Many in Cleveland's Lee-Harvard Stick With Hillary Clinton Amid Grueling Campaign
Zeddie Coley keeps a poster of President Obama on his living room wall. Coley is a retired science teacher in the East Cleveland schools, and he’s lived in Cleveland’s Lee-Harvard neighborhood in Ward 1 for more than 50 years.
This year, he’s supporting Hillary Clinton.
“You have to have a person running for president who has experience dealing with world leaders,” Coley says. “Mr. Trump doesn’t have that qualification or experience.”
For Clinton’s campaign, the question isn’t whether she’ll lose Ward 1 votes to Donald Trump, but whether her campaign can galvanize supporters to show up at the polls in the big numbers she needs.
Leading Cleveland in Presidential Voter Turnout
In 2012, Ward 1 boasted the highest voter turnout rate in Cleveland, and President Obama won nearly 99 percent of the vote.
“I’m from Georgia, and where I grew up in Georgia, blacks were not able to vote at all,” says Coley, who’s 83 years old. “Quite a few people living in this community have come from the same background that I came from in the South…So having the opportunity, having the privilege to be able to vote means an awful lot to us.”
Winning a race in Ward 1 requires on-the-ground organization, says Andre White, who works as campaign manager for the local councilman, Terrell Pruitt.
“You got to go door-to-door, you have to get on the phone, you have call individuals and you have to get your message out there,” White says.
A line of campaign signs flutters in White’s yard, promoting local issues and Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.
“This is a Democratic ward, and they have all traditionally went with Democrats,” he says. “They have supported Obama, and they want to continue the legacy for Obama through Hillary.”
An acquaintance drives past, stopping at an intersection nearby. White yells out to him.
“Hey! Issue 32! 108!” he shouts.
Clinton’s Appeal in Ward 1
Zeddie Coley says he doesn’t support Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State. But there’s plenty that he holds against Donald Trump, too—such as the way Trump talks about women and his questioning of President Obama’s citizenship.
“I think it was just probably a streak of prejudice in his own thinking that he wanted to do that, Obama being a person of African-American descent and what-have-you,” Coley says.
Residents here say there’s plenty they like about Clinton, from her experience in government to her time working with the Children’s Defense Fund. Gloria Jean Pinkney, the president of the Ward 1 Democratic club, says there’s something else appealing, too.
“She’s a woman,” Pinkney says. “And she’s a mother. And she knows how to manage things. Because it’s hard being a woman, a mother, working.”
Most Republican candidates would have trouble finding many votes here. Donald Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants and Muslims may have dug the hole deeper.
“America, it’s had a model or at least says it’s open to everybody, it’s the melting pot, we should live up to that and be tolerant of everyone,” says Janet Williams, a local Democratic precinct committeeperson.
Williams is hardly convinced by Trump’s pitch to African-American voters, in which he recites a litany of ills and asks, “What do you have to lose?”
“The first time I heard that, my mouth fell open,” Williams says, laughing. “I think that took a lot of nerve for him to say that.”
She and others describe Trump’s overtures to black voters as out of touch, saying his description of African-American communities don’t sound like Lee-Harvard.
“It’s insulting. I understand we see things on TV, and the murder rate in certain cities has gone up,” says Charles Patton, a Cleveland judge and former city councilman from the area. “But we live here every day. And Mr. Trump lives in Trump Tower on the top floor.”
Issues Lost in the Campaign Din
Many here say the controversy of this campaign season has obscured important issues. Charles Patton, a former city councilman from the area, lists off a few.
“Is some more money going to come to the cities to help them with some things they need to take care of, youths needing jobs?” Patton says. “What’s going to happen with healthcare? It needs to be tweaked.”
Janet Williams adds the future of Medicare and Social Security to that list. And Zeddie Coley wants more attention paid to an issue close to home in Cleveland: police.
“I think something should be done about the number of blacks that are being killed by policemen,” Coley says. “Something can be done about that.”
A Historic Neighborhood Recovering from the Crash
Lee-Harvard isn’t wealthy—but it’s doing better than the city average in Cleveland.
The poverty rate is 24.7 percent, and the median household income is $33,0000 a year, according to Census data analyzed by the Center for Community Solutions. Almost a quarter of residents are 65 or older, and many households receive Social Security.
“We have a very growing senior citizens population,” says Elaine Gohlstin, the CEO of the Harvard Community Services Center. “And so one of our greatest concerns is what’s going to happen if they can’t live in the house and the children don’t want the house.”
Many black Clevelanders who were shut out of the suburbs moved to the Lee-Harvard area in the 1950s and ’60s, according to Todd Michney, a University of Toledo professor who documents the neighborhood’s history in the book Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland.
“Outlying city neighborhoods, starting with places like Glenville and Mount Pleasant, and then becoming Lee-Harvard, were important because those were places where African-Americans could achieve this lifestyle and suburban dream, even if it wasn’t a separate municipality,” Michney says.
Lee-Harvard escaped the worst of the financial crisis, which left other Cleveland neighborhoods riddled with vacant homes. Still, the area wasn’t completely unscathed.
“Eight years ago we didn’t have as many empty houses,” Pinkney says. “Now it’s like, they have been fixing up the houses and putting them up for sale. So, you know, it’s coming back.”