Justin Bibb launches his mayoral campaign

Mayoral candidate Justin Bibb

Justin Bibb launches his mayoral campaign

by Bruce Checefsky                                                                                     

(Plain Press, April 2021)      Justin Bibb launched his 2021 Cleveland Mayoral campaign in mid-January. Since then, he’s been busy working the social media platforms of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and participating in live streaming programs including The City Club of Cleveland Forum on Politics and Public Policy, as well as appearing on local news and radio stations. His message is simple: people are tired of being sick and tired.

   “For far too long, Cleveland has been a lagger, not a leader. We need a sense of urgency to reject the status quo and we need innovation to leverage the community assets,” he said. 

   Bibb, 33, was raised in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood and witnessed firsthand the violence of poverty and undermining of communities in need of basic food and health amenities, and safety.  He received his Juris Doctor law degree and Masters’ Degree in Business Administration. from Case Western Reserve University and his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Urban Studies from American University. He also holds a General Course degree with an emphasis in Social Policy and Economics from the London School of Economics. He spent a year studying urban policy and economic development at the London School of Economics.

   Bibb interned for Barack Obama, when he was in the United States Senate. He was special assistant to Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald and worked in various corporate and strategic consulting roles. Currently, he works with mayors, business leaders and community organizations across the country as the Chief Strategy Officer of Urbanova, an innovative start-up that leads new initiatives to make cities safer, healthier and more resilient. 

   His mayoral campaign platform promises to include innovative programs to rebuild the economically depressed sections of Cleveland with more targeted investments in the Southeast side, for example, and raise additional capital beyond City Hall to drive investment into the neighborhoods. Housing and transit costs need structural change, according to Bibb, giving residents the ability to access vacant land in a more streamlined way, to repurpose the properties in support of the community.

   “The Southeast side of Cleveland could be a prime cluster for advanced manufacturing. We have to make sure we’re providing skilled training for the residents to take advantage of those advanced manufacturing jobs,” said Bibb. “We have a number of different neighborhood-based businesses in the Southeast that aren’t connected to the digital economy. Many of the local businesses don’t have email accounts or access to highspeed broad band. We have to work with organizations like Jump Start and GCP (Greater Cleveland Partnership) to create a digital main street initiative to get the business the digital acumen to grow in scale. Cleveland Neighborhood Progress can play a large role in helping to close the access to investment capital.”

   “We need to make sure Mount Pleasant and Union-Miles, and other CDC’s (Community Development Corporations), have the resources they need. Detroit Shoreway and Tremont are well resourced. You don’t have that with the Southeast neighborhoods.”

   For his plan to work Bibb knows the economic development system has to evolve. Advanced manufacturing firms have to be identified. A clear and concise plan is necessary. He believes leveraging federal and state resources around clusters of manufacturing and development provide the best opportunity for success. 

   “If you don’t have a cluster base support of economic development for the neighborhood, then how are we going to make sure we’re targeting investment in the right way?” Bibb asked. “With a clear, cohesive strategy at the macro level for the entire city, but also at the very hyper-local level as well, we can really go a long way.”

   Opportunity CLE, a collaboration between the city of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Cleveland Development Advisors, the Fund for Our Economic Future and the Cuyahoga Land Bank, launched its strategy for taking advantage of the federal “opportunity zone” program back in March 2016. There is an estimated $6 trillion in unrealized capital gains in the U.S., according to Opportunity CLE. The opportunity zone program aims to put those dollars into distressed communities in need of investment

   In Cuyahoga County, there are 48 opportunity zones in the city of Cleveland and 16 spread across Bedford Heights, Brook Park, Cleveland Heights, Euclid, Garfield Heights, Maple Heights, North Randall, Richmond Heights and Warrensville Heights. The region’s most-distressed communities, such as East Cleveland, did not get any. Cuyahoga County’s 64 Opportunity Zones have been grouped into 11 districts: Downtown Cleveland, W. 25th-MetroHealth Corridor, Health-Tech Corridor, Opportunity Corridor, Glenville-Rockefeller Park Innovation District, Euclid/Collinwood Industrial Corridor, Outer Belt Development District, Aerozone Innovation Hub, Cuyahoga County Airport District, Transportation Boulevard Development District and Caledonia Park District. 

   Opportunity Zones offer tax breaks to investors who help finance long-term development projects and/or improvements in low-income census tracts selected by the governor of each state.  Critics of the program believe funds often go to projects that would have happened anyway and Opportunity Zones mostly subsidize real estate deals, with modest job growth, boost middle-class housing, not affordable housing, and don’t help the poorest neighborhoods.

   Proximity to the inner suburbs gives the Southeast corridor of Cleveland plenty of opportunities despite being left out of the Opportunity Zones program, according to Bibb. The Kinsman Road corridor to Shaker Heights, near the Lee-Harvard area, could be a major connecting point for development to be catalytic.

   “Proximity to the Eastside suburbs is a big part of development,” he said. “Property and land value prices are affordable right now in the Southeastern sector. The cost of starting a business would be a lot lower than in other parts of the city. There’s also a wealth of untapped opportunity of talent in the East side of the city. They may not have the same college credentials as other parts of the city, but you have a workforce, if trained appropriately could be ready to work but we have to connect our education and workforce systems.”

   Bibb wants to see a modern and engaged City Hall that will help finance his development plans. Millions of dollars of inefficiencies plague local government. Bibb points to an ineptitude of incompetence in the current administration.

   “By restructuring City government to do more with less and work better for our taxpayers, we will be able to find the resources we need to invest in improving the quality of life for our residents and make the smart investments to grow our economy.”

   Lakefront development has been a part of every Cleveland mayoral campaign for decades. Burke Lakefront Airport is owned and operated by the City of Cleveland, which also operates Hopkins International Airport. Burke covers an area of 450 acres built on landfill, with 3.1 miles of Lake Erie shoreline. Flight operations at Burke have declined 66% from roughly 100,000 in 2000 to roughly 34,000 in 2018.

   Despite the sharp decline in use, Mayor Jackson stated publicly that he does not plan to close Burke Lakefront Airport anytime soon. Bibb isn’t as convinced. 

   “We need a plan for Burke and start a conversation now so we can lay out a path to decommission Burke and find the right value of the lakefront asset over a long-term basis. It’s a 10 to15 year effort to get it done but every year we wait, it’s a missed opportunity,” he said. “In my first 100 days as Mayor, I want to launch a commission to decommission Burke, and work with our federal partners and state delegations to make sure we’re doing everything we can and connect the decision to a larger strategy for lakefront development.”

   “We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” added Bibb.

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.

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