Frank Jackson Endorses Kevin Kelley To Succeed Him As Cleveland Mayor

Council PreMayor Frank Jackson and Council President Kevin Kelley speak at a news conference in 2019.
Mayor Frank Jackson and Council President Kevin Kelley speak at a news conference in 2019. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]

Updated: 3:16 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is passing the baton to City Council President Kevin Kelley.

The four-term mayor endorsed Kelley Wednesday afternoon in a statement released by Kelley’s mayoral campaign.

“I have worked with Kevin for more than 20 years and during this time, he has made hard decisions,” Jackson said. “Those decisions weren’t always in his own political interest, but they were the right decisions for the people of Cleveland.”

“His decisions have helped position Cleveland for the future and are motivated by the need to continue to make our neighborhoods stronger and safer,” the statement continued. “I am confident that, as Mayor, Kevin Kelley will continue to lead with integrity and put the best interests of Clevelanders first.”

Jackson announced in May that he would not seek a fifth term at the helm of City Hall, but he declined at the time to name his preferred successor.

The mayor is now making his feelings known, less than a week before the Aug. 17 start of early voting for the Sept. 14 primary.

“Kevin is a true Clevelander,” Jackson said in the release. “He grew up here, overcoming the loss of his father and the family home to foreclosure. When he was a social worker, he worked in Cleveland’s neighborhoods, helping people through their crises. The bottom line is that Kevin Kelley is someone who understands Cleveland and knows what it will take to help every neighborhood reach its full potential.”

Kelley became council president in 2014 and has worked alongside the Jackson administration in the years since. Both have enjoyed support in the form of campaign contributions from many in the city’s business establishment, as well as from the building and construction trades.

The council president had the most money on hand at the end of June, and he recently purchased about $150,000 of TV ad time in the leadup to the primary, according to his campaign. But those advantages haven’t spared him from what looks to be a close contest to make it to the general election.

A recent poll commissioned by the North Shore AFL-CIO, a labor union umbrella group that endorsed Dennis Kucinich for mayor, showed Kelley narrowly holding onto a second-place perch behind Kucinich.

The poll found that Kelley, who represents Old Brooklyn on city council, holds little sway among Cleveland’s Black voters. But he has lined up support from several prominent Black elected officials. In addition to Jackson, Kelley was endorsed by Kevin and Yvonne Conwell, the Glenville husband-wife duo who sit on city council and Cuyahoga County Council, respectively.

Kucinich and former councilman Zack Reed have both criticized Kelley for his working relationship with the Jackson administration.

The council president, however, is embracing the endorsement from the mayor, who defeated Reed in the 2017 election by 19 points.

“I am honored by Mayor Jackson’s endorsement,” Kelley said in the release. “He has served this city with integrity and is a true public servant. He has laid a strong foundation on which we can build a more prosperous and more equitable Cleveland.”

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