Kevin Kelley and other departing Cleveland City Council members bid farewell as term ends

Kevin Kelley and Blaine Griffin embrace after Kelley hands a new gavel to his successor as Cleveland City Council president.
Kevin Kelley and Blaine Griffin embrace after Kelley hands a new gavel to his successor as Cleveland City Council president. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]

Five Cleveland City Council members who will not return for the new term said their farewells Monday night.

Two – Council President Kevin Kelley and Ward 7’s Basheer Jones – unsuccessfully sought the mayor’s office this year. Two others – Tony Brancatelli of Ward 12 and Delores Gray of Ward 5 – lost their seats in the Nov. 2 election.

Ward 4 Councilwoman Anita Gardner was appointed to her seat after corruption charges felled incumbent Ken Johnson. She opted not to run for the office this year.

Kelley, who served 16 years on council and eight as president, said he would leave City Hall with “absolutely no regrets.” He asked council members to continue projects that he had pushed for, including an intitiative to reduce the rate of infant mortality.

The departing council president told council members that they would face criticism for their work even when they do the right thing.

“In your time in government, you will always be faced with more need than there are resources,” Kelley said. “And even if you do everything perfectly correctly, and you spend your time doing that, at least 25% of people are going to really be mad at you.”

Though that may not be fair, it’s what council members signed up for, he said.

“Please never lose sight of the awesome responsibility that being a member of this great body is,” Kelley said.

Jones, a spoken-word poet and former radio host who won his seat in Ward 7 in 2017, offered a poem in his final floor speech.

“I used to sing this song called, ‘Freedom,’ but people would turn their heads and close their ears,” he said. “Maybe they wasn’t prepared, or maybe they had fear, but I didn’t care. I sung anyway. I sung louder. I sung prouder.”

The Ward 7 councilman and former mayoral candidate also directed some of his remarks at the news reporters in council chambers, saying that media focused too little on council members’ accomplishments.

“The media plays a part in creating a trauma and a fear for elected officials to do the right thing. You create a fear,” Jones said. “And in reality what we have, unfortunately, in this city, is a bunch of suburbanites who are writing about the issues of Cleveland.”

Brancatelli did not attend the Monday night meeting. But he marked the occasion of his departure earlier in the day, attending an hours-long committee meeting in a tuxedo.

Gray and Gardner have only served for part of this year. Council appointed Gray to fill out the term of Phyllis Cleveland, who now works in the Jackson administration.

“Through the seven months that I’ve been councilwoman, I’ve been blessed to reach out to the residents, to know the residents and actually fell in love with the residents and the community,” Gray, a longtime resident of Ward 5, told colleagues. “Broke my heart when I didn’t win – but I did win, because I still live there, I’m able to advocate and also represent the residents.”

Gardner is a local community activist who was appointed by the county probate court to represent Ward 4.

“It will always be an honor to serve Ward 4 and surrounding wards,” she said. “I’d like to thank my colleagues and my new family and all the people who helped. I learned a lot.”

Before Kelley gaveled out the meeting a final time, he presented incoming Council President Blaine Griffin with a gift: a new gavel, and one that is bigger than his.

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