A Mayoral Primary Primer
A Mayoral Primary Primer

Primary day is finally upon us and after 16 years Frank Jackson’s days as mayor are winding down. The race to succeed Jackson hasn’t been covered extensively enough by the local media, nor have the candidates been forced to answer questions with enough specifics to satisfy inquiring minds. Nevertheless, Clevelanders will decide for themselves Tuesday who should lead us for the next four years when they narrow the race down to two. With a host of problems facing the next mayor, some chronic and some acute, there’s certainly no guarantee for success. I’ve been door-to-door for various Council candidates in four different wards thus far this season so, it’s been a treat to hold face-to-face conversations with a lot of voters. The issues they most wanted to talk about? Crime, the mayor’s race, and bad neighbors.

The following are my takes on what’s transpired so far and perhaps some indication of what we can expect Tuesday and beyond.

Best Run Campaign

Justin Bibb

Curiously, in their endorsement of Bibb, The Plain Dealer/cleveland.com made scant mention of how proficient the Bibb campaign has been. It’s far and away the best campaign. He hired the right people and let them do their jobs. Meanwhile, he was everywhere. If there was an event in Ward 1, Bibb was there. If there was a neighborhood gathering at a resident’s home in Ward 3, he was there. If there was a barber shop with potential voters, he was there too. He’s not only dogged and earnest but almost inherently likeable. And likeability is one of the motivating factors in how people vote, even if it’s hard to quantify. Just ask Hillary Clinton. Or Donald Trump for that matter. So, if you’re searching for a reason to vote for Bibb, in his first attempt at managing a political endeavor, he did it better than six other candidates.

Worst Campaign

Sandra Williams

Williams had several things going for her upon entering this campaign. She was a proven vote-getter. She’s the only woman running against six men. She trounced the talented Jeff Johnson in the Democratic primary for her State Senate seat in 2018. Yet, there was only one real instance of her distinguishing herself throughout the campaign, at one of the City Club forums. She skipped participating in the city’s biggest 4th of July parade. She failed to articulate a compelling reason for sponsoring, much less voting for, HB 6 (probably because there is no good reason for it). And she didn’t particularly impress on Nick Castele’s podcast After Jackson. Indeed, at one point she mentioned she’d need to raise $1 million to for this race. Yet as of her July campaign finance report, she hadn’t yet raised 10% of that amount. That’s not a good look.

Best Media Moment

After Jackson. Nick Castele’s extraordinary podcast series. It had the feel of a Nightline broadcast, or one of those C-SPAN segments that follow the presidential candidates around in Nashua, New Hampshire during primary season. It was informative, balanced, and a real asset to Cleveland and its voters.

Honorable mention: Chris Quinn, Editor of The Plain Dealer, and his open letter to readers on September 12th. The decision not to repeat lies is admirable and a prerequisite for better political outcomes in this country. I so wish more media outlets would follow suit because as Quinn says,…” We know from the Donald Trump years that if we write about such issues–even to debunk them–we feed oxygen to the fire. Writing about false information helps it spread.” He couldn’t be more right about this.

Worst Media Moment

However, The Plain Dealer opened the door to some of this with its wholly unnecessary un-endorsement of Dennis Kucinich in the very article where they endorsed Bibb. Which is especially curious considering they endorsed Kucinich for a much bigger job just three years ago in his race for governor. But, to go out of their way to say you shouldn’t vote for one specific candidate is petulant. An endorsement of one person inherently means you’re telling people not to vote for other candidates. By specifically questioning his judgment and abilities they crossed the line and came very close to out-and-out ageism and paved the way for the dark money attacks that subsequently came his way. To top it off, the whole situation is even more galling considering that it turns out there’s apparently another candidate in the race who is so much worse than Kucinich that it necessitated a letter FROM the editor two days before the election.

Biggest Moment

Even if you’re not supporting him, it’s hard to argue that Mayor Michael White’s endorsement of Bibb wasn’t exciting. The timing and imagery behind it were impeccable as well, and further highlights the well-oiled machine that is the Justin Bibb campaign.

Lowest Moment

The criminal misappropriation of Citizens for a Safer Cleveland and their moniker to send out a mailing blasting Zack Reed. I can’t in good conscience cite it here or link to it.

Biggest Surprise

Dennis Kucinich

Anyone who thought Kucinich might not wage a legitimate campaign (hello Kevin Kelley) or that he would eschew full participation and coast on name recognition were dead wrong. He attended nearly every forum. He spoke at time for voters. And other times to them.

Honorable Mention: Kevin Kelley not only showing up to the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus forum, but doing relatively well there.

Best Forum

West Park

I may be biased since this took place in my ward, but it was the first large-scale, in-person forum and Councilmen Brian Kazy and Charles Slife were exceptional in their management of the event and even better in the probing questions they asked.

Jefferson Park forum in early July

Best Mailer/Door Hanger

Kucinich took the Dennis the Menace comic book mailed out by obscure sources connected to Kevin Kelley and turned it on its head. Realizing that his real and potential supporters don’t take kindly to criticism of him, he ran with it and played on his reputation for sticking it to moneyed interests. It was both humorous and prickly at the same time. Unlike his mailer with the bullet-riddled Cleveland logo. Which was neither funny nor appropriate.

Worst Mailer/Door Hanger

Nearly all of Kevin Kelley’s. Considering they were approximately the size of a sheet of drywall and had WAY too much writing on them in an age where attention spans are incredibly limited, I can’t imagine they were overly effective. Though the sheer number he sent out might overcome this. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even dispose of them properly since the city no longer has a curbside recycling program. Something for which I party blame the President of Cleveland City Council. Whoever that may be.

How Will They Finish?

Most people have Dennis finishing first. I’m tempted to say Bibb will, but getting voters to actually vote is always a tricky proposition and Twitter enthusiasm isn’t exactly a perfect gauge of vote totals. Otherwise Joe Biden would’ve won 40 states last year. Bibb and Kucinich are probably the candidates who’ll most benefit from a low turnout election. Yet I anticipate approximately 50,000 votes. Which would be a roughly 25% increase over 2017. Anything less would be disheartening quite frankly. There are a great many contested Council races this time, with some straight-up dynamos on the ballot, so that will increase the numbers as well. The key wards to watch in terms of turnout and raw numbers are 17, 13, and 1. Considering how close the primary could be, the possibility of a recount is real and that may impact the general election just seven weeks later.

Conventional wisdom could be way off since 1-6 are closely bunched together. But since I’m not being graded on this, I’ll venture a guess:

  1. Dennis Kucinich
  2. Justin Bibb
  3. Kevin Kelley
  4. Zack Reed
  5. Basheer Jones
  6. Sandra Williams
  7. Ross DiBello

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