by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, September 2017) Three out of the five candidates for the Ward 14 City Council seat attended a candidates’ community forum on August 22nd at the W. 58th Street Church of God. The thirty people in attendance were given an opportunity to submit questions to the candidates and listen to their responses.
The three candidates participating in the forum were Nelson Cintron, Jr., Brian Cummins and Omar Medina. The two candidates not in attendance were: Kyle Cassidy and Jasmine Santana.
Mary Rose Oakar, a former State School Board member, Congresswoman and City Councilperson, served as the moderator. She noted the forum would follow League of Women’s Voters rules.
Each candidate was allowed a representative to review written questions submitted by audience members. Ten of the thirteen questions submitted were answered by candidates during the forum. Forum organizer Gloria Ferris promised to place all the questions submitted on Facebook so candidates and ward residents could view them.
In addition to being allowed one minute to answer each question, candidates were given three minutes for an opening statement and two minutes for a closing statement.
In his opening statement, Omar Medina urged voters to “elect a candidate that is going to be there for you, not themselves or special interest groups.” Medina also offered some information about his involvement in the community. He said for 20 years he has been a respected leader in the community. Medina said he was one of the few people to testify before County Council about budget cuts, that would severely impact social service agencies. Medina noted his involvement in working to address health disparities; his involvement with the local Community Development Corporation; and his work on social justice and educational issues.
Nelson Cintron, Jr. noted the flags from various nations hanging in the W. 58th Street Church of God. He talked of Ward 14 as a melting pot with people from many different nations making a home here. Cintron said most of his 51 years were spent in Cleveland, his family arriving here from Puerto Rico when he was only 31 days old.
Cintron talked of his time serving Ward 14 on Cleveland City Council where he said he sat on the two most powerful committees the Finance Committee and the Economic Development Committee. Cintron said that he used his participation on those committees to help bring needed jobs to the neighborhood. He said he helped with the expansion of Nestles, A. J. Rose, and McDonalds, as well as the rehabilitation of the Lin Omni Building. Cintron said he also helped to secure resources for housing in the Tremont, Ohio City, and Clark Fulton neighborhoods.
Cintron said as Councilperson he sought advice from the leadership in the neighborhood including Mary Rose Oakar and Helen Smith, both of whom had served in Cleveland City Council prior to him.
Cintron said his family operates three radio stations, “helping people to have a voice.” In closing, he said, “I will be a strong voice to help make Ward 14 a better place for us all to live.”
Brian Cummins said, in the 12 years he has served on Cleveland City Council, his district has been redistricted twice. He said parts of the ward he now serves have only been in his ward since the last redistricting. He noted the movement of the western reach of the ward from W. 47th to W. 98th Street. Cummins said he serves on the Health and Human Services Committee, the Economic Development Committee and the Utilities Committee. He said he is also a member of the Community Relations Board.
Cummins talked of his experience as a councilperson facing the challenge of representing a diverse neighborhood. He said the ward is now 41% Hispanic, 22% Black and 37% White.
Cummins talked of his personal history of service with the Peace Corps and the Salvation Army. He noted that, historically, the area served by Metro West Community Development Office had been left out of planning and development. He noted the increase in development in the area served by Metro West over the past seven years. He said his efforts to help fund literacy programs serving the neighborhood have helped put more resources toward improving literacy than there have been in the last 30 years.
Following the opening statements, each of the candidates gave answers to the written questions submitted by audience members.
The first question noted that the West Side of Cleveland was served by only two health inspectors and asked if a councilperson could have any influence in increasing the number of health inspectors.
Brian Cummins said since the passage of the tax levy, the administration is now hiring new inspectors. He said he will be able to have an impact now as the newly appointed Chair of City Council’s Health and Human Services Committee. Cummins also noted the involvement of Metro West Community Development Office in working with MetroHealth in what he called a “very aggressive program” to address healthy homes through a Build Health Challenge grant. Cummins noted his collaboration with other area councilmen in funding code enforcement work in the neighborhood.
Omar Medina said having enough health inspectors is a very important issue, and City Council members have influence and need to speak out. He said the city needs to show the importance of the issue by having the right resources to address it. He promised to work hard to guarantee the city has the resources and to ensure a coordinated effort to provide the necessary services.
Nelson Cintron, Jr. explained that council approves the budget for the various administrative departments during budget hearings. He said in the mid-term, the Mayor comes back to pull money from the departments to put into other projects. He said, “Council needs to hold the mayor accountable. Council has the power to tell the mayor how to spend the budget.” Cintron said Council members don’t need to be spending Community Development Block Grant dollars allocated to their wards for services that should be provided by city departments. He said that Council has the legislative authority to make sure money, allocated to the Health Department, doesn’t end up somewhere else. “You need to be tough,” said Cintron referring to City Council’s role in providing legislative oversite of the executive branch in City Hall.
