceremonial swearing-in at Cleveland Music Hall. The event, limited to a small audience because of the coronavirus pandemic, was streamed live online.

 “We can be the Cleveland that young people move back to,” the 34-year-old mayor said in his 14-minute inaugural address. “Because there are good jobs, safe streets, good schools, quality grocery stores, good health care. We don’t just have to dream about that Cleveland. We can and will work toward that goal every minute of every single day.”

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Melody Stewart administered the oath of office while Bibb’s mother, Charlene Nichols, held the Bible. Nichols, a constant presence on the campaign trail last year, briefly introduced her son before his speech, calling him, “the love of my life.”

The new mayor said that he understood many residents’ fears of violent crime. Bibb said he would work to increase police pay and deliver the equipment officers need. Those efforts would go hand-in-hand with increased police accountability, he said.

“In this post-George Floyd era of policing, we can and must do both,” Bibb said. “And I believe that Cleveland can show the nation and the world how to get it done.”

Bibb said Clevelanders asked for change in last year’s mayoral election. He won that election in no small part thanks to an energetic campaign of backyard meetings and door-to-door canvassing.

The mayor mentioned by name several people he encountered on that campaign, saying he heard what they had to say about education, ambulance response times and crime. And the only way city government can work is if its citizens stay involved, he said.

“Your voice matters, and your voice is critical to good government,” Bibb said. “But your actions are what make good government possible in Cleveland, because democracy – democracy – is on the line.”

Bibb said his goal as mayor was to make more progress than mistakes and more friends than enemies.

U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown, herself new to the job, introduced Bibb. She said she first met him on a trip to Israel in 2018. While others struggled to get up in the morning, Bibb would already be in the hotel lobby reading the news, she said.

“His spirit was calming, his demeanor kind and genuine,” Brown said. “But underneath that, I could tell he led and held a deep-seated desire to make his mark and effect change.”

The ceremony featured music from the Tri-C Jazz Ensemble and the classical quartet Opus 216. Kendall Skillern, a Cleveland Metropolitan School District student, sang the national anthem. Gospel singer Tina Farmer performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Artists Amanda King and Nick Pecko produced a video featuring photos and artwork from around the city, including images of Bibb and his mother.

Rev. Jawanza Colvin gave the invocation at the start of the ceremony. Colvin is the pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, the Bibbs’ place of worship. Rev. Larry Howard of Greater Friendship Baptist Church delivered the benediction.

The event included poetry from Cuyahoga County poet laureate Honey Bell-Bey and the Distinguished Gentlemen of Spoken Word, a student performace poetry group. Bell-Bey’s poem doubled as a biography of Bibb, recounting events from his youth and his early career.

“Having never held public office, your mother’s prayers moved you to the head of the class,” she said. “You know the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”

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