Cleveland's two Mayoral Candidates seem to be having trouble disagreeing. Until recently Ray Pierce and Jane Campbell would speak gingerly about their differences during debates. Plus the two had to deal with a public not in the mood for polarization, after terrorist attacks ignited the urge for solidarity among all Americans. Many voters remain undecided, but those who have made a choice often end up citing race and gender as partial reasons for their decision. Could these basic differences end up deciding who the city's next Mayor will be? 90.3 WCPN's Janet Babin reports.
Janet Babin- While initial media coverage of the city's mayoral race dropped off in response to more global issues, many residents say they're now paying attention to what the mayoral candidates say about issues they care about.
George Hendrecks- I'm a steelworker, I was a steelworker... out of a job right now, so I'm interested in the set up some training programs.
JB- George Hendrecks lives in Cleveland's Glenville section. He was laid off in June, and is still out of work. Although his union has endorsed a candidate, Henricks calls himself an independent voter, who's looking for a non-politician to head the city.
GH- We got so many people out there supposed to be working for us, once they get in, they don't even know who "us" are. We're just out here, you know.
JB- Jane Campbell is a county commissioner and was a state representative for 12 years. This is Raymond Pierce's first election. He returned this year after spending eight years as a Clinton appointee in the Department of Education. Pierce was considered a long shot in the race until Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs-Jones and other community leaders united behind his candidacy and endorsed him. Campbell outspent him in the primary by about three to one, and received just over one thousand more votes. She has widespread monetary support from the city's business community. But voters are quick to point out it is the people, not business who will decide the outcome of the election.
Finding out where the candidates stand on neighborhood and family issues was the goal of a recent debate sponsored by a group called the African American Woman's Agenda. A singer and a lone drummer were on hand to warm up the 200-plus crowd at Cleveland State University.
Singer- I am woman, hear me now... We wrote an agenda hear me now...
JB- Lead organizer State Senator C.J. Prentiss endorsed Pierce early on in the campaign, but says her personal decision was separate from her duties during the debate.
C.J. Prentiss- We are very clear - it is our agenda that we support more than these candidates.
JB- During a primary debate sponsored by the same group, some Campbell campaign staffers complained that the questions were given only to candidate Pierce. Prentiss denies this, and candidate Campbell shrugs it off.
Jane Campbell- They were very even-handed with us. There were some questions in the first debate, but you know what, we're well past that, we're moving forward - we had a good debate.
JB- After the debate, resident Eugene Sanders stopped to talk about his impressions. He teaches in the Cleveland Municipal School District, and has decided to vote for Pierce.
Eugene Sanders- (Pierce) was confident, he sounds very genuine, because he has a child in the Cleveland Municipal School District.
JB- Sanders says he's backing Pierce not just because the candidate is African-American, but believes that race is a factor
ES- I think it is important because more than 50% of Cleveland is African-American.
JB- Ironically, Campbell supporter Khalid Samad, who is black, also cites race as one of the reasons why he's voting for Campbell, who is white.
Khalid Samad- I'm supporting Jane Campbell because of her position on multi-ethnic and multi-religious diversity. If you've seen, her campaign is made up of various ethnic groups and various religions. You've seen only black Christians involved in Pierce's campaign, and no one race should ever be allowed to win in the city of Cleveland.
JB- Maarufu Ojo hosts a call in show on Cleveland radio station WJMO 1490 AM. He says it keeps him in touch with the black community. Ojo believes Campbell supporters are underestimating the power of the will of the black people and the selling of the race card.
Maarufu Ojo- We can't allow City Hall going back to white folks. That's how this thing is gonna be sold.
JB- But whether voters of all races buy what both the Pierce and Campbell campaigns are selling won't be discovered until Election Day, on November 6th, about three weeks away. In Cleveland, Janet Babin, 90.3 WCPN News.