The next question asked what candidates would do to address the Regional Transit Authority changing bus routes and cutting service in the neighborhood.
Medina noted a great percentage of Ward 14 residents do not have cars. He said the Council representative needs to hold RTA accountable. He promised to hold public meetings to bring the concerns to RTA and put pressure on RTA.
Cintron said the Mayor makes recommendations to Council for their approval of appointees to the Regional Transit Authority Board. Council must hold those appointees accountable. He said he would hold hearings and bring those City appointed board members before City Council and demand more resources for the neighborhoods. He said RTA is providing free service downtown while cutting services in the neighborhoods.
Cummins said it has been a challenge to get RTA to have changes in routes posted in advance. He said a stronger commitment by RTA is needed to provide these notices. Cummins said he was involved in the fight to get Public Square reopened to bus traffic. He noted the importance of bus service in a ward where 36% of the households do not have a car. Cummins said lack of State of Ohio funding for public transportation was the biggest problem.
The next questioner noted the unaffordability of houses in the Tremont and Ohio City area and asked how the Council candidate would make sure affordable houses were available in Ward 14.
Cintron said affordable housing was a “hot topic” of concern to Ward 14 residents. He said whenever a major project is built, he would make sure it includes affordable housing. Cintron said during his tenure in Cleveland City Council, he worked with the Land Trust to help make sure houses stayed affordable over time. He said he also worked with St. Ignatius High School, Cleveland Housing Network and Habitat for Humanity to provide affordable housing for residents.
Cummins said the Tremont neighborhood is not as gentrified as people think. He said 30% of the population of Tremont is low income. Cummins invited those present to a ribbon cutting on September 14th at 3 p.m. for 36 units of affordable housing at Meyer and W. 25th Street. He noted the recent awarding of $5 million dollars to build 22 lease purchase houses in the Stockyard neighborhood, and Habitat for Humanity’s plans to make 10 properties available on W. 51st and W. 52nd at 0% interest for 15 years.
Medina said, “Gentrification is a fear that exists in the minds of Ward 14 residents.” He said people ask him, “What can you do to stop gentrification?” Medina said developers should be told, you can’t build new without assurances that you are providing affordable housing for residents. Medina said help is also needed for people who own a home and want to keep it.
The next question was, “Will you support Metro West?”
Cummins said, “Absolutely will support them.” He noted he will rely on Council Representatives Matt Zone, Kerry McCormack and Tony Brancatelli to make contributions as well. Cummins said over the past 7 years the organization has increased the number of demolitions and rehabilitation of housing. He said Metro West has strong programs addressing housing, building, education, literacy and health.
Medina also said he would “absolutely, support Metro West.” He noted he served on their Advisory Council and said he is “proud of the work they do.” Medina said he would work to make sure they have the resources they need.
Cintron said he would look at all the agencies receiving money in his ward and find out how much they are receiving and work to maximize the impact of the dollars awarded. He said he is supportive of local development corporations, but funding would depend on the decisions of their boards.
The next question had to do with how candidates would address quality of life issues, drugs, crime and crumbling infrastructure.
Medina said he would use relationships he has built to find organizations to come and invest in much needed Social Services.
Cintron said crime is a result of people not having a job. His solution is to work to bring jobs back. As for infrastructure, Cintron called for lobbying of the federal and state governments to provide funds to let us do our job on the city level.
Cummins said he has worked with police and the Safety Director to address problem houses which have been a chronic issue in the neighborhood. He said Metro West has a security camera program. He noted involvement with an Environmental Task Force and his involvement with the Public Works Committee of Cleveland City Council. He said lead in the water is not a problem in Cleveland due to chemicals the water department adds to the water supply.
The next question had to do with the large NuCLEus project proposal where the developer has asked Cleveland City Council for Tax Increment Financing that includes the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s portion of the property tax. Candidates were asked their position on the proposal.
Cintron said he attended public schools and has family members in the public schools. He promised to make sure there is funding in place for our schools. He said when he sees there are not enough teachers to have smaller class sizes for the children and sees that there are not enough funds for the schools, he knows this leads to residents moving out and the city losing population. Speaking of the proposal to use taxes due to the school system for a development project, Cintron said, “we need to stop this nonsense in City Hall.”
Cummins said he is withholding judgement on the issue until after the School Board votes on the issue. He said the mayor has a proposal to the school board that will hold the schools harmless.
Medina stressed the importance of education and said he was involved in supporting Issue 107 to fund the schools. He said he would look into the issue before making a judgement.
Another submitted question asked about what ever happened to the plans for the W. 65th street corridor, and what it would take to revisit this issue.
