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Friday, September 17, 2021

Op-Ed: What Did I Learn Running for Mayor? Only Clevelanders Themselves Can Fix the City

Posted By on Fri, Sep 17, 2021 at 12:56 PM

click to enlarge Ross DiBello - COURTESY ROSS DIBELLO
  • Courtesy Ross DiBello
  • Ross DiBello


If you’re reading this online, you’re lucky.



Many Clevelanders don’t have the WiFi, equipment, time, freedom, and/or literacy skills to read the news online.

I love Cleveland. All of Cleveland. Many (still) don’t know who I am, but since 2009, when I started working for local attorney Cassandra Collier-Williams, few residents have been to more ward club meetings, parades, endorsement meetings, holiday parties and other local events than me. That continued during the mayoral primary season. And it crystalized what I've felt for a long time: Cleveland is not a place where residents are well-represented by our elected officials. I apologize to those who might be offended by a statement of that nature. I know you mean very well and try very hard.

It would be an incomplete statement to say, “The 2021 mayoral primary was decided on September 14, 2021.” In reality, the 2021 primary and general, and potentially every general for the next few decades, were decided many months, if not years, before Tuesday. That's because the system is broken.

For those who followed my campaign, it was clear the realities of my platform, unfortunately, dominated my work ethic. Much of my platform could be summed up by saying unconnected residents stand no chance. A big part of my motivation for running, and the creation of my platform and proposals, was the state of the city in 2017 and the election results of 2017. Much entrenchment, and little to no accountability. Mayor Jackson won handily again, Ken Johnson won handily again, and they were backed and endorsed by the people and institutions whose resources and words made us feel some type of way about them and their opponents.

The Mayor is not nearly the most powerful person in the City of Cleveland. The people who influence our opinions run the city. Many people want the title, responsibility, salary, servant duty, recognition and/or power that comes with becoming a councilperson or mayor. The wealthiest among us can invest in plenty of fish in the sea. Quid pro quo donations for policy positions are unnecessary. Well-backed candidates either naturally, or genuinely over time while running in certain circles, come to feel that tax abatement and top-down economics are the best policies for all of Cleveland, no matter your street. Great campaign managers, marketers, materials and canvassers cost money. That money will be given largely by people who benefit from policies to candidates whose views align with theirs. Mine do not.

I suppose it was hubris to think I could get around the influence of the gatekeepers and political mailers by meeting people while petitioning and with a larger platform than the public relations and corporate candidates. I would have bet money on the fact that we would get votes in the thousands. (And it will join the many bets I've lost in my life as a sometimes-professional gambler.)

I knew many of the obstacles beforehand, including the media portion of the challenge. My plan to get around it was to talk to upwards of 10,000 voters personally. I blew past that goal. I’ve spent a lot of time grassroots campaigning, I enjoy it, frankly. Most people will tell you they enjoy it and snap pictures wearing big smiles, but they do it from a place of necessity and view it as horrible work. The perception (now documented in reality) of viability was my failure. Person 10,001 liked me a lot, but could never trust that I talked to 10,000 people before them and that a majority of them would circle my name if they voted at all.

The other six candidates were great, seemingly well-intentioned. For months I was treated with nothing but respect by every candidate and most of their teams. But I still feel very strongly that none of the six are advocating for systemic change but instead for themselves and those who fill their campaign coffers. I worked harder than probably any human being anywhere to make the ballot and debates. I tried to answer every question as best I could, even if the answer was, “I need to read more about that or put more work in on this issue.”

A great politician pisses as few people off as possible, from the wealthiest donor to the poorest dependable voter. I simply wanted to give Clevelanders my sometimes-flawed truthful answer. The best politicians determine their public opinions and answers to questions based on polling and focus groups. I feel I won most of the debates on substance, even if my delivery was sometimes very poor. I’m especially proud of my criminal justice Zoom, the Slavic Village forum, and second City Club debate. I never won “post-debate spin,” except for the Progressive Caucus forum, where another candidate still received many more votes than me and almost the endorsement.

But I stand by what I said.

Huge chunks of Cleveland tax-payer dollars being spent to enrich the already-wealthy instead of being used to tackle our most important issues is the city's biggest problem. More focus should be spent here if we want to get off the various Worst Of lists and lessen crime and improve city services. Child poverty, the environment, public schooling and transportation, crime and criminal justice reform, city services, lead paint poisoning, homelessness, infant mortality, vacancies and affordable housing, affordable good-faith lending, workers’ rights and wages, healthcare, more ambulances and ambulance drivers, code enforcement. The donor class may pay lip service toward improving these things. Make no mistake. They worsen them.

With Justin Bibb and Kevin Kelley, I see two people who would be great candidates for Mayor of Downtown or Cuyahoga County Executive.

But they are our choices this November.

If the winner continues to enrich very wealthy non-Clevelanders who have gotten them to this point, crime will not go down. The reporting of crime will go down. Adding officers, moving officers from desks to the streets, and devoting resources towards studying the root causes of crime means more of the same.

Clevelanders: Be engaged, vote, ask questions, but don't be zealots for the final candidates. I don't care if they are your immediate family. Tough love is true love. So love Kevin Kelley. Love Justin Bibb. But don't fall in line behind one of them. Don't believe everything you read. Be zealots for humankind, especially those who need you more than politicians and the donor-class. Learn, vote, donate, volunteer, and work as hard as you can. Keep an open mind. Work tirelessly to hold city hall to a higher standard. Because that's the only way true change will ever happen.

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