Down to the Wire: How We Got Here & What to Expect in the Mayor’s Race
Down to the Wire: How We Got Here & What to Expect in the Mayor’s Race

With just under two weeks to go until we find out who Cleveland’s next mayor will be, voters now have a choice between two truly divergent visions, personalities, and backgrounds. In hindsight, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the two best-run campaigns during the primary (Justin Bibb and Kevin Kelley) are now the ones facing off against each other on November 2nd in the general election. We also shouldn’t overlook the harsh reality that the two candidates who raised the most money are also the two in the runoff. This can be viewed both positively–as an indication that the two campaigns did their jobs well or cynically–in terms of the overwhelming influence money has on politics and governance in America. But that’s not for me to decide.

In short, Justin Bibb finished first in the primary because of who he is and the incredibly dedicated and talented staff he hired. Here’s a closer look at what got us here and what may come in November.


As I’ve said elsewhere, Bibb is incredibly likable. On top of that he’s earnest, comes across as authentic, and is decidedly not easily rattled. Painting him as an extremist on any issues, including the recent attempts to tie him to Defund the Police, are both tiring and, since he doesn’t want to defund the police, just plain flawed. Bibb has been tenacious in a very positive way in pursuit of the position, and his conversational public speaking style is both natural and compelling. It’s relatively easy to understand why many have the feeling, after seeing him or listening to him, that he can at the very least make city government function more effectively.


It’s no coincidence that the top two candidates in terms of fundraising made the runoff. As Tip O’Neill said, “money is the mother’s milk of politics.” This enabled both to hire staff, including ground games, that could be dispensed throughout the city’s neighborhoods. And put together a boatload of mailers and in Bibb’s case targeted billboards.


Ryan Puente. Eden. Zoe. The high school intern who is a dynamo (I think Hazel is her name). I seemed to see them all the time. Even in my neighborhood for nearly two straight weeks. Some veteran politicos in Cleveland scoffed when Puente left the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party to take over the reins of the Bibb operation as Campaign Manager. I was not one of those. Surely part of his exit was the realization that the CCDP and its two leaders (one of which is Kevin Kelley as Executive Vice-Chair) don’t prioritize using the party for broad organizational efforts beyond their own interests. But I’ve seen Puente in action prior to this, and he possesses an expansive political mind and as the Executive Director of the party, he was always willing to go the extra mile to benefit the party as he does now for his candidate.

I thought the Plain Dealer and were incredibly remiss (a feeling I too frequently have with them) by not fully mentioning the operational success of Bibb’s campaign as proof of his organizational acumen. A candidate who knows how to pick a good staff should be seen as at least partially capable of doing the same with a government he may inherit. A General Revenue Fund of over half a billion dollars is far more complicated than a campaign staff to be sure, but in his first effort at political office it’s hard to say he hasn’t shone.

No Previous Electoral/Personal Mistakes

The second and third-place finishers (Kelley and Dennis Kucinich) have more years of elected office experience than Bibb does years on the planet. This is no criticism of Bibb’s youth. Not at all. Just an amplification of the reality that Kelley and Kucinich have taken stances and cast votes that intrinsically alienate some voters. Bibb not only does not have to explain past votes, he also isn’t tied to positions he’d previously staked out in public life. Therefore, in a not altogether cynical way, he was able to be all things to all voters.

Grassroots Hipness

One friend commented after viewing Twitter throughout primary day, that Bibb must’ve been the only one on the ballot in Detroit Shoreway and Ward 3. Obviously meant to be tongue in cheek, this also reflected a reality that Bibb and his supporters are masters of the social media game. To vote for Bibb was too be ‘cool,’ to voter otherwise was to be anachronistic. This sentiment was assisted by the candidate’s own unflappable and analytical nature which quite frankly is probably what the city needs from its mayor. But, as Bibb has stated more recently, keeping his cool is sometimes incredibly difficult when you have absurdities thrown your way out of desperation. The very idea that he would be criticized for not holding a job for more than three years, as Channel 3’s Mark Naymik recently tried to do, even though he performed well in each of them, is itself anachronistic thinking.

Why Dennis Kucinich Didn’t Make The Runoff

  1. Dennis himself

While utilizing a robust mailing program and appearing at nearly every forum and all the larger events, Dennis can’t be criticized for not running a true campaign. However, the lack of a genuine ground game was a decision he must’ve made himself and in the end it surely cost him

  • Negative Attacks

An unabashed, and at times shameful, avalanche of criticism overwhelmed the Kucinich campaign. Both in media sources and in personal conversations around the city. By conservative elements and progressive alike. Fifteen years ago, Dennis Kucinich was the face of progressivism in the United States. His stances against wars in the Middle East earned him legions of supporters, making his presidential runs in 2004 and 2008 possible before relatively few people outside Vermont knew the name Bernie Sanders. And while his stridency about policing issues and crime were decidedly not enlightened, that was probably the only issue on which he was not the most progressive candidate (excepting Ross DiBello). Yet, there were some who’d almost have you believe that Dennis was the original founder of the Ku Klux Klan.

  • Ageism

People may not like to admit it out loud, and it would seem to defy logic given the age of the Democratic and Republican nominees for president last year, but ageism is a reality in our society. To be honest this issue might’ve cut both ways for Kucinich as some surely voted for him because of his longevity and their experiences interacting with him over years. Nevertheless the frequent references to his age or career span, particularly on social media, were at times a little alarming. And not a little confusing given that he’s younger than the current mayor.

General Election

There simply isn’t the vitriolic hatred exerted by corporate interests that would have occurred if Kucinich made the runoff. It’s a fact. Possibly apart from Sandra Williams making the runoff, these so-called corporate interests are most likely pleased with the results of the primary. So, the fundamentals of the general election will come down to one primary factor: how dirty does Kevin Kelley want to get. Thus far, I’ve been surprised he hasn’t gone further down the rabbit hole of political negativity especially considering Ed Fitzgerald is one of the architects of his campaign. Fitzgerald after all has been one of the county’s chief purveyors of pernicious campaign tactics. So much so that he was essentially run out of the city of Lakewood where former targets like Mike Skindell and Meghan George are showing that progressives can govern effectively at all levels.

The reality is that based on the performance in the primary as well as demographic factors, Bibb is the favorite. There will be east side wards for instance that if the vote were held today he would win 4-to-1. That will be tough for Kelley to overcome, even if he tries to keep turnout low. Having garnered only slightly more than 60% in his own Ward 13 in September, Kelley will have to add significant voters in Wards 11, 14, and 16. And he’ll probably have to win the voting juggernaut of Ward 17 by 2-1. Which, considering he only finished about 300 votes ahead of Bibb in the primary, he won’t do. We’ve already seen the increase in turnout the Bibb team was able to generate in Wards 3 and 15 during the primary, and there’s no reason to think that won’t at least be the case in the general election. 

As I’ve previously stated, the belief by the Kelley people or amateur analysts that Kelley will inherently inherit the vast majority of Kucinich’s voters is wrong, borderline racist, and decades-old in its mental lineage. Those who were drawn to Kucinich’s campaign or appreciated that his enemies were their enemies as well, doesn’t translate to support for the City Council President who’s been in charge for seven years. Some will invariably switch to Kelley, but it will not be in the range of 75%-25%. It will be closer to 60%-40% in my estimation. Which I project will also be close to the final vote total overall, but in Bibb’s favor.


Bibb: 58%

Kelley: 42%


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