Cleveland Mayoral candidates crowd the field
by Bruce Checefsky
(Plain Press, May 2021) More than a dozen candidates have registered with Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to raise money towards the Cleveland mayoral election scheduled to take place on November 2, 2021, with others expected to announce their candidacy in the coming weeks.
Blaine Griffin announced that he will not run for Cleveland mayor but will seek re-election on City Council. With Kelley announcing his interest in the mayor’s office, Griffin will likely succeed as council president. Mayor Frank Jackson has remained silent on his bid for an unprecedented fifth term.
Latorya Jean Witcher
Latorya Jean Witcher, Founder, President & CEO at BWE Entertainment LLC, a local underground recording label and promotional company that specializes within all aspects of entertainment and entrepreneurship, promises that under her leadership, the City of Cleveland will prosper and grow by getting other politicians, precinct committee representatives, city council members, and community leaders to create a strategy using the voices of the Cleveland community to build upon the success of the present administration.
“Our people and neighborhoods feel like they don’t have a voice,” she said. “I will start with town hall meetings where precinct people and our council members attend to collect data to find out what is necessary in our communities. We can seek the funds to support initiates and programs.”
Witcher would like to see more city contracts go to local businesses rather than companies from outside the Cleveland area, to do everything from repairing roads to new construction projects, where the funding used to pay for services and repairs stay within the community. Rebuilding communities should begin with investing in local businesses.
“A lot of people with local businesses don’t know about resources available to them,” Witcher said. “My administration will bring awareness to resources to rebuild the city.”
As for persistent food deserts spread across Cleveland, Witcher would sit down with local food business owners to find a way of bringing nutritious and healthy food to the neighborhoods.
“It all goes back to our community leaders. If we could identify those elderly and disabled people that are not able to get healthy food, we should try to get buses or work with RTA to provide more transportation during certain hours of the day,” said Witcher. “I would ask Uber and Lyft to provide services. We need to encourage business owners to put grocery stores in those areas.”
Witcher believes that it’s time to examine the City of Cleveland financial books for unnecessary expenses and put more money towards downtown development. She would also like to see five or six billion dollars go towards building up the struggling communities outside downtown.
“We have a limited city budget. I would like community leaders to come up with a strategy for making our communities better,” she said. “Poverty is a big issue. We need to be working together with our community and local businesses to come up with a strategy to help people get out from poverty.”
Witcher wants more cultural projects to flourish in the city like the music industry which she belongs to. She’s been working with local cultural institutions including the Cleveland Museum of Art to collaborate and promote artists.
As far as crime goes, police officers need to interact with the community, in her view.
“We need to build more community engagement to build trust between the police and residents of Cleveland,” she said.
Twenty-nine-year-old Hudson native Arthur O’Kostendt thinks that Cleveland’s government has failed residents in law and order, public education, the environment, and City Hall operations. The self-described law-and-order candidate, he wants to initiate a set of political reforms that could put many out of a job.
O’Kostendt spent a year deployed overseas in the Middle East while serving in the Army. The experience inspired him to run for mayor. A major weakness Cleveland as a city is local leadership in government is negligent, and poor delivery of public service, according to him.
“Our leaders are selfish and misuse the time and money the community provides them,” he said. “Issues like crime and public schools, and administrative efficiency go back to the leadership. If we can improve that, everyone will have a better experience of the city.”
O’Kostendt has been driving for Insomnia Cookies, a chain of bakeries in the United States that specializes in delivering warm cookies, baked goods, and ice cream. At night he is studying for the bar exam, which he hopes to pass in May. He’s also working on a gaming license at Jack Casino to work at night as a dealer while waiting to open a law practice in Cleveland. He plans to specialize in family, divorce, and child custody cases as well as real estate.
Citizens are entitled to four priorities based upon our agreement with the government, according to O’Kostendt. His first-priority as mayor is to defend his neighbors from crime; second is public education. Protecting the environment and discipling municipal government to enforce professionalism and productivity in the departments round out his priority list.
With crime prevention, O’Kostendt wouldn’t make budgetary changes right away. He intends to increase staffing on the police force. More homicide detectives are needed, better use of technology in solving and preventing crime, and installing a CCTV system (closed-circuit television) throughout the city is a possibility.
“It’s very easy to determine where more watchful eyes are needed in the city,” he said. “Camera drones can be used to augment the functions that were performed once upon a time by police helicopters. Technology exists to detect gunshots and improve police response time.”
As for public education, O’Kostendt admits that he doesn’t have a lot of experience in that area. He acknowledges Cleveland Public Schools achievement record is very poor. The quality of the schools reflect the quality of the people inside them, according to him.
“Careful hiring is needed when it comes to schools. A good ratio of responsible adults to students, with constant evaluation, and challenging our educators to perform better are keys to success,” he said.
Litter and graffiti, and vagrancy are depressing elements across the city. If it were up to O’Kostendt, a team of volunteers would be rounded up to keep the streets clean. “It all starts with good government and public servants,” he said.
Ross DiBello wants the voting public to know that he’s seen a lot of Cleveland, from east to west side, and downtown, while working for Judge Cassandra Collier-Williams, Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas General Division. DiBello started as a receptionist/law-clerk/lawyer at The Law Offices of Cassandra Collier-Williams, LLC, and assisted on her two judicial campaigns in 2010 and 2012. Before that, he paid the bills as a professional poker player and made it to the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2009. Politics is a lot like poker, he admitted.
“Poker is hard work. It took a lot of discipline and time to train your mind,” he said. “The winning and losing is tough to handle, and if you don’t learn how