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Q&A: Months Out From Primary Day, Candidates Eye Cleveland Mayoral Race

This time next year, the city of Cleveland might have a new mayor for the first time in 16 years.

The primary election is not until September, but candidates are already raising money and collecting signatures to get their names on the ballot.

Speaking with All Things Considered host Tony Ganzer, ideastream’s Nick Castele offered an early look at the state of the race. 

First of all: four-term incumbent Mayor Frank Jackson. Is he going for a fifth?

Well, that’s the big question right now. He has already served longer than any other mayor of Cleveland, with four, four-year terms almost completed here under his belt. He’s been able to win reelection three times now. Probably his toughest race was his first one, in 2005, when he unseated Mayor Jane Campbell.

He has not publicly said yet what he’s going to do. When he was asked about it in December, he basically punted.

“If I said I was running, the target, political target would be so large that I couldn’t get anything done by dealing with the BS and the drama of it,” Jackson said. “And if I said I wasn’t running, then I couldn’t even get a phone call returned, probably not even from you.”

So a very Mayor Jackson answer there. We’re still waiting for him to lay out his plans. But he and the other candidates do have some time here. The filing deadline is not until the middle of June.

As you say, there are other candidates, a number of them have already floated the idea of a possible bid – including the potential return of Dennis Kucinich. What do we know so far about his plans?

What we know is that last month, he formed a fundraising committee. He’s calling it the “Re-elect Mayor Kucinich Committee.” That’s reelection to a job he hasn’t held in more than 40 years. But it’s looking like he’s shaping a message actually the same issue that came to define his one term as mayor, and that’s Cleveland Public Power, which was known then as Muny Light.

He’s writing a book about his effort in the 70s to prevent it from being privatized. And he’s been speaking out a lot more recently on CPP. He’s been criticizing the city for resuming utility shutoffs, for instance. Although for all that, has not formally said whether he is in fact going to run for mayor yet.

Another possible contender is the president of Cleveland City Council, Kevin Kelley. And he appears to be gathering a war chest.  

Kelley put out a press release earlier this month saying that he has raised about half a million dollars. That’s not insubstantial for a local mayoral race. It’s a bit more than Frank Jackson had on hand about this time in 2017, which was his last race.

Now it’s probably going to take a lot more money than that to win. But Kelley told me this wants he wants people to know that he’s serious about this race.

“I think that the city really needs a mayor, a leader that has the combination of experience, vision, and really wants to do the job and really cares about this city,” Kelley said. “So hopefully people see me as that person.”

Now, Kelley has also not officially said he’s definitely hitting the gas on this campaign. But he says right now he’s building up his campaign apparatus, moving toward making a decision.

Four years ago, it seems oh so long ago, we had a total of nine candidates on the ballot for Cleveland mayor. Are we in for another crowded field, do you think?

It’s definitely possible, and there are a few other candidates who will bring some name recognition to this race.

One person to watch is State Sen. Sandra Williams. She represents much of the East Side of Cleveland, parts of the West Side and some suburbs. She also has not declared a candidacy yet, but is worth keeping an eye on. Zack Reed, former city councilman who was the runner up in 2017 against Frank Jackson, another person to watch.

And one first-time candidate for office who may have some pull is Justin Bibb. He’s 33 years old, used to work for Key Bank, sits on the RTA board, and in his announcement this month, he pitched himself as a fresh face for Cleveland.

“This movement is for us. Cleveland can’t wait, we can’t wait and I can’t wait,” Bibb said.

In addition to those, there’s a number of other people have pulled petitions, or who are thinking about getting into the race. They’ve all got some time to get on the ballot.

The nonpartisan primary will be in September, and the top two vote-getters go on to the general election in November.

Copyright 2021 90.3 WCPN ideastream. To see more, visit 90.3 WCPN ideastream.