Dennis Kucinich considers Cleveland mayor’s race
by Bruce Checefsky
(Plain Press, April 2021) Dennis Kucinich hasn’t officially announced his candidacy for mayor, at least not yet, but he did file paperwork with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections this past December to form the “Re-elect Mayor Kucinich” campaign fundraising committee. He previously served as Mayor of Cleveland from 1977-79.
Kucinich, 74, believes the City of Cleveland can do more for its residents in public health and safety, viability of the neighborhoods, and proactive economic opportunities. The city needs a fresh approach to new ideas and a dynamic mayor with a can-do attitude to implement them, according to him.
“We need to start talking about rebuilding neighborhoods like Kinsman and Woodland Hills, Mt. Pleasant and Union-Miles Park. People in these communities can’t get bank loans to fix their homes,” said Kucinich. “We need to make sure they have equal opportunity.”
Urban housing issues including mortgage financing in underserved areas of the city are not new to Kucinich. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio’s 10th district, he led a congressional Domestic Policy Subcommittee hearing to discuss predatory mortgages, payday lending and foreclosures. Kucinich believes local banks enticed people in these struggling communities with low-documentation or no-documentation loans ultimately setting them up for failure.
At the Hearing before the Subcommittee on Domestic Policy of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on March 21, 2007, Kucinich examined the impact of foreclosures, predatory mortgages, and payday lending in America’s cities against the backdrop of a serious plunge in the stock market. He predicted foreclosures would cost homeowners over $164 billion. He wondered if anyone in government had a proper understanding of the dimensions of the devastating foreclosure crisis and the impact it had on American cities. It was severe, prolonged, and very serious.
“I led the investigation on the conduct of local Cleveland banks who went into those Black communities and took advantage of their dreams to own a home,” Kucinich said. “They were setting people up.”
When the financial collapse worsened, and bank loans came due, many people, falling behind in their loan payments, lost their homes. Cleveland, particularly the East side of Cleveland, was the epicenter of the subprime meltdown. Kucinich led an investigation into the lending banks “dirty tactics” and even today he believes Cleveland banks were more interested in taking money away from the community than investing in healthy sustainable neighborhoods.
“The next Mayor of Cleveland must be prepared to negotiate significantly higher investments from local banks to improve property and provide mortgages in communities that have been previously denied a fair opportunity,” he said, referring to the Southeastern section of Cleveland.
Kucinich believes the next mayor must have a city-wide health policy that includes access to healthy nutritional food. More than 59% of Cleveland residents live in food deserts where the availability of affordable, nutritious foods is limited, and people experience inequalities in economic opportunity and quality of health. African Americans represent nearly 60% of the food desert population. Neighborhoods like St. Claire-Superior, Fairfax, Buckeye-Woodhill, and Stockyards have the highest percentage of food deserts where residents have to travel between one and two miles to a grocery store. In some areas, residents have to travel two or more miles to find nutritious food.
“We need a public health policy that will provide people access to healthy and nutritious food. It doesn’t mean people have to pay more for the food or the city has to pay more for the services, it means we have to be wise using tax dollars to help people survive,” said Kucinich. “Right now, there are too many families in Cleveland just trying to make it day to day. The city must function to help those people that have the most needs.”
Kucinich would like to see urban agriculture as a productive use of vacant land. But sustaining agriculture over the long term in neighborhoods experiencing abandonment requires new strategies that interlink land, planning, organizing, and resources, according to the Journal of Urban Affairs.
Cleveland adopted a sustainability strategy in 2008. Agriculture was embraced as community development in the wake of the foreclosure crisis. However, despite claims of food system benefits for neighborhoods, urban agriculture was organized primarily to serve other purposes such as land stabilization and social service provisions. The sustainability plan is still ongoing.
Kucinich doesn’t provide much detail, but he also believes the next mayor must have a dynamic and innovative approach with young people who “have nowhere to go and eventually end up in street gangs.”
“This isn’t complicated,” he insisted. “You have to focus on the most basic needs of people such as safety. We have neighborhoods that are overrun by crime. The next mayor must work to reclaim our streets. The city needs to reach out and save Cleveland’s young people from the grasp of the justice system and incarceration.”
When it comes to the West Side Market, Kucinich is convinced the city could do better with management of the historic property. Last year, in February 2020, he published an op-ed that appeared in the Plain Dealer on “How to save the iconic West Side Market”. The op-ed called for the city to take responsibility for failing electrical and plumbing systems and years of neglect resulting in fewer market tenants renewing their leases and more empty booths than ever. He wants to see that changed.
Kucinich provided a nine-point plan to address the problems including lowering vendor rents, eliminate monthly vendor parking fees, adding parking lot security, accelerate capital repairs to elevators, mechanical functions, plumbing and lighting, fix the Market Tower Clock, create a free West Side Market circulating bus, market the market, and make certain the city is proactive and present in the daily management of the market.
“The West Side Market’s biggest challenge has been the indifference of the city administration to simple remedies which can restore the market to its former glory. I’ve made several attempts to stir the administration’s attention. The city does not need to hire a consultant,” he said. “It does need to listen to the tenants.”
Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack posted a message on his Twitter account in response to the op-ed: “Too little too late, Dennis. Decades of city management have failed the market. Time for structural change, not just Op-Eds. Let’s bring in an independent nonprofit management system.”
Cleveland recently announced that David K. O’Neil was selected as the consultant to review market operations. O’Neil is an internationally known expert in the development of public markets and their local economies, according to a press release.
“There’s never been an interest by City Hall in the West Side Market. The city needs to figure out how to get more vendors and lower the price of food. People will flock to the market if they can get food at a decent price,” said Kucinich. “How does a consultant from outside the city know more about the market than people that live in Cleveland? The next mayor must bring the market back and not take it out of public control. That’s the worst idea imaginable.”
With the future of Burke Lakefront Airport and lakefront development at stake in the next election, Kucinich wants to see more citizen groups involved in the decision-making process. The lakefront belongs to the people of Cleveland and it’s part of their heritage, according to him. While he maintains that he has a plan for development, he won’t talk about it until after he decides on the mayoral race.
“I’m walking in the direction towards it,” said Kucinich, referring to his interest in running for mayor.
The filing deadline is June 16, 2021. Primary elections take place on September 14, 2021, with the nonpartisan general election on November 2, 2021.
Editor’s Note: Plain Press readers and candidates for public office are invited to contribute to creating a more progressive city. The newly created website “Lake Effects: Progressive thinking for the Cleveland we want” offers an opportunity for you to contribute your ideas. The site created by David Beach is now online at: lake-effects.org. “The goal of the site is to create a resource for citizens and candidates for Mayor and City Council that will provide a useful collection of issues and ideas while stimulating a discussion about what a progressive city can be like,” says David Beach.