Cummins said transportation projects are difficult. He noted that a traffic study done in 2001 in Old Brooklyn neighborhood with the resulting project just underway now. Cummins said transportation projects just have to get in line. It takes time. It is a multiyear process, he said. Cummins added, it should help that he now has a great relationship with the Mayor. “It took several years to do that,” he said.
Cintron said when he was in City Council, he and neighboring City Council Representative Tim Molina, discussed creating an industrial parkway along the W. 65th Street corridor to bring businesses to the neighborhood. He said talks involved creating a W. 65th entrance to I-90 to help attract businesses. Cintron said changes in ward boundaries hurt this effort. Cintron promised to keep the ward together and fight hard for projects.
Medina said projects like this require collaboration. He promised to meet with the mayor, others in City Council and interested people from the community to gain support for the proposal.
The next questioner asked candidates to explain how and why you would take Community Development Block Grant money allocated to Ward 14 and spend it in other wards.
Medina said he would not invest Community Development Block Grant funds in other communities saying, “We have so many issue to be addressed here. My commitment is money stays here to improve community.”
Cintron said it is a hard question. He noted that organizations such as Merrick House and the Spanish American Committee provide services to people living in the ward, while having their office outside the ward.
Cummins said he wanted to address disinformation being circulated regarding a Community Development Block Grant fund swap he did with Councilman Brian Kazy in exchange for Social Service funds for the Women’s Recovery Center on Storer Avenue.
The next questioner asked the council candidates if they would support point of sale inspections to reduce flipping of substandard housing.
Cintron said he wanted to use some of his time to say he was investigating a rumor that the local development corporation owns a block of properties to sell to developers. Cintron said when he worked for Cuyahoga County flipping was a problem they were trying to address.
Cummins said, yes, he would support point of sale inspections. He would also like to add rental properties to the roles of houses being inspected. He called for lead safe inspections for rental properties. Cummins called absentee landlords, “the worst problem.”
Medina said he would support putting a system in place to hold people accountable.
The next questioner asked candidates to address why they thought voter turnout was so low in Ward 14.
Cummins cited a number contributing factors to low voter turnout. He said 50% of residents lacked a high school diploma, single parent families with hectic demands, and transient population that results in classrooms in the neighborhood where 50% of the students will have moved during the course of a single school year. He said literacy was a big problem in the neighborhood. He cited work by the interfaith community to help with this issue.
Medina said people tell him they are “not engaged, don’t feel our voices are being heard.” He hears people say, “What is the use of us voting? No one cares what we have to say.” Medina says that is why he is committed to providing people with the opportunity to express their view on how development proceeds in the ward.
Cintron said when he first ran for City Council, he went door to door to help people register to vote. He said at the time, many people in Cleveland’s Puerto Rican community were recent arrivals used to having elections only every 4 years in Puerto Rico. He said it is necessary to educate people. He noted he was the first person to lead the fight with the Board of Education to have classes in Spanish and English.
Following the questions, the candidates each offered some closing remarks.
Nelson Cintron, Jr. spoke of the importance of voting in the upcoming election and said he was offended that the Ward Club leader was challenging his family’s right to vote. Cintron said in electing him, people would get a fighter for their interests. He said he would represent all people in the ward fairly and equally. He would be available any hour at night to answer concerns. He would have his cell phone 24 hours a day so residents would always be able to contact him. He said, “You are my boss.” He said when you choose to be a councilperson, you accept nearly 25,000 bosses. He said he would spread funding equitably so everyone has a shot at those dollars. He said the community would be the boss as to how the money is spent.
Brian Cummins told the audience “I’m here for you.” He said he has worked hard and is extremely proud of accomplishments in the ward. He mentioned millions in development projects. Another $5 million slated for the Stockyard neighborhood and the Habitat for Humanity effort in the neighborhood. He also noted that the recent tax levy has made funds available for Parks and Recreation projects in the neighborhood. He hopes to get underway soon with a mini park on a parcel on W. 73rd. Cummins said he is now Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee which will give him added influence over policy. He also noted that his ward is the only ward on the West Side to receive neighborhood improvement funds targeted to specific neighborhoods by the administration with funds from the recent tax levy. This will amount to $3-4 million, said Cummins. Cummins said a vote for him will allow him to continue these efforts.
Omar Medina said in electing him, you will be “electing someone who will be there for you.” He noted that some candidates were not here tonight. “What is more important than being here?” He said he has consistently been fighting for residents. He said his words match his action. “I have been a public servant,” said Medina.
After the closing remarks, Mary Rose Oakar thanked the candidates for their participation. Oakar said City Council representatives have a very difficult job. She said the ward territories are now 3 times as large as when she served in City Council. She said the ward she served in went from the Lake to Monroe and from the River to W. 48th. Oakar also noted that the council people now have staff to help them and their salaries are much higher. She urged residents preparing to vote to reflect on the question, “Who can do the best job for us?”