East Cleveland Mayor Brandon King Appears to Survive Recall Effort by 28 Votes

Some councilmembers and residents contended King has abused city resources

click to enlarge King campaigning for re-election in 2017. - Brandon L. King, "Mayor's Facebook Page"
Brandon L. King, "Mayor's Facebook Page"
King campaigning for re-election in 2017.

East Cleveland Mayor Brandon King looks to have survived, by the thinnest majority, a recall effort Tuesday, keeping his mayoral seat by just 28 votes, according to unofficial results from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.

There will be an automatic recount, based on the close margin, and some outstanding mail-in ballots may have not yet been counted.

King ascended to office, as you might recall, after Gary Norton, East Cleveland's previous mayor, was recalled from office by voters in 2016. King won re-election in 2017 and once again in 2021, but problems were never far away.

Those leading the recall effort, including East Cleveland council members Korean Stevenson and Patricia Blochowiak, contended that King unlawfully spent public funds and enlisted the East Cleveland police department as a personal enforcement agency. The latter contention plays the starring role in a high-profile lawsuit filed by William Fambrough, an East Cleveland police vet participating in the recall effort who says cops targeted him for harassment during the 2021 election.

At that time, Fambrough was campaigning for King's challenger, city councilwoman Juanita Gowdy and had equipped his van with speakers to broadcast messages supporting her. His vehicle was towed by East Cleveland police, and he was cited for a noise violation. Fambrough's subsequent lawsuit, which is ongoing, received national attention. The police actions were described as retaliatory First Amendment transgressions.

East Cleveland has been in a state of fiscal emergency since the Fall of 2012. Despite efforts to get its accounts in order, including by instituting a hiring freeze and selling publicly-owned properties, it's still a long ways off from clearing its debts.

The police department, for its part, has engaged in reckless pursuits and near-daily chases, many of which head into other cities and oftentimes end in severe crashes and serious injuries. Multiple members of the force have also been indicted for crimes such as bribery this year.

"We have a situation where laws have been broken and we have a situation where we have major mismanagement," councilwoman Patricia Blochowiak told Scene earlier this year. "If this keeps going on, the city is going to fall apart entirely."

East Cleveland councilman Ernest Smith also faced a recall effort and was unsuccessful in keeping his post, with voters opting to oust Smith by a 519 to 379 vote margin.

Smith had been the subject of numerous controversies in East Cleveland since his appointment by Mayor Brandon King in 2017 — itself controversial. In 2019, he was arrested for selling alcohol without a license out of a former bar on Euclid Avenue where he operated a grassroots nonprofit.

For Smith's council colleagues, some of whom also supported the recall effort against the mayor, his most egregious offense had been the ongoing use of a city-owned vehicle, provided to him, along with a city credit card for gas and other expenses, by King.

According to an ethics complaint filed by East Cleveland council members Juanita Gowdy and Nathanial Martin, Smith kept the vehicle 24/7 and treated it as his own. The complaint notes that council went so far as to pass a resolution attempting to recover the vehicle in 2020, but that Mayor King vetoed it.

The use of this vehicle and nearly $9,000 in expenditures on repairs and gas sourced from the city's general fund are referred to in the complaint as unlawful enrichment.

"In essence, he has given himself a raise that is illegal," the complaint read.
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