In a naked power grab of historical proportions, never-before-seen in a city with an extensive history of excessive corporate influence in government, non-Cleveland resident Tony George is seeking to reduce the size of Cleveland City Council and the salary of those who serve on that body. Why? Because the council would not award him contracts to offer electricity to Cleveland residents.
Therefore, on March 17th, primary day in the state of Ohio, residents of Cleveland will vote on two ballot measures sponsored by Mr. George. It should not surprise us that George, one of Cuyahoga County’s biggest Donald Trump supporters, aims to change the way one of the nation’s most Democratic cities operates. He claims only that he seeks good governance. City council has become nothing but a rubber stamp for Mayor Jackson, now in his 4th term, he says. A sentiment he surely also feels about politics in his hometown of Westlake, where the mayor has been in office since 1986. But I digress
On the face of it, I can understand why some may think it’s sensible to alter our city council. Cleveland has poverty rates that are too high, our population has been declining for over half a century, too many crimes occur in the city and far too many of those go unsolved. On top of that, in a tragic case of irony, our leaders’ inability to tackle disproportionate corporate influence has invited these very ballot measures.
Yet, at the end of the day, this is a multimillionaire business owner mad at city legislators because he didn’t get what his money thought he was owed.
So, why should we oppose this? This issue strikes at the heart of our most inalienable democratic rights, aiming to rip control over government out of our hands, and codifying it into the hands of corporations. So, here are just a few of this Cleveland resident’s reasons for opposing the current council restructuring plan:
- The voice of the average Clevelander, already marginalized, will be further diminished
- The wealthy win again
- Most Clevelanders when confronted with a legislative decision they disagree with don’t have the luxury of spending untold thousands to punitively restructure the way our government works. (George will not openly admit how much he’s spent thus far to get these petitions on the ballot and that MUST be ferreted out).
- Punishes residents
- Inherently decreasing the responsiveness of our representatives is not constructive in any way.
- Yes, some American cities of similar or greater size have smaller city councils. However, they also have larger staffs as opposed to the staff of 1 Cleveland members get.
- Pandora’s Box
- This can and will happen elsewhere.
- If this succeeds, others of George’s ilk will be salivating to do the same thing to other municipalities.
- The next target of revenge might well be the government of Cuyahoga County itself. And surely progressive cities like Lakewood and Cleveland Heights, amongst others, will be besieged as well.
- The Charter of the City of Cleveland, established over 100 years ago, already contains provisions for adjusting the size of city council. A spiteful megalomaniac who has fled the city hardly needs to tell us how our government should work.
- That same charter makes Cleveland distinct in so far as it allows residents and their representatives to often know one another personally, one of the strengths of the city’s political system.
- Corporatocracy has already overtaken the Ohio statehouse; Cleveland doesn’t need that same mentality re-writing our laws
- Takes focus off other issues
- Not only will this not help with the city’s 33% poverty rate (as just one example of far more pressing concern), but it harms any progress on that issue because it shifts attention away from other matters, big and small, daily & long-term, that our city government and residents must resolve
- The mistakes of the few should not punish the whole 385,000 people of Cleveland
- Councilman Ken Johnson’s shockingly blind self-indulgences do not necessitate throwing out other members of council
- At the same time, Council President Kevin Kelley does not get a pass on this issue. I’m thrilled he did not cater to George’s demands for electricity contracts, yet it was his unwillingness to punish Johnson in any discernible manner that makes a scam like George’s restructuring more amenable to the general public.
- Demanding council salaries be reduced is petulant vindictiveness run amok
- Asking voters to cut the salaries of council members because he wasn’t awarded a city contract is akin to a mother losing a game of Go Fish to her child and then cutting the kid’s allowance as a result.
- For the cynical
- I am by and large an optimist, but for those of you who are not, this would make it easier for corporatists like George to “buy” council members because a.) there will be fewer of them to influence and b.) council members will be making less money and therefore…
George has asked council to stand up to Mayor Jackson. Apparently in some different way than how they stood up to George himself by not granting him the contracts despite the threats of these ballot initiatives. One should also ask the following questions: Who stands to benefit from a smaller council? Would Mayor Frank Jackson be opposed to a city council that has fewer members to oppose him? Has Tony George handpicked 9 of his own candidates to run for the new council seats that would replace the current 17 under his plan? I wonder.
Sadly, overweening corporate influence within the Cleveland political landscape is not something new. This goes back at least to the time of Mayor Tom Johnson who fought corporate and monopolistic greed during the first decade of the 20th century as he sought public control over public transportation and utilities. And, we need only look to the mayoralty of Dennis Kucinich in the 1970s as he aimed to prevent the corporate takeover of Muny Light. Whatever other shortcomings Kucinich exhibited during his term, the historical record has proven that indeed corporate and financial interests joined together to punish him a la George’s current power grab. Those were dark days for Cleveland and its reputation. Ones we need not repeat.
Too many of our city’s leaders today are wedded to corporate interests, and in that sense they’ve danced with the devil. That’s an issue we must address starting March 18th. But with George’s revenge-based gambit, corporate interests in Cleveland have finally rid themselves of the shackles of subterfuge and are now fully comfortable making their power grabs in public.
If you are a Cleveland resident and support the move to reduce council’s size, that’s all well and good. And it’s your right. I encourage you to form an organization of actual Clevelanders and get this on the ballot for 2022 or 2024. But please don’t allow someone who’s chosen to live elsewhere, been spurned in an effort to earn even more money off Cleveland residents, and employed shadowy half-truths to orchestrate this political ploy to exact revenge against a citizenry that embraces living in Cleveland.
This is about the future of our city and who controls it. This is about the wealthy once again claiming they know better, just because they have more money. 2020 will be filled with primaries, conventions, and endless stories of our country’s impending election. But remember, it’s local political decisions that affect our daily lives far more than national ones, no matter who we’re supporting in November. Let’s take back our government the right way, while sending a message that we the voters cannot be bought like a side of Fried Cheese Curds (similar to those you might order at a Hairy Buffalo). Cleveland’s government is ours to control. Cleveland has a chance to say NO to corporate greed and vindictiveness and YES to residents.