Will Media Meet Challenge in Mayor Race?

Will Media Meet Challenge in Mayor Race?

Jeff Johnson and any other candidate for Cleveland mayor this November will have a very tough time defeating Mayor Frank Jackson if he decides to run for a fourth term. Not their fault either.

Jackson, as I’ve repeated again and again, has been a bitter, disappointing, and discredited mayor.

However, this is a city in deep civic decline. No spark or verve. Despite the constant cheerleading.

Cleveland is a city totally dominated by elites. Greedy and self-satisfied as can be. They set the agenda and it’s not for YOU.

We are now in our second phase of massive downtown subsidies. Poor neighborhoods - you’re out.

The Forbes-Voinovich era in the 1980s gave heavy tax abatements to downtown developers to build office buildings. At the end of their terms in 1989, they made another devastating deal to open up Chagrin Highlands—once owned by Cleveland—to the major developer Dick Jacobs and the Jacobs Group. It drew assets from the city they supposedly served.

So Eaton Corp. (which built in downtown Cleveland without abatement) uprooted to Chagrin Highlands’ virgin land. Eaton this time grabbed a 30-year TIF abatement. Other buildings, such as University Hospitals Ahuja, also fled to Chagrin Highlands.

One of the reasons it’s tough for a Jackson opponent was highlighted for me by a former City Councilman after my last week’s article about the need for a “Change Election.”

Here’s what the former member wrote:

I have been reading your articles with interest, particularly with regard to the idea that this year’s Cleveland election might be a change election of the kind… in 1979. (I said 1977) There are some signs this might be the case, particularly the ferment that has resulted over the $15 minimum wage issue.

I have one caution to make you aware of. For those like you and me who have followed this continuously for 35 years, it is easy to lose sight of how much the electoral process has changed in that time. When I started, the Plain Dealer and the Cleveland Press were both in daily operation and gave almost daily front page coverage to the mayor’s race and sometimes to council races. This made it much easier for challengers to become competitive. While there could be a lot of ferment this year, I believe current political process makes it much more difficult for challengers to become competitive.

He is correct. The news has been shrunken. Further, real news has become scarcer. Photos are much larger and common. Takes space, saves paid reporters.

Some even depend more on social media than what we considered media.

In the past, the City Hall press room was often filled with reporters, all competing to get news from the city to the people. Now, there is no press room, taken by Council personnel. The old way sparked more coverage. Eager rivalries.

News competition has withered. And not just recently.

There was a time when the Press and Plain Dealer competed, often with more than one or two city hall reporters. Reporters not only covered the mayor and council, but also various city departments. This no longer happens with any consistency.

There were reporters from almost every radio station in town. And each TV station had one or more reporters roaming the halls, depending upon the state of news at the time.

And then there were the columnists and even from time to time one of the editorial board people would rouse themselves enough to peek and get a feel of what was happening.

Other watchdog institutions also have shriveled.

The Citizens League, which I never thought of as much more than another business oriented instrument, but it did bring some discussion of political people. It lapsed to be revived in 2010 but doesn’t seem to have revived as a go-to agency. And its once brother/sister Government Research Institute, which did put out reports that at least led to some discussion of public affairs, has disappeared.

The City Club has somewhat revived under Dan Moulthrop, formerly of WCPN, but he has been there only since 2013. The Club has allowed Mayor Jackson to determine how he will present the State of the City talks, sometimes skirting any thoughtful presentation. More local voices need to visit its Friday sessions.

Civic elites and their sponsors the corporate communities (often same people) have had an incredible ride over the past three or more decades. It followed disastrous time (the 1960s) when civil strife took most of their energy to divert.

And divert it they did with the help of the mainstream news media.

Now Johnson and others, including Zach Reed, who is making sounds as a candidate, face a lack of interest on the part of the remaining news media.

Particularly the Plain Dealer, which as the major newspaper has always had the principle responsibility to inform. It’s the city’s civic platform whether it likes it or not.

One of the major forces in political dialogue and discussion in the city would—should—be the PD‘s editorial page staff and columnists.

They are pretty much tame and bland on local matters.

The only one who shows a spark of liveliness these days is Brent Larkin. However, most of his stuff now doesn’t involve local matters. And he’s retired. It seems to have invigorated him not being at the newspaper.

That leaves us too lifeless. To dull.

Philip Morris seems to get outside the office only when former Judge Murrell Capers has a birthday. And at 104 there aren’t going to be too many more opportunities. Otherwise, he shows the laziness of writing without traveling.

There are whole neighborhoods out there with stories to tell. And they need telling badly. The emphasis, however, seems to be how many beer joints are around. Such piffle.

We rarely read a much about not-rare Cleveland commodity: Poverty.

Kevin O’Brien, lost in space now that he has a Republican President who even he can’t accommodate, remains a critic in search of a subject. He also doesn’t appear to leave his comfortable chair and desk. So we get an alt-right (fascistic) dose every time and less appetizing each time he writes. Predictable as the direction the sun rises and sets.

Ted Diadiun is another sit-in-the-office navel gazer taking up space. You wonder why a newspaper stretched for foot soldiers keeps a second right-winger telling us pretty much nothing of value. And less of interest.

Then there’s Mark Naymik, who does get out, and tries even watching but has a mild temperament that doesn’t rile up the waters that need to be vexed badly.

C’mon Mark. Take off the gloves. There are plenty of targets worth some real indignation. And so many butts that need kicking. So deliciously available.

Have you read anything about any of our civic/corporate leaders being taken to the woodshed? Why didn’t the Plain Dealer use last Sunday’s scourging of Dan Gilbert, Mr. Hands Out, from the New York Times? Too timid.

The mayor’s race this year needs spice. And that means coverage. That means allowing voices to be heard.

It’s time we had a real political debate. Issues certainly are there.

The voices need to be encouraged. But that takes coverage.

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