Sam Allard / Scene
Dan Moulthrop (L) scans Twitter for questions for Councilman Kerry McCormack.
Before the RNC, it was said that the city's new $50 million Public Square was "ready for its close-up
." The city of Cleveland was too, the New York Times observed
. And Tuesday afternoon, in a City-Club-hosted conversation on the Square, fledgling Cleveland City Councilman Kerry McCormack ably demonstrated that he was ready for his.
In a wide-ranging interview with City Club CEO Dan Moulthrop, and in a follow-up Q&A with the lunching attendees, McCormack, who represents downtown and several neighborhoods on the near west side, fielded questions about his first few months in office, his visions for downtown development and his stance on City Hall's current hot-button issues, chief among them (appropriately enough) the polarizing question of buses on Public Square, where Mayor Frank Jackson and a vocal trove of leaders have improbably decided that the lane built expressly for bus traffic ought now to be ignored, or at least ought now to be subject to intensest post-hoc scrutiny.
On the RTA/Public Square issue, McCormack flashed an early command of a councilman's required diplomacy. Perhaps he inherited or absorbed a certain political je ne sais quoi
from his predecessor Joe Cimperman, who'd mastered diplomatic neutrality so totally that sincere efforts to please everyone were sometimes perceived as disingenuous.
Activist Satinder Puri demanded to know how McCormack would deal with the injustice of Public Square — what Puri calls "Jimmy Dimora Public Square" — and the millions of dollars RTA lost during its construction. Puri said that the city's most powerful would benefit from increased real estate values while the city's poor would continue to get "totally screwed."
McCormack thanked Puri for the observation.
"One of the things I would say: I would just respectfully disagree in the respect that when we build quality public spaces in our community, that benefits everyone," he said. "Having open, quality spaces that people can come to and enjoy not only spurs economic development, it also benefits people of all different backgrounds and income levels. I firmly believe in investing in quality public spaces."
Echoing Joe Calabrese, McCormack then re-directed ire toward the state of Ohio, saying that taxpayers should be enraged that Columbus has forsaken public transit. He called the state's negligible fiscal contributions "the core issue."
Moulthrop asked McCormack where the "levers of power" existed for folks like another gentleman who, shortly after Puri, asked for McCormack's thoughts on increased bus fares
"Every single person here needs to register to vote," McCormack said, "and vote into office legislators who care about public transit."
Donald Shingler put the question to McCormack earlier in the Q&A, forcing the councilman to appease the opposing side.
"RTA is putting buses through this park, or would like to anyway," said Shingler, spitefully. "And I'd like to know what your stance is on that. During your time in Madrid, you probably noticed that the buses went around
the public square."
McCormack noted first that Public Square had been closed for 18 months during its construction and the RNC.
"So we're just beginning to see how it functions, what it looks like with people and activities," said McCormack, temperamentally even-keeled, though physically not quite, given that a violent afternoon wind threatened repeatedly to knock him and Moulthrop from their chairs.
"Whether [Superior Avenue] will stay closed or not is something that all the stakeholders are very much studying," McCormack prevailed. "I've gotten feedback from two groups, folks who are calling the office, saying keep it closed because we like the fact that we can walk through, and the ability to program the space. And then I've got other folks who are reaching out and saying, 'Look, this is adding time to my commute,' and that's an issue. I've been hearing from both sides, and we're very much studying that issue right now."
McCormack talked a bit about his background at Ohio City Inc. — in a question about schools, and another about recreational leagues — dubbing schools "huge" among the quality-of-life issues he seeks to prioritize in the neighborhoods he represents. He disputed the premise of a question about gentrification, but said the city must continue to be intentional about residential development.
In the downtown sphere, he pushed the idea of thinking of (and referring to) downtown as a residential neighborhood a la Tremont or Ohio City. When asked about a perceived tension between development downtown and a lack thereof in "the neighborhoods," McCormack hastened to remind a questioner that downtown was a neighborhood too. Still, he said, building residential density will help attract things like retail and diverse residential options. He also said he was energized by the prospect of ongoing and future waterfront development.
Eager to promote Cleveland's awesomeness, McCormack advised suburban Cleveland-lovers to preach Cleveland's gospel in the cul-de-sacs, and celebrated the efforts of grassroots organizers in the LGBTQ community with whom he organized the #PrideintheCLE
This was the City Club's first event on Public Square, and despite cloudy skies and intermittent winds, early feedback for the free lunchtime conversation was by and large positive. Via the City Club, another conversation — with a subject and guest still TBA — is scheduled for September 7.