Councilman Basheer Jones Flips Script, Endorses Kevin Kelley in Cleveland Mayor's Race

click to enlarge Council President Kevin Kelley and Councilman Basheer Jones cut ribbon at Carrie Cain Park in Ward 7 after Kelley receives Jones' endorsement, (9/29/21). - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
Council President Kevin Kelley and Councilman Basheer Jones cut ribbon at Carrie Cain Park in Ward 7 after Kelley receives Jones' endorsement, (9/29/21).

Cleveland City Councilman Basheer Jones has endorsed City Council President Kevin Kelley in the Cleveland mayor's race.

Jones ran for mayor this year as well, placing fifth in the primary election earlier this month. He frequently butted heads with Kelley on the summer campaign trail, accusing Kelley of being a roadblock to progress on City Council. But Wednesday morning, at an event that doubled as a ribbon-cutting for a new community park in Ward 7, Jones said that while he may have disagreed with Kelley on a number of issues, he respected that Kelley was "a man of his word," and one who was "courageous enough to stand up for what he believes in."

Jones said that the mayoral election was about three Rs: renaissance, results and resources. Under a Kelley administration, he argued, Cleveland neighborhoods would see ongoing investment of the sort that he and Kelley had cooperated to secure in Ward 7, things like the new Cleveland Foundation headquarters and $15 million in parks and recreation spending.

He described a professional relationship in which he, as a bushy-tailed freshman councilman, would frequently bring big plans and bold ideas to Kelley, who by dint of his wisdom and experience could convert those ideas into action, all for the benefit of residents in the Hough, St. Clair-Superior and Asiatown neighborhoods that Jones represents. 

The endorsement, which Kelley described as an "awesome moment," was met with ambivalence, if not outright disappointment, by many of Jones' former supporters and other election observers. Jones had regularly aligned himself with Justin Bibb during the primary. Both were young leaders who were explicitly challenging the status quo. Jones frequently and eloquently called out the entrenched interests that governed Cleveland and, in his view, refused to pass the torch to the next generation of leaders. 

"You're not gonna catch me attacking Bibb," Jones said during an early mayoral forum on the west side. "He and I have the same mission to make this city better, even if we're riding in different cars."

Jones' language was radically different Wednesday. He did not refer to Bibb by name, but said he and other voters in Ward 7 "would not be fooled" by candidates with limited experience. "We have no idea who they are or where they come from," he said, an allusion to Bibb, who has never held elected office. 

Jones also introduced the idea that he shouldn't be expected to endorse the Black candidate in the race simple because he, too, was Black.

"This race is beyond race," Jones said more than once. He even invited the crowd of supporters to repeat the mantra after him. "We know that a person can look like you and still be your worst enemy."

These remarks seemed to represent a stark shift in tone and allegiance, but when asked directly about this perception, responded that the only reason the media would have expected him to align with Bibb is because they were both Black. Norm Edwards, the president of the Kelley-aligned Black Contractors Group, shouted "That's gotta stop!" as Jones accused the media of laziness to a round of applause. Jones emphasized that he was endorsing Kelley only after he'd conducted a thorough investigation of both candidates and sided with Kelley's experience.

"If you know me," he said, "you know I don't stand for nothing I don't believe in."

Kelley said he is desperately trying to introduce himself to as many voters as he can before the November general and thanked Jones for his endorsement, celebrating his "tireless advocacy" on city council. While Jones is often described as a strong orator, Kelley said that Jones was just as much a man of action as a man of talk.

"This endorsement means the world to me," he said.

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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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