Opponents Question Mayor Frank Jackson at Candidate Forum

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson answers questions at a forum on the east side.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson answers questions at a forum on the east side. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
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Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson faced a skeptical crowd last night in his bid for re-election. At an East Side forum with the mayor, supporters of one of his challengers packed the audience.

Roughly half the people in the basement of Mt. Gillion Baptist Church wore t-shirts that either bore the name of Councilman Jeff Johnson or displayed messages in favor of raising Cleveland’s minimum wage, a cause Johnson has supported.

The forum was hosted by the Northeast Ohio Young Black Democrats, who have not made an endorsement. The group plans to hold events with other mayoral candidates, too.

Before taking questions, Jackson opened with a warning against what he called “misinformation.”

“If you didn’t hear me say it, I didn’t say it,” Jackson said. “If you didn’t see me do it, I didn’t do it. If you want to know if I said or did it, all you have to do is ask me. And if I said and did it, I’ll tell you I did it and said it. And I’ll also tell you why. Now at that point, we can disagree or we can agree.”

The first question for the mayor came from a man in a “Fight for $15” shirt. One of the organizers read it off a notecard.

“Where are our tax dollars going, mayor?” the question read. “We have no improvement in our community, our schools and our rec centers.”

Jackson launched into a long discussion of tax revenues and capital budgets. He said Cleveland is spending on neighborhood roads and building new schools. As for problems like crime and poverty, Jackson said he lives it, too.

“And I live in the middle of it,” Jackson said. “So this is not a theory or concept or political agenda for me. This is personal. This is personal with me, because my wife, my daughter, my grandkids and my great-grandkids, all of us live there.”

Audience members record the mayor on their phones as he answers questions. [Nick Castele / ideastream]

Asked about diversity on the police force, Jackson said more than half of those who applied for jobs in the latest round of hiring are minorities, and a quarter are women. A federal court filing by the city this month said 44.6 percent of applicants identified as white, 37.3 percent as black and 10.8 percent as Hispanic.

Another questioner asked Jackson why he’d decided to raise minimum pay for city workers to $15 an hour.

“We’re not doing it for all of the city of Cleveland,” Jackson began. “I’m doing it for my employees.”

That prompted unhappy responses and cries of “wow” among the Fight for $15 and pro-Johnson contingent in the audience. Jackson went on to say he would support a minimum wage hike, but not one that’s limited to the city alone.

Afterward, the Johnson supporter who asked the mayor about taxes said he wasn’t satisfied with the answer. Another Johnson backer, Samara Knight, left the event unconvinced by Jackson, too.

“I don’t believe nothing he says, he’s just out here now because it’s time for election, that’s all this is about,” Knight said of the mayor. “Everything he said in there was a roundabout answer, he couldn’t give you a straight answer what he wants to do.”

Chinemerem Onyeukwu, the treasurer of the young black Democrats group, said he thought the mayor “held his own,” but could have boiled down his answers more.

“I think he did a good job in trying to get people to understand the context of the issues,” Onyeukwu said. “I think that he would do better if we learned how to simplify.”

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