In the midst of a dizzying presidential campaign, it is easy to forget about local politics. On Monday, March 10, The Carroll News attended the State of the City Address sponsored by the City Club of Cleveland, where Mayor Frank Jackson spoke of both celebrating the city’s successes and cobbling together a future that works for all Clevelanders, not just the comfortable few. In the course of his address, the topics of education, economic development, service delivery and the safety and consent decree dominated the conversation.
Jackson began his address with reflective reverence for his decade spent in office thus far, as well as his young life spent in the city he now governs. Growing up in Cleveland, Jackson said he has seen the city in both its darkest and brightest hours. Although he is encouraged by the place Cleveland is in today, the Mayor said the city has much room to improve.
“I truly believe Cleveland is positioned to become a great city. But greatness is not guaranteed. Achieving greatness will depend on our ability and continued willingness to accept, engage and overcome the challenges before us,” Jackson said.
Jackson attributed a new wave of Cleveland pride to Cleveland becoming a city of destination, seeing as the Gay Games, world-renowned film festivals, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and soon, the Republican National Convention calling Northeast Ohio their home. Jackson said this new “winning attitude” will help Cleveland to overcome the city’s gravest challenges.
The first challenge addressed was Cleveland school reform. Jackson urged those in attendance that supporting school levies is essential in building better schools. In fact, said levies have been responsible for numerous improvements, including the expansion of high-quality early childhood education, improved levels of early literacy, improvement in the National Assessment of Education Progress and an increase of almost 14 percent in high school graduation rates since a capital levy in 2014. However, with recent lack of support for increase in taxes through levies, Jackson said improvements could be thwarted. Next, Jackson tackled the topic of economic development.
Jackson stressed that Cleveland is lucky to have a diverse economy that includes immense strength in the fields of health care, financial services, manufacturing, research and higher education, so strong in fact, that those sectors have experienced growth of nearly $3 billion in economic development over the last ten years. However, these areas of economic growth tend to support the elite few, and the benefits of the growth does not fall fairly across all areas in Cleveland. In order to combat these challenges, Jackson has created a $25 million development fund targeted at neighborhoods which are “traditionally left out,” and encouraging the private sector to support parts of the city that they haven’t before.
Jackson also addressed city services, and stated that although Cleveland has been fairly fiscally sound over the last 10 years, we have reached our capacity to deliver quality services. In addition, the city’s operating budget has not seen the benefits of the thousands of jobs created in Cleveland, due to cuts in state funding, losses in property taxes and recession-related losses. The combination of these realities has caused Cleveland to lose $63 million in annual revenues in less than five years. Because of this, Jackson is proposing an half-percent increase in taxes that could potentially raise $80 million, and to “continue to provide quality services and position Cleveland for the future.”
Lastly, Jackson addressed the Safety and Consent Decree that was issued by the U.S Department of Justice last year. Jackson stated that the city is in the process of developing and implementing new policies and protocols, including bias-free policing, crisis intervention and better tracking of citizen complaints.
“A great city will be measured by the condition and well-being of its people, in particular, the least of us–not in terms of welfare or charity, but whether everyone is able to participate in the prosperity and quality of life that we create as a community,” he said. “A place where children can live and play safely, receive a quality education and someday find a good job to make a living.”
“This is the kind of Cleveland I believe we can create.”