Monday, September 11, 2017

Cleveland in dire need of a mayor with energy and fresh ideas; one candidate has both

Now is the time
Clevelanders will go the polls tomorrow to decide which two men will advance to the November election that will determine the city's next mayor.
Tomorrow's nonpartisan primary takes place in the most dynamic and fluid civic environment this city has seen since the election of Carl Stokes precisely one half-century ago.
In the eyes of some, the primary election will be a referendum on the twelve-year run of Frank Jackson and his administration. He is clearly running on his record, one that has many commendable and noteworthy accomplishments. He steered the city firmly through several tough years of the Great Recession that began in 2008. He has presided over what is slowly becoming a more vibrant downtown. He worked smartly with Republicans to bring their national convention here and helped create the conditions for its smooth execution.
Jackson is seeking an unprecedented fourth four-year term that would make him the longest-running mayor in Cleveland's 221-year-old history. When he announced he would again be a candidate, he said he was running because there was no one else who was both qualified and willing to run.

what qualities should our next mayor have, and who among the candidates has the best combination of those qualities?

That claim was untrue. The names on tomorrow's ballot would be very different had the mayor declared his intent to retire. The mayor's decision to run again was essentially a declaration that his leadership is indispensable.
It isn’t.
What's more, the voters know it.
After 12 years, Jackson fatigue is rampant throughout the electorate, and a major reason why he is apt to receive a small slice of tomorrow's vote.

The city's next administration must be characterized by energy and fresh ideas. 

If voters act on their anger and despair, which more than 20,000 of them did when they signed petitions protesting the giveaway of tax monies to expand Quicken Loans Arena, here's the real question they should ask before marking their ballots: what qualities should our next mayor have, and who among the candidates has the best combination of those qualities?
Cleveland has some glitzy bells and whistles. We’ve got a marvelous Playhouse Square, cool chandelier, captivating pro sports teams, a bevy of world-class institutions, and the incomparable University Circle.
But we are consistently mired at the bottom of every quality of life index, in large measure because we are bamboozled into offering public support for private gain and bragging about our charitable nature. We presume ourselves to be liberal because Democrats are everywhere in office, though liberal policies prevail nowhere. We are stuck in conservative trickle down bootstraps muck.
The city's next administration must be characterized by energy and fresh ideas. That energy comes, believe it or not, from the people. Citizen energy is what propelled Carl Stokes to victory fifty years ago.
Mayor Jackson waves at cars
along MLK Blvd. last month
Frank Jackson may still call the Central neighborhood home, but he has become a captive of downtown interests, isolated from the daily struggles of most citizens. His distance from the city is illustrated by the most iconic image of his campaign: the mayor standing detached at intersections in tailored clothing and waving at passing traffic.
Not by coincidence, Jackson detests the two candidates most identified with the people's energy: city councilmen Zack Reed and Jeff Johnson.
We like Zack. He's the hardest worker on city council, and along with the ageless Mike Polensek, the most impassioned. His report card on the failures of the Jackson administration is by far the most biting of all the candidates' critiques. But Reed's signature issue is safety, and student of government that he proclaims to be notwithstanding, he hasn't the foggiest idea how to pay for any of his proposals.
We like Jeff also. We believe in redemption and second chances. But, sadly, Jeff's time passed long ago. He followed Mike White into city council and then into the State Senate. He should have run to succeed White in 2001 but he was fresh out of federal prison. He got back on track but the train had left.
We think the fourth major candidate in this race is the under the radar Brandon Chrostowski. He's lucky in that his typical male indiscretion occurred early enough in life not to derail him. And he was smart enough to learn from it and find his passion in public service.
Four years ago Brandon started a series of nonprofit entities that most famously includes a French restaurant that offers fancy food with zealous service at high prices. It's become a multi-million dollar operation with impeccable accounting from which he extracts only a modest income.
Brandon Chrostowski at the 2d annual
Northeast Ohio Re-Entry Business Summit on April 21,
an event he founded to provide opportunities for returning citizens. 

But the most important product of his enterprise is not satisfied customers; it is redeemed lives. Edwin's Restaurant and Leadership Institute helps people reclaim their lives. It invests in people who have been convicted of felonies and sent to prison. They learn soft skills and marketable skills in the food service industry, find jobs, become productive members of society, and stay out of jail. Their recidivism rate is under 2%.
We have attended several mayoral forums and listened carefully to all nine candidates. (Madalone skipped the ones we attended but we tracked him otherwise.) Chrostowski, a white guy, is one of the only two candidates we heard express actual belief in the potential of Cleveland citizens. This is huge in a city with a population that is largely black and brown, disproportionately under-employed, over-policed, poorly educated, ill-housed, malnourished, in bad health, trapped in dangerous environments, with diminished transportation options, and too often denied opportunities because of these circumstances or past conditions.

If you don't believe in the people you profess to be helping, then guess what: whether you are on a public, private or nonprofit payroll, whether you work in the ‘hood, in corporate, or in Congress, you are less than honest in what you do, and the people — be they addicted, infirm, or just stuck at the bottom of the ladder — know it.

A smart truck driver I know likes to remind me of a verse from the Gospel of Luke. It may be the only one he knows, but it should give comfort to those who may be see Brandon’s resume as slight:
"He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much..." [Luke 16:10].
Chrostowski's campaign has been ground level in message and method. He sensibly would fire Flask and McGrath, who epitomize the indifferent or hostile shadow of public safety in Cleveland lurking behind the police chief. He would establish a series of job training centers around town that would focus on making residents more employable. And his third priority is to address public school performance and to accelerate Cleveland's lagging pace towards becoming a universally savvy tech community.
Chrostowski is not an ordinary politician. He voted for neither Trump nor Clinton. But he has taken an old-fashioned approach to campaigning, crisscrossing the city with a dedicated team targeting likely voters. He tells me he's been in every ward knocking on doors.
Mike White used a similar approach in 1989 to finish a surprising second in the primary and launch his twelve-year mayoralty. It would be good for Cleveland if Chrostowski can follow that route and help to end one.

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