In State of the City, Mayor Says Cleveland Has Chance at Deep Changes to Police

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson discusses city issues with KeyCorp CEO Beth Mooney. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson discusses city issues with KeyCorp CEO Beth Mooney. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
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Rather than deliver a speech, Jackson arranged for Key Bank CEO Beth Mooney to ask him questions. She's chair of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the region’s chamber of commerce, and she has contributed to his campaign.

(Watch the entire address here.)

A large part of the conversation focused on education. The partnership backs Jackson’s schools plan, which the mayor said is making progress. He said his goal for the schools is not just to prepare children for the workforce, but to help them mature and take part in the rejuvenation of the city.

“How do they interpret their world, their environment, so that they can make good choices and be part of this movement in Cleveland because they’re included in that movement," he said.

On the subject of police, Jackson said negotiations with the Justice Department give the city a chance at bringing changes to the division that will long outlast his time in office. But he said he won’t be rushed into it.

“I am going to take my time," he said. "I am going to lock down on this. And we are going to have reform. We are going to have reform. And that reform when we reach an agreement with the Department of Justice will be substantive.”

He said the character of the city of Cleveland has been called into question, and that corporate and civic leaders have a stake in reform. And while he didn’t specify how the city would change its policing, he said he’s up for the challenge negotiations present.

“Someone asked me about, ‘Mayor, these are difficult times for you, you've got a lot of challenges,'" he said. "I said, ‘Hard times is what I do.’”

Asked after the speech if he'd be open to seeking a fourth term, Jackson didn't rule it out.

"For me, it's are you effective?" he said. "And I don't want to be ineffective, I don't want to be in the way of Cleveland's future. So if I believe that I'm effective, and that time still is a time that I can serve well, then I have no problem with that."

The comments come as activists in Cleveland are hoping to mount a recall campaign against the mayor. In response to questions about that, the mayor said, "More power to them."

Below, Nick Castele talks with ideastream host Tony Ganzer about the speech.

TONY GANZER: This is the third time, Nick, that the mayor has given his speech in a somewhat unconventional format, you could say, it’s not a speech, but billed as a conversation.

NICK CASTELE: In the past few years, the mayor has sat down to take questions usually from a journalist before answering questions from the audience. This year was similar but a little bit different. The questioner was Beth Mooney, she’s the CEO of Key Bank and the chair of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the region’s chamber of commerce—which, we should mention, has been a supporter of the mayor’s schools plan. Nevertheless, she said the mayor encouraged her not to shy away from tough questions.

GANZER: You mentioned the schools plan, that did take up a lot of the beginning of this conversation.

CASTELE: And talked in pretty broad sweeps about the schools. It’s been two-and-a-half years or so since Cleveland voters passed a school levy funding the city’s plan for improving education. Jackson was asked to give a grade to his progress. He says some schools should get As, others Fs, others in between, but that they’re being measured in terms of how they improve. And he says most people want for their kids to graduate, to grow into mature adults and to be safe.

FRANK JACKSON: They want their children to be safe. They want to know that if my child goes to school today, that I don’t have to worry about my child being in harm’s way.

CASTELE: And he alluded the challenges outside of the classroom that many kids face. Fifty percent of the city’s children live in poverty. And many people see that as having a big impact on education.

GANZER: That question of building wealth in Cleveland’s neighborhoods, that also came up. What did the mayor say about it?

CASTELE: Much like with the schools, he didn’t outline specific steps he’s going to take, but he left us with a general sense of where his thinking is. He says there are neighborhoods—like downtown and the near West Side of the city—that are new development. But he says there are many places in Cleveland where that’s not true. And he says he wants to ensure any development in the city, especially in those neighborhoods that are having trouble, benefits the people who live there.

JACKSON. Which means that we’re going to have to create ownership. Ownership of opportunities, ownership of entrepreneurship, ownership of wealth. Those kinds of things. And we have to make sure that that neighborhood is the beneficiary of it, not just the source of somebody else’s wealth.

CASTELE: He referred to urging companies to hire Cleveland residents in development projects as being part of that vision. And we should note, the city did recently launch a plan to float $100 million in bonds for capital projects, including some neighborhood projects, and the interviewer, Beth Mooney, Key Bank was a part of that.

GANZER: The topic of police, a major public challenge the mayor’s facing. The city and the Justice Department, of course, are negotiating reforms after last year’s scathing federal report. I assume the mayor addressed this.

CASTELE: Yes, the mayor did address this today, but he didn’t break any new ground, really, or offer particular changes he wants to see in the police. But he did say that this is Cleveland’s chance for police reform that is fundamental and long-lasting. And interestingly, Mooney mentioned there are businesses who are concerned that Cleveland’s troubles with police are hurting the city’s image. And though Jackson didn’t elaborate on what they should do exactly, he even called on the corporate leaders and philanthropists in the audience to join him in the effort for reform.

JACKSON: Yes, this is difficult. But hard times is what I do and hard times is what you do. And we will mature as a result of this. We will grow as a result of this. We will—our identity and who we are as a people, what our personality is, what our character is is what’s called to question today, ladies and gentlemen, with this thing. That’s what’s called to question.

CASTELE: So, Mayor Frank Jackson saying he’s committed to police reform, he will work for it to happen, but he also says he’s not going to be rushed and he’s going to take his time.

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