In November, Cleveland voters will decide whether to give Mayor Frank Jackson a third term in office -- a decision that could have an effect on the entire region. His opponent, businessman Ken Lanci, says Jackson hasn’t delivered in his eight years on the job. Both candidates made their case Thursday on 90.3’s the Sound of Ideas. ideastream’s Nick Castele reports.
It wasn’t quite a debate. Lanci spoke during the first half of the hour-long show -- and, once the mayoral challenger getting ready to leave the studio, Mayor Jackson came in to answer questions. But both took on similar issues, such as the city schools.
The district received an F on its latest report card, and Lanci has said the schools should have better results after eight years under Jackson.
Lanci promised to work closer with the teacher’s union, and said he’d apply the lessons learned through Project Love, a program for at-risk girls at Collinwood High School.
“It’s not our teachers that have the problem," Lanci said. "We have a problem with our children in our community. And that is not going to change unless we embrace a program like Project Love that I’ve been involved with for the last 20 years. And I’m going to take that district wide.”
But Lanci didn’t indicate he wanted change at the top -- he said he’d keep schools CEO Eric Gordon. Nor did he call for radically changing Jackson’s hard-won plan to transform the schools, funded by a new levy.
Jackson predicted a successful transformation, over time, would help reverse Cleveland’s decades of population decline.
“You will have people making choices either to live in Cleveland, move here to Cleveland because of education, stay in Cleveland when their child becomes school age, and you will have businesses who say, ‘You know, I want to go to Cleveland,'" Jackson said.
Lanci and Jackson offered different assessments of Cleveland’s police force, focused largely on a high-speed chase incident last year that ended with two unarmed suspects being shot to death in a hail of gunfire.
Lanci has put the blame on the police chief and safety director, and in the past called for their ouster.
Jackson said it wasn’t the top brass that needs to change, but rather, a police culture that allowed the chase to get out of control.
Callers peppered the candidates with questions about crime, prisoner reentry and development. One caller asked the mayor to explain why some neighborhoods don't seem to be receiving the kind of investment that downtown has.
“The rebirth of downtown is fantastic," she said. "Every time I go down there I have a sense of pride. But my heart breaks when I go into the neighborhoods and see so much decay.”
Jackson pointed out that some neighborhoods -- like Detroit-Shoreway and Ohio City -- have seen new investment over time, and that it will take more time for other neighborhoods to see the same.
Both candidates also sought to explain how their backgrounds prepared them for the job.
Lanci says a near-death experience led him to conclude that God had brought him back to serve others -- in part, by seeking office. This is his second try. He ran unsuccessfully for Cuyahoga County executive in 2010.
But Lanci also pointed out his Cleveland roots, saying that even though he only recently moved back to Cleveland from the suburbs, his heart -- and his business -- reside in the city.
“I’ve been in the city my whole life," Lanci said. "Born on 110th and Woodland in the projects and have a high school education. Moved into Cleveland my businesses.”
Asked about crime, Jackson said he takes every murder, robbery and rape seriously -- in part, he said, because of where he lives: Cleveland’s Central neighborhood, which has seen its share of poverty and crime.
“I don’t have fuzzy feelings when it comes to crime, or poverty, or the challenges of life in neighborhoods," Jackson said. "Because I have to live through it, and those who I care about, my family and my friends, they live through it.”
Lanci says the city has staggered along for eight years, and it’s time for new leadership. The mayor says Cleveland is on the edge of greatness, but it hasn’t arrived yet. And he says he needs four more years to get there.