Cleveland Mayoral Candidates Fuzzy on Environmental Issues, But at Least They're Talking about Them

Zack Reed wanted to make the city's department of sustainability as important as the department of public safety. Basheer Jones remarked upon the storms of July. Justin Bibb thought the city's 90-day "opt-in" recycling program was dumb. Ross DiBello wanted to "attack" car culture. Dennis Kucinich wanted to transform Burke Lakefront Airport into an urban park that would be the envy of the nation. Sandra Williams wanted more greenspace in which residents could relax. Kevin Kelley, before dashing off to the memorial vigil for fallen former firefighter Wilbert McCormick, said that restoring the city's tree canopy was "priority number one."

This was the Cleveland mayoral forum on the environment, moderated by Ideastream's Justin Glanville and sponsored by the Ohio Environmental Council and a host of area 501(c)3s. It was a bit of a mess. By the end of the brisk 85-minute program, the overwhelming impression was that very few of the candidates had more than a Cliff's Notes understanding of environmental issues. It might not have been fair to expect Ph.D level disquisitions on topics like particulate matter and water technology, but the scattershot answers were often only tangentially related to the questions posed. Buzzwords and broad strokes abounded.

Still, the candidates agreed that Cleveland's lapsed recycling program should be re-instituted, that streets should be made safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and that planting more trees, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, was imperative from an environmental justice perspective.

Basheer Jones, in a moment of candor, admitted that he really wasn't an expert on the environment — evident when, in response to a question about making water bills more affordable, he talked at length about lead pipes — but vowed to bring experts to the table if elected.

The environmentalists in the audience, at several live watch parties around town, were no doubt gladdened that the discussion was happening at all. Several candidates alluded to interesting ideas and policy changes. Justin Bibb, for example, said that Cleveland should explore alternative funding models for public transit. Dennis Kucinich teased an international competition to design a reimagined Burke Lakefront Park. He also said the city should promptly build 20,000 low- and moderate-income housing units. Bibb, Kucinich and Sandra Williams all mentioned extricating Cleveland Public Power from its 50-year purchasing contract that hurts consumers and limits the possibility of green alternatives. 

Zack Reed said that on weekends, he'd close MLK through the cultural gardens to vehicular traffic. Ross DiBello stumbled upon the idea that the city could plant trees kind of like it repaves streets — using a worst-first approach that would target neighborhoods with the highest temperatures. He said the "Urban Forester" should be a cabinet-level position. Kevin Kelley, who only answered two questions, presented a straightforward approach to addressing climate change from City Hall: increasing the tree canopy, decreasing vehicle emissions, making solar power standard at city-owned buildings and promoting multi-modal transportation.

Bibb, who grounded his remarks in environmental justice throughout the evening, got a dig in at Kucinich as well. Kucinich had announced earlier this week that on day one of his administration, he planned to lower rates for CPP customers and Cleveland Water customers in the city by 10% by dipping into the utilities' expanding surpluses. Bibb said that this pledge relied on "funny math" and that doing so would decrease the utilities' bonding capacity to increase power reserves in the future.

You can watch the forum in full above.

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About The Author

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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