Ward 4 Cleveland City Councilman Ken Johnson
A nascent network of Ward 4 neighborhood activists has come together to empower their community and hold veteran councilman Ken Johnson accountable.
“This ward is so beat down,” said activist and chef Michelle Jackson in a phone conversation with Scene. “We’ve elected the same councilperson for four decades and nothing has changed.”
Jackson and a small group of female residents living near Shaker Square have formed what they’re calling the People’s District. They want to champion voter education and civic engagement in the hopes of radically improving voter turnout and ultimately unseating Ken Johnson in 2020.
Jackson, who worked for both the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigns, said she hosted successful voter forums in 2017 in both Ward 4 and Ward 6. At the Ward 4 event, seven of 8 council candidates showed up to speak with voters, Jackson said. “The incumbent [Ken Johnson] was the only no-show.”
The People’s District group has met only once, with a turnout of about 18, but they’re planning to meet again in March, when they’ll whiteboard specific strategies and goals. Jackson said the group has particular interest in the ward’s finances.
“We’re following the money,” she said, noting that the group will likely take aim at Johnson’s usage of Community Development Block Grant dollars and his relationship with the Buckeye Area Development Corporation, a CDC Jackson sneeringly referred to as Councilman Johnson’s “washing machine.”
She said that activists have an additional goal of training the next generation of the Ward’s leaders. Ken Johnson was challenged in 2017 by Gail Sparks
, a political newcomer with limited credentials, who nevertheless came within 13 points
of unseating Johnson. In Jackson’s precinct, Sparks prevailed.
“I go door to door and I tell my neighbors, ‘Don’t expect Obama to pave your streets,’” she said. “It’s all about the councilman. And we've got to agitate.”