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In Press Club of Cleveland forum, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson won’t rule out seeking a fifth term

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 6/17/2020 By Robert Higgs, cleveland.com
Frank G. Jackson wearing a suit and tie: In a Tuesday forum with the Press Club of Cleveland, Mayor Frank Jackson would not rule out the possibility of seeking an unprecedented fifth term in 2021. © Robert Higgs, cleveland.com/cleveland.com/TNS In a Tuesday forum with the Press Club of Cleveland, Mayor Frank Jackson would not rule out the possibility of seeking an unprecedented fifth term in 2021.

CLEVELAND, Ohio – In a Tuesday forum with the Press Club of Cleveland, Mayor Frank Jackson would not rule out the possibility of seeking an unprecedented fifth term in 2021.

The question was presented to him by moderator Russ Mitchell of WKYC Channel 3 as part of a wide-ranging conversation that also touched on the protests and riots of May 30, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Cleveland and the meaning behind one of the mayor’s trademark lines.

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Jackson talked for about an hour, taking questions from Mitchell and from others participating in the forum.

Here’s some takeaways from the event.

To run or not to run

Already the longest serving mayor in Cleveland’s history, Jackson is in year three of his fourth four-year term. If he were to win re-election, he could end up as Cleveland’s chief executive for two decades.

When asked by Mitchell about a fifth term, the mayor said he won’t answer the question until he’s decided it for himself.

“I honestly have not decided that,” Jackson said.

But as he has said before, he expressed a desire to avoid becoming a lame duck if he opts to not run again.

“I can’t get a short timer mentality,” he said. “It wouldn’t be fair to myself and it wouldn’t be fair to the community.”

So then running again is a possibility? Mitchell asked.

“Yes,” he said.

Grading Cleveland’s response

The mayor declined to give himself or the city a grade for how it handled policing and security for the Black Lives Matter protest May 30 that devolved into a riot.

“I don’t do that. I did what I did,” Jackson said.

During the events, he was in the city’s emergency operations center with Chief of Police Calvin Williams and other city leaders.

“I wouldn’t do anything different,” Jackson said. “I’d go down to the command center and do my job in the command center.”

Jackson did note, though, that the decision to close the downtown with a curfew and to deploy officers to the neighborhoods was a strategic move to try to quell further violence.

It was confined to one night and since May 30 there have been other peaceful protests.

How others grade the city’s response might be a matter of perspective, he said.

“This is pass/fail, I guess,” Jackson said. “Those who believe I passed based on the number of days [of violence]. That’s fine. Those who believe I failed based on Saturday night, that’s fine too.

“But I don’t give myself a grade,” he said.

Eventually he expects a briefing from Williams – perhaps in the next few weeks -- on the department’s internal review of how it handled the events.

No time for pandemic panic

The coronavirus pandemic, and the accompanying shutdowns of businesses in Cleveland, will certainly have an impact, Jackson said.

The city’s bottom line for tax collections will be affected by tax collections, but he said the time for drastic action has not arrived.

The year started strong, Jackson said, with income tax revenues running ahead of projections. When the pandemic hit, those revenues declined. But the city has weathered the decline because it budgeted for a recession in 2020.

“In a normal situation, if we had not built in a cushion for a recession, then we’d be in layoff mode now,” Jackson said. “We’re down, but we’re not to a point where we have to lay people off.”

Cost-cutting measures have helped, Jackson said. And he and his administration are monitoring revenues weekly.

The real answers will come in July, when the city can see if there’s an upturn in revenue.

“Right now, that moment hasn’t come where we need to do something more drastic,” Jackson said.

The state of the city

The last two years, Jackson has presented his State of the City address after Labor Day, but Mitchell asked for a quick overview for now.

Some of the underlying problems – racism, inequities and opportunity for sharing in prosperity – still persist, Jackson said.

But police reforms laid out in an agreement with the federal government have made the police department better.

The overall economy before the pandemic hit was pretty strong. Investment was returning to the city.

“We had recovered from being the butt of jokes in the past to being a place where people talked about as a place they’d like to go.”

‘It is what it is’

Although he doesn’t us the line that much anymore, “it is what it is” has become a trademark phrase forever tied to the mayor.

But he told Mitchell most people misunderstand what he meant when he said it.

“Most people believe that when I say that [about a situation], I’m saying there’s nothing I can do about it,” Jackson said.

Actually, it’s just the opposite.

“I have to deal with reality,” he said. “And then I can say ‘how can I change that reality’.”

At that point, decisions can be made, Jackson said.

“It is what it is.”

More from Cleveland City Hall

Two Cleveland councilman vow to oppose all police-related legislation until they’re shown proper respect

Defunding police a “completely unrealistic” approach to solving institutionalized racism, inequity, Mayor Frank Jackson says

Cleveland to offer grants to businesses damaged by rioting to help them reopen, allocates coronavirus aid

Declaring racism a health crisis in Cleveland labeled a start; the real work will be finding the solutions

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