Local nonprofit founder and executive Justin Bibb was expected to announce his 2021 candidacy for Cleveland Mayor. His name had been on virtually every list of prospective candidates, and he had foreshadowed his intentions with increasingly public
calls for citywide reforms.
Like other first-time candidates, Bibb has centered messages of urgency — #CleCantWait — and cultural change at City Hall. Unlike others, though, he has amassed a fortune in early campaign contributions. The strength of this early fundraising instantly puts him in contention with established candidates like incumbent Frank Jackson, City Council President Kevin Kelley, and former mayor and congressman Dennis Kucinich. (Of those three, only Kucinich has formally declared that he will run.)
Bibb announced Monday that he had already raised $180,000, only three months after forming an exploratory committee, "Neighbors for Justin Bibb." That's a significant number, far more than any candidate other than Frank Jackson raised through the 2017 mayoral primaries.
In two, as-of-yet unaudited, campaign finance reports filed with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, this early fundraising was confirmed. Bibb raised $180,233 in contributions from Sept. 9 through Dec. 4, 2020. This towering total was driven by big contributions from an array of local and non-local supporters, including 17 individual donors who chipped in $2,000 or more.
Bibb's high-dollar backers include Vocon architecture principal Paul Voinovich ($2,500), developer Ezra Stark ($2,500), retired PNC Bank executive Paul Clark ($5,000), former Forest City chairman James Ratner ($2,500), and Shelly Saltzman, the retired founder of Citizen Leadership Academy charter schools ($5,000).
The young candidate has also received support from a variety of local non-profit professionals, business and finance executives, lawyers, consultants and those working in real estate. The contributions skewed upwards — there were more donations above $2,000 than there were below $50 — but early fundraising is not always representative of a candidate's base. (Bibb is popular among younger voters, for example, and those who are both exhausted by Mayor Frank Jackson and leery of Dennis Kucinich.) Moreover, Bibb's early contributions were collected before the publicity of his candidacy, and were coordinated by a fundraising consultant, who likely approached known donors in the region. It remains to be seen whether Bibb can translate his big bucks into big votes.
But in recent elections, just like on the national level, fundraising has been a key indicator of electoral success. In 2017, the top two fundraisers in the mayoral race — Frank Jackson and City Councilman Zack Reed — won the primary. Jackson, who dwarfed all other candidates
in terms of fundraising even though he had no platform to speak of, won the November runoff in decisive fashion.
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