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Prominent Cleveland Pastors Endorse Justin Bibb For Mayor

Rev. Otis Moss Jr., right, endorses Justin Bibb's mayoral campaign on Thursday. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]
Rev. Otis Moss Jr., right, standing beside Cleveland mayoral candidate Justin Bibb outside Greater Friendship Baptist Church in the Glenville neighborhood.

Updated: 6:36 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021

Dozens of well-known Black pastors endorsed Justin Bibb’s candidacy for Cleveland mayor on Thursday.

The group included Revs. Otis Moss Jr. and E. T. Caviness, two prominent religious leaders in the city whose support is often sought out by political candidates. In a brief speech full of historical and Biblical allusions, Moss – who is 86 – waved away criticisms of the 34-year-old mayoral candidate’s age.

“If anybody should meet you today or tomorrow or any time and want to have a discussion about age, sit down with them in love and history, present and future,” Moss said. “Tell them that Joan of Arc at 19 changed the history of Europe. Caleb at 85 said, ‘Give me this mountain.’ Tell them that Martin Luther King Jr. at 26 became the moral conscience of our nation.”

Bibb stood with the pastors on the steps of Greater Friendship Baptist Church in the Glenville neighborhood. Both Bibb and his opponent, Council President Kevin Kelley, have unveiled endorsements in the weeks after the Sept. 14 primary – many aimed at building support among African American voters on the city’s East Side.

Bibb was endorsed on Wednesday by former mayoral candidate Zack Reed. Kelley has accepted endorsements from Ward 6 Councilman Blaine Griffin and Ward 7 Councilman Basheer Jones, who fell short in the mayoral primary. The council president was also endorsed by Pastor Aaron Phillips and Norman Edwards of the Black Contractors Group.

While endorsing Kelley on Wednesday, Jones referred to Bibb as an unknown and suggested that the candidacy of the Plain Dealer-endorsed Bibb had been propped up by the media.  

“We understand that what has happened in this race has happened in very few places across the country,” Jones said, “which is, someone who has come from nowhere and we have no idea who they are or where they come from, but a system has stood behind them.”

On Thursday, flanked by the pastors, Bibb responded to that criticism. He referred to his grandmother’s home on Dove Avenue on the southeast side of the city, where he spent his early years.

“There are some that [are] saying that, ‘I don’t know where Justin Bibb came from. Never heard his name before. Where are his receipts on the streets of Cleveland?’” Bibb said. “Well if you look at a street called Dove, I know where my receipts are. I had to make sure I stayed smart in school so my mom could have the confidence to make ends meet every day.”

Moss urged his audience to cast their ballots for Bibb and contribute money to his campaign. Bishop Eugene Ward took aim at Kelley in his remarks.

“I need you to do a K.K.O., which is, ‘Keep Kelley Out,’” he said.

The general election is set for Nov. 2, but early voting begins Oct. 7, meaning votes will start to flow into the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections soon. Turnout is expected to be higher in the general than in the primary, in which 16 percent of Cleveland voters cast ballots, according to unofficial results.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.