Bibb Dominates in Cleveland Mayoral Primary, Will Have to Fend Off Kelley in November General

click to enlarge Justin Bibb delivers victory remarks at Third Space Action Lab (9/14/21). - Eric Sandy / Scene
Eric Sandy / Scene
Justin Bibb delivers victory remarks at Third Space Action Lab (9/14/21).

Tuesday night, the exclamation point that has famously belonged to (and symbolized) Dennis! Kucinich for decades in Cleveland politics has a new and forceful heir. Justin Bibb!, the 34-year-old nonprofit executive, sailed to victory in the Cleveland mayoral primary election, collecting better than 26% of the total vote and vanquishing his six opponents despite never having held elected office.

Bibb, who announced his run early and campaigned aggressively citywide with a committed team of staffers and volunteers, would be the second-youngest mayor in Cleveland's history, behind only Dennis Kucinich.

"We are in just the first phase of this journey," Bibb said in a victory speech delivered at Glenville's Third Space Action Lab, surrounded by staff and supporters. "Tonight is just one small victory. But come November—come November—we’ve got the opportunity to finally reimagine what policing looks like in America. We have an opportunity to finally bring real hope and real opportunity to our neighborhoods... We also have an opportunity to do the hard work to make sure that every child in this city who goes to a Cleveland public school has the same opportunity at life that I did.

"I believe that we cannot afford more of the same, because more of the same has gotten us to this point right now. I believe that now, not yesterday, not tomorrow, but now is the time for bold, new, dynamic, visionary leadership. Not the failed politics and the politricks of the past.

"Come November we will finally … build a new political coalition to finally make Cleveland the best mid-sized city in America."

City Council President Kevin Kelley, collecting nearly 20% of the vote, was the primary's runner-up and will face Bibb in the November general election. Sipping tentatively on a Black & Tan at The Harp in Ohio City, the well-financed Kelley heaved a sigh of relief when the west side wards delivered for him. 

"We are going to create a Cleveland where every neighborhood counts," Kelley told Bill Mason, Ed FitzGerald, Dave Wondolowski and the rest of his supporters, echoing prominent themes from his campaign. "We will not be comfortable with terms like digital divide. We will not be okay with the notion that your life expectancy and your health outcomes are determined by your zip code."

Bibb, Kelley and Dennis Kucinich were the evening's front-runners when absentee ballots and early votes were tallied. Bibb's lead continued to expand throughout the night, while Kucinich failed to make up necessary ground in Ward 17 (West Park).

At Caffe Roma in Cleveland's Jefferson neighborhood, Kucinich conceded when 92% of the votes had been counted. He thanked his team of volunteers and applauded the "extraordinary campaign" of Justin Bibb. He said he was looking forward to spending time with his wife Elizabeth and the new friends they'd made this summer. A band of union musicians, led by Leonard DiCosimo and Dennis Chandler, blasted upbeat tunes to an anxious parking lot all evening. 

It was a disappointing night for Zack Reed, Sandra Williams and Basheer Jones, who finished fourth, fifth and sixth respectively, commanding about 11% of the vote each. Attorney Ross DiBello finished in a distant seventh place, as many predicted.

Reporting contributed by Eric Sandy and Vince Grzegorek.

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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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