Progressive Cleveland City Council candidates push for new policies, as incumbents offer reality check

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Eight progressive Cleveland City Council candidates, backed by a political action committee that aims to be a new force in city politics, want to make big changes at city hall next year .

But board holders don’t hesitate to come up with what they see as a reality check: Noble ideas are one thing, but getting results in city council requires collaboration among members, a realistic look at what the city can afford and the recognition that it is the mayor – not the council – who guides the direction of the city.

“They don’t even understand how the city government works – [council] don’t hire, we don’t shoot, and we don’t deploy, ”group councilor Mike Polensek said. “So it’s about working within the system and trying to solve the problems.

The challengers, supported organizationally and financially by a PAC called A Better Cleveland for All, generally want more progressive policies in Cleveland, as well as public-minded reforms in the way the council conducts its business.

The candidates are: Ayat Amin in Ward 3, Erick Walker in Ward 4, Daniel Graves and Stephanie Howse in Ward 7, Aisia Jones in Ward 8, Rebecca Maurer in Ward 12, Kate Warren in Ward 13 and the City Councilor Jenny Spencer in Ward 15. The incumbents challenged by the group are: Ward 3 Councilor Kerry McCormack, Ward 8 City Councilor Mike Polensek and Ward 12 Councilor Tony Brancatelli.

This story, the second in a two-part series about the PAC and the candidates it supports, takes a closer look at the changes the challengers want to implement and where they are failing in the eyes of the incumbents they are running against.

Read the first part here: Progressive Cleveland City Council Candidates Aided By New PAC Seek Change At City Hall

Public security

In interviews with and The Plain Dealer, candidates backed by A Better Cleveland for All said adopting new policing strategies should be a priority for the city.

-Graves wants to end qualified immunity for officers, limit when they can use force against people, and require semi-annual mental health assessments, as well as mental health exams when officers are first hired. He wants to deploy social workers to respond to non-violent conflict and set up a standing citizens’ review committee, as proposed in a voting initiative by Citizens for a Safer Cleveland.

-Howse wants police to make more use of the diversion center, so low-intensity felony suspects with mental illness or addiction can get treatment instead of jail time.

-Jones, a Black Lives Matter activist, wants more policies to decriminalize drug addiction, homelessness and poverty. She wants to give “people with mental health problems an additional option for emergencies, compared to calling the police directly.”

-Warren would also like to explore an option in which mental health professionals respond to certain calls from the police. “I think the city has invested a lot of money in policing, and that alone is not delivering the results that we want to see,” she said.

-Walker said he wanted the city to focus more on “tackling” poverty. “I think if we want to see crime decrease here, this is where we have to start,” he said.

Economic development

Candidates spoke generally about the need to invest in affordable housing in neighborhoods.

-Amin, an environmentalist running on a Cleveland version of the “Green New Deal,” wants to standardize community benefit agreements in places where the tax abatement is used. This could include requiring developers to invest along transit routes, adding public green space, or setting aside some housing units for low-income residents.

-Howse wants a “significant” sum of money from federal Cleveland bailout funds to help people own their homes, with down payment help or help with maintenance costs. She also wants the city to take advantage of its banking arrangements – “create a policy to stop doing business with financial institutions that are proven to have discriminatory lending practices” in black communities, especially in the East Side.

-Graves called its Ward 7 a “gold mine”, due to its historic neighborhoods and its central location between downtown and University Circle. Development of the city center is “at its peak at this point,” he said. “Ward 7 is in the center of Cleveland, so we need to welcome and embrace development, because it’s a growth strategy. And we need to make sure it’s fair through affordable housing, as well as business development that reflects ”the diversity of the neighborhood’s population.

-Spencer wants to rework the city’s pollution reduction policy to focus investments on affordable housing in neighborhoods experiencing rapid development and rising housing costs. She also wants older people to have the opportunity to ‘age in place’ – ensuring that old houses are accessible to people with reduced mobility or that new houses are built in an accessible manner.

–Warren said the city should be more strategic in offering tax breaks and should hold these recipients to higher standards. “I don’t think getting rid of pollution is the right approach,” she said. “But if the city is not going to generate tax revenue [from a project], we have to get something back for that, ”she said, citing green building standards as an example.

Council reforms

Many PAC candidates and leaders support reforms, such as providing public comment at council meetings and giving residents a more direct say in how certain taxes are spent (a concept known as participatory budgeting). They say Cleveland has low voter turnout because people feel their voices are not being heard in city hall.

Several have criticized the way the board appoints hand-picked successors when an incumbent leaves mid-term, instead of letting voters decide.

PAC Treasurer Pat Murray, for his part, said his group sees the election as an opportunity to give council members (and their constituents) more voice over the city’s priorities, a role that the charter of the city assigns to the mayor.

Opponents speak out

The idea that most residents are not participating in city government because they don’t feel their voices are being heard is a “loophole,” Brancatelli said. He said residents are often politically disengaged due to housing issues that force them to move house to house, and their children, from school to school.

Under these circumstances, Brancatelli said: “Voting is not a high priority. Surviving is a high priority, and that’s why stabilizing the community of people has been so important to me.

And he said the public already had the opportunity to make their voices heard. One example is the city’s annual allocation of federal block grants, in which the public regularly weighs in on how the money is to be spent. Another is at the committee hearings that he chairs.

“If you’ve come to realize that you think you need public comment, then you probably haven’t been listened to in the last decade,” said Brancatelli. “We have had public comment for a long time. I bring [community members] to testify.

McCormack and Brancatelli wondered if there was a big difference between the policies already supported by the Council and the priorities of the ABC4All candidates.

“I’m not sure what your definition of progressive is and how it differs from what we’re already doing,” Brancatelli said, noting that the changes these candidates want to see are ultimately limited by Cleveland’s finances and market forces. beyond. control of the city.

For example, he said, “If there is anyone who thinks we can demolish 4,000 abandoned properties tomorrow, all they do is flatter the community members… you are lying to them.

McCormack considers himself a progressive and has cited other progressive organizations that have supported him.

“So, I guess the question in my mind is, is this really about electing progressive leaders? Or is it just about turning people against the incumbents? McCormack said.

Like the ABC4All candidates, McCormack said he supports changes to the city’s pollution reduction policy, to ensure its fair use across the city. It is a tool that should be used to bring more low-income housing to the city, he said, or to encourage a sustainable lifestyle by bringing more development to areas close to public transport lines. .

“The issues we see around investing in our communities are multi-layered and revolve around things like valuations, the red line and where banks lend, which is exactly why this is a critical part of what I do. did, “McCormack said.

Polensek challenged the rallying of some of ABC4All’s candidates against the “status quo” in city council, saying it had never been a “rubber stamp” for the mayor’s office.

“I think there are real problems with the police department. It was not handled well, in my opinion, which is why you have never heard me criticize the presence of the Ministry of Justice here, ”Polensek said, adding that he had led the efforts to equip the Cleveland Police Body Cameras.

He said the residents of his neighborhood “don’t want the police to be decimated – they want more police on the streets, but they want responsibility, professional conduct, service that reflects the community, and they want to see a true community policing “.

Polensek said: “Should the board leadership have demanded more oversight? Of course, but [personally], I was very aggressive in terms of surveillance.

And city council, he said, demands that members compromise and unite.

“You can be as conservative as you want, you can be as liberal as you want… but you have to understand that when you walk in the door, you are not the one making the decision,” Polensek said. “You have to work with your colleagues.

About Christopher Taylor

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