The recent travails of Cleveland City Councilman Ken Johnson, as thankfully highlighted by Mark Naymik at cleveland.com, are just one example of what seems a culture of legislative ineptitude stretching back decades now amongst many elected officials in the city. In Johnson’s case, if you’re defending a program, one that is already dubious on the face of it, by stating that it was an agreement reached under the Voinovich administration, your position is simply untenable. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise from someone who retired just to re-appoint himself to city council so he could collect a salary AND a pension. Which is outrageous enough. But the bigger issue may be for us residents to ask, what exactly has Ken Johnson done for the 38 years he’s been on council to make the city of Cleveland a better place?
If we are to transform Cleveland into an economic power once again, we must have conscientious elected leaders who put the city and its resident first. And it would sure help if they’ve demonstrated in the past an ability to think broadly and inventively instead of re-actively. Our lakefront is woefully underused. Our public transportation system is a mess. Our residents are underemployed and under-educated.
Dale Miller, west side county councilman, is a good man who seems to have his constituents’ best interests at heart. But he has held office on the west side since 1979. To give a little context, Jimmy Carter was president, Titanic was known as a maritime disaster not a love story, and the Indians and Browns played in the same stadium. Mr. Miller was my grandparents’ councilman. He’s a bright man. No one can or should deny that. But what innovative ideas has he promulgated in the last decade? I mean it seems fair to ask what innovation can come from anyone who’s served in public office, in Cleveland, for forty years?
Dan Brady, the current president of Cuyahoga County Council, was first elected to city council in 1985. Including his time in the statehouse, he’s held elective office in the county for 29 out of the last 32 years. Cleveland City Council 1986-96; Ohio House 1996-199; Ohio Senate 1998-2006; County Council 2009-present. His wife, Dona Brady, has served on City Council since 1999.
And east-side councilman Michael Polensek has been on City Council since 1978.
I won’t even get into the judgeships. I’m not sure when the last time an incumbent judge was defeated in our county. And the outlandish benefit having certain surnames play in our county when it comes to voting borders on the absurd.
These are not bad people. Most of them are inherently likable and have done some positive things for their community. It’s hard to imagine West 117th now without Giant Eagle and Target, which is due in part to Dona Brady.
There’s no doubt that the voting populace of our city and county must become better educated and more active. That is our job. It’s too easy and the stakes are too high, for voters in our area to simply choose comfort over the unknown.
The men I’ve mentioned above have been responsible for the betterment of our community. They’ve been the ones with their hands on the wheel of government since at least the ’80s. And in 1980, Cleveland’s population was 573,822. Cuyahoga County’s population was nearly 1.5 million people. Today the city has 386,000 people while the county has 1.25 million. In the same time, housing vacancies within the city have doubled. In 1980, we were the 18th biggest city in the country. Today we’re 51st, behind such economic and cultural powerhouses like Wichita and Tulsa. And yes, behind Columbus and Franklin County. The loss of jobs in our county has been absolutely staggering during the period these people have held elected office. Additionally, the poverty rate in Cleveland is 35% as of 2016. And possibly higher than that, with African-Americans and children especially in peril.
Excuses can be made for these statistics. And blame can be spread around to include any elected official. And even the city’s residents themselves. It’s even possible, I suppose, that fresh ideas will emerge from the people cited above. But, if the city and region are to strike while the proverbial iron is hot, to make bold and even daring decisions about our future, then it stands to reason we’ll need (at least some) new leadership in our public offices.