Share on Nextdoor

Comeback politician Jeff Johnson has heard all the clichés about his “fall from grace” and his “crash-and-burn.” But the 51-year-old political veteran promises, "I’m not going to be a Greek tragedy.This isn’t going to be the end of the story.”

The newest chapter in Johnson’s notable saga begins next month, when he's sworn in as Cleveland’s Ward 8 councilman. With his win over appointed incumbent Shari Cloud in November’s election, Johnson completed a return to politics that started soon after his 1998 conviction for extortion.

Johnson launched his once-stellar political career in 1984 at the age of 26, following in the footsteps of mentor Mike White. He cultivated an arrogant, headstrong style of leadership during stints on Cleveland City Council and in the Ohio Senate. How cocky was he? George Forbes once threw a chair at him after a heated argument. (Johnson described the incident for Scene's “Glenville Redux,” April ’09).

Johnson had his eye on a U.S. congressional seat, but those plans dissolved after the feds busted him for shaking down a local grocer for campaign money. After spending 15 months in federal custody, Johnson worked to reestablish himself: he landed a community relations job in Jane Campbell’s City Hall, founded his own community and political affairs consulting firm, and eventually became executive director Ohio Legislative Black Caucus. He had his case expunged and has regained his law license.

At a recent NAACP forum at Cleveland State University, a man in the audience outwardly declared that he was happy to see Johnson in office again, drawing applause from the crowd. At a recent meeting with Scene at a St. Clair diner, patrons repeatedly approached Johnson to congratulate him and seek advice. As he drove a reporter around his ward, one man flagged Johnson down to complain about a crumbling brick porch at a nearby vacant house.

About The Author

Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.