Blaine Griffin has been elected president of Cleveland City Council. Though Griffin won't formally take the reins from current city council president Kevin Kelley until January, Friday's unanimous caucus vote is binding.
Sixteen of the 17 council members-elect met at City Hall Friday expressly for the purpose of selecting their next leader. Ward 16 councilman Brian Kazy was absent.
Helen Sheehan, interim executive director of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, presided over the meeting.
Before discussion of any kind occurred, the so-called Unit Rule was enacted to ensure a unanimous vote. New councilwoman Rebecca Maurer initiated a brief conversation to clarify the nature and purpose of the Unit Rule.
Mike Polensek, the unofficial "Dean" of council, explained that it was only used by council to elect the body's president and to confirm appointments when a member resigns, retires or dies in office. Polensek presented the illusion of choice to new council members.
"It's not mandatory to vote for the Unit Rule," he said. "But if you don't for it then you're not a part of the Democratic caucus."
Thursday, the Cleveland City Council Twitter account was privately messaging citizens, advising that the Unit Rule would not be in effect at Friday's meeting, but it was literally the first thing that happened.
New councilwoman Stephanie Howse seconded the motion to enact the Unit Rule and stressed that nominations for a legislative body's leadership are standard in the immediate wake of elections. It's the responsibility of elected leaders, she said, to educate themselves and then educate their constituents on government processes.
But both Rebecca Maurer and Ward 15 councilwoman Jenny Spencer said that residents don't understand the Unit Rule and are confused by a number of arcane, archaic council customs. Spencer said she trusted the new leadership would be open to discussing and potentially changing the way things have historically been done.
Griffin seemed amenable. After his nomination by Kerry McCormack — his main rival for the presidency — and his unanimous selection, he offered brief remarks.
"Change was a mandate this past Tuesday," he said. "Citizens of this community want to see change. And not just in an academic sense, but in a way that they can touch and feel and see in their communities."
Griffin acknowledged his friendship with Mayor Frank Jackson and his close working relationship with Kevin Kelley, but stressed that he was his own man, one who was committed to collaboration and respectful public service.
"I'm Blaine Griffin. I'm not either of those guys," he said. "We are going to have our own identity. We are not going to be subservient to any other government body. And with the leadership team that we put together, rest assured that people will respect us, people will respond to us, and most of all, ladies and gentlemen, we are going to get stuff done."
With the Unit Rule still in effect, council then unanimously voted to retain Patricia J. Britt as council clerk.
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