Mayor Frank Jackson thanked his cabinet, city employees and his family and outlined in detail the fiscal realities his successor would inherit at Cleveland City Hall during his 16th and final State of the City Address.
Jackson's last speech was his longest, he claimed. It took him more than an hour to cycle through the principal buckets into which tax dollars are annually allocated, and to reiterate his core values about public service and systemic inequities.
And while the mayor spent personal time at the conclusion of his remarks expressing gratitude, even thanking Clevelanders for their support and prayers in recent weeks as he's mourned the loss of his grandson, the speech was not a "greatest hits" of his four terms in office. Nor was it a grand rhetorical finale. Cleveland's longest-serving mayor did not fondly recall his legislative achievements, nor did he relitigate controversies or personal disputes.
The speech was a lot like Jackson himself: all-business. If he passed the baton, he certainly didn't twirl it.
It seems almost absurd that in a parting address, the mayor would devote so much time to explaining, as he has before, how the city functions.
"The city is a $1.8 billion municipal corporation," Jackson announced early on, college-lecture-wise, "with 7,000 full-time employees, 1,000 seasonal and part-time employees..." etc.
The goal in his ensuing descriptions, in which he relayed year-end balances of city utilities and the general fund and discussed five key areas of city governance, was to explain what his successor was stepping into.
"When you become mayor, all of that belongs to you, no one else," he said. "The good, the bad and the opportunity to do your own thing."
Jackson stressed throughout his speech that there is always a crisis lurking just around the corner that threatens to destroy all one has accomplished. Speaking from his experience with the pandemic, the message sounded like an appeal for fiscal conservatism. He referenced upcoming expected rate hikes at Cleveland Water, Water Pollution Control and Cleveland Public Power, and spoke with pride about the city's rainy day fund. He urged that one-time ARPA dollars should be invested strategically to hedge against future economic downturns.
But Jackson's central themes were those he has circulated many times before. He opened with the metaphor that he used when he announced his retirement in May: that leadership was a "relay race, not a sprint," and that he had run his leg.
He said that the City of Cleveland could not be a great city until it can sustainably provide for everyone while grappling with systemic disparities, inequities and racism. And he said that public service was an honorable calling. His advice to those seeking office, he said, was to know the game before you play it and, more importantly, to arrive with purpose.
"If you come to this game, and it's all about being a mayor or being a councilman and the trappings and the luxuries around that, then you will be vulnerable to manipulation," Jackson said. "You will make decisions while professing one thing and doing another to cover your political behind. But if you come here with a purpose, then you serve that purpose regardless of where it goes. You won't always be popular but you will be there for a reason."
Jackson said that his purpose, throughout 16 years of leadership, has been unwavering: to leave the city better off then he found it, position it for a sustainable future and move it down the path of being a great city.
While he acknowledged the many challenges the city had faced and overcome during his tenure, and the challenges that lie ahead, Jackson affirmed that Cleveland was indeed positioned well for the future. It would now be up to the next administration to work with City Council, the business community and the philanthropic community to help Cleveland become truly great.
"Thank you," he said, "for allowing me to be your mayor."
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...