Justin Bibb delivers his first State of the City address (4/13/22).
During the 2021 mayoral race, Justin Bibb's campaign slogan, "Cleveland Can't Wait," was a nonstop refrain during stump speeches and debates. It was meant to dramatize the urgency of change after 16 years of Frank Jackson.
On Wednesday, during his inaugural state of the city address at the Maltz Performing Arts Center at Case Western Reserve University, Mayor Bibb told Clevelanders that the wait for change is over.
Bibb sailed into office with a clear mandate in November. And he said that his first 100 days should demonstrate to residents that change is possible, and that the pace of change can be accelerated with a clear set of priorities, the right people in place to execute them, and the political will to see them through.
Documenting a dizzying list of highlights, Bibb ran through his fledgling administration's achievements over the past three months, based largely on the recommendations of his mayoral transition team. Over the first 100 days, Bibb said, he had worked every day to advance healthy communities, improve youth opportunities, enhance equity across the city, pursue inclusive economic development and modernize City Hall for the 21st century.
Bibb recounted the collaborative effort that provided $100 million towards Cleveland's lead safe initiative; the meetings to explore major projects on the city's waterfronts; the legislation to make life easier for tenants at the West Side Market and the legislation to remove the jersey barriers on Public Square; and the recent expungement of more than 4,000 low-level marijuana convictions.
He said that as mayor, his top priority was, and would always be, public safety. In that department, he highlighted his early efforts to remove city prosecutor pre-approval for the diversion center and stressed that jail was not always the appropriate option for people experiencing mental health and substance abuse issues. He also announced the full funding of the community police commission and the recent amendment of the consent decree to include Issue 24, now under Cleveland City Charter Section 115.
The first 100 days were not without challenges, and Bibb recalled, with a smile, the January snowfall that rocked 601 Lakeside. He took the blame for what he said was an inadequate response, and vowed that the city would be prepared next winter.
But his strongest language was directed at legislators in Columbus and their recent passage of Senate Bill 215, which allows Ohio residents to carry concealed handguns without a permit.
"This moves the needle on gun violence in the complete wrong direction, and undermines our ability to keep cities safe," he said.
Bibb noted that the pandemic was not over and once again urged all Clevelanders to get vaccinated and boosted. He said the current vaccination rate was still only at 48%, 3% higher than when he took office, and a far cry from the 60% that he set as a goal for the end of 2022.
By the end of his remarks, Bibb's tone was enormously optimistic, arguing that the state of the city was "getting stronger every day," that Cleveland was once again in the "national conversation" as a city on the rise. He said despite the forthcoming fiscal headwinds, he was prepared to roll up his sleeves and do more with less.
"No more waiting on D.C. or Columbus," he concluded. "We must be the change. And we must give ourselves both the permission and the courage to dream once again as a city... The strength and the heart of our city is all of you, each and every one of you in this room. If we want to go far, we absolutely must go together."
Among the revelations during the audience Q&A was that the city may announce a revised tax abatement policy in the coming weeks, which would amend the "one size fits all" approach to development that's been in place for decades. One questioner asked the mayor to defend several of his hires who had also served in the Jackson administration.
"I'm a smart enough leader to know when I see good talent that wasn't leveraged," he said. "I'm not gonna throw the baby out with the bath water." Bibb said, though, that when it came to public safety, where he's undertaken significant reforms in his first 100 days, the results should speak for themselves.
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