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Sam Allard / Scene
Chrostowski, in his campaign offices near Shaker Square.
EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute founder Brandon Chrostowski announced his Cleveland mayoral candidacy
on Feb. 2, 2017. It was not Mark Naymik, Leila Attassi or anyone on the Cleveland.com politics team who broke the story; nor was it a member of the vast and spritely local TV reporting corps; it wasn’t even me or Eric Sandy, your resident muckrakers here at Scene
. It was Doug Trattner, our veteran food critic.
One month later, Chrostowski took to Clevescene.com once again with a “We Can Do Better” opinion piece
, a thinly veiled campaign speech. “The bridge that sits between our dreams and our destiny is action,” the restaurateur declared.
In a one-on-one interview with Scene
earlier this month — his first such interview, one day after a press conference at City Hall
on the subject of street violence — Chrostowski said it was not because of his relationship with Trattner that he selected Scene
as the venue (and mouthpiece?) for his candidacy to date. It was because to him, Scene
was the “people’s paper.”
“People on the ground are reading [Scene
],” Chrostowski said. “It’s real. It’s in a raw context. What’s the Plain Dealer’s
readership, like 20-percent Clevelanders? I’ve always believed in free speech and when you think about the papers in this town, Scene
is the real one.” (Scene
is also, Chrostowski said, the only paper in which he has bought EDWINS advertisements.)
His opinion of The PD / Cleveland.com isn’t likely to have softened after Mark Naymik called Chrostowski “not ready for prime time” in an editorial last week
. But Chrostowski’s comments in our wide-ranging conversation reinforced Naymik’s initial assessment of him.
Chrostowski is tall and lean. At 37, his hair is going prematurely white. He arrived to his campaign office above a dialysis center near Shaker Square topped in a medium-brimmed gray cowboy hat, an accessory that conjured easy comparisons to frontier sheriffs or gold prospectors.
Brandon Chrostowski is Catholic. Brandon Chrostowski is from Detroit. Brandon Chrostowski has a felony on his record— an experience now positioned as his life’s pivot point, a “brush with the law” at age 18 that led him to a culinary mentorship and a successful career in food. He is married to Catana Chrostowski, nee Deskins (first cousin of Duane Deskins, lately appointed by Mayor Frank Jackson to a new cabinet position focused on stemming youth violence. “Come over for Thanksgiving this year,” Chrostowski joked. “It’s going to be a shit show.”) He has one child, with another on the way in June.
And contrary to rumor, one which overtook the festive response to his candidacy on social media, Brandon Chrostowski is not a diehard Donald Trump supporter, he said. He is not even a regular Trump supporter.
“I avoided both clowns in the election and stayed out of the circus,” averred Chrostowski, legs crossed in the American way. “I think some people are trying to put that on me, maybe because I’m a white guy, maybe because they see that as a vulnerability.”
Chrostowski said he has voted for both Senator Rob Portman — whom he’s grown weary of being told he resembles — and for Senator Sherrod Brown. He now considers himself a political independent, “not a party guy.”
But how, then, would he describe his political philosophy, Scene
“I have some conservative views that are extremely liberal,” he said. “And I have some liberal views that are extremely conservative. But for me, it’s One Cleveland. Is it black? Is it white? Is it Democrat? Is it Republican? What does that mean? I’m focused on what’s going to be best for Cleveland to become more cohesive. Am I some white Savior? No. But I do believe that there are some things that can be done that will help align more closely both east side and west side. If I immediately identify with a party, then I start to disenfranchise people. My party values would be hard work.”
Work is what Chrostowski remains most closely associated with. He has spoken of applying his principles at EDWINS — employing formerly incarcerated people — to a number of city problems. He has said building EDWINS-style training centers would be “the key” to changing the city. Scene
asked if his experience at EDWINS would be the animating force behind all
his policy ideas.
“There are some areas, like education, where it wouldn’t pertain,” said Chrostowski, “but in a lot of them yes. In social services, it’s partially there. Economic development — partially there.”
Chrostowski is no doubt well-intentioned. He speaks — and he often rambles — with energy and earnestness. Like Ja’Ovvoni Garrison, another mayoral candidate with limited credentials, he is motivated in part by a desire for change. But also like Garrison, (in fact more so) Chrostowski’s lack of political experience means he doesn’t have the vocabulary to talk about his vision in specific or in-depth ways. That’s why his remarks read like arrows from a “quiver of banalities,” one of Naymik’s all-time finest turns of phrase. (I'm being dead serious That's a kick-ass line.)
Chrostowski described the impetus for his mayoral run in the language of religious vocation. He said he is “called to do more”; he is “not going to be on this Earth for long”; he “need[s] to help the greatest number of people,” etc. He said he made up his mind to run for Mayor, literally, after seeing a 15-year-old “hobbling” down E. 55th Street.
“And I said to myself, who’s gonna help this guy? Who’s gonna lead
this guy? What direction is he walking in? Who’s gonna make sure it’s a safe and healthy direction?”
Not Frank Jackson, certainly.
Chrostowski’s brightest moment in our interview came near the end, when Scene
asked, given Jackson’s behemoth status and huge fundraising advantage, if the incumbent had any vulnerabilities.
“More than anything it’s his energy,” Chrostowski said, after mentioning things like complacency and a lack of care and respect for City Council (and by extension, city residents). “He doesn’t have that fucking look in his eye like he’s ready to fight for something. He looks like he’s ready to lay down and retire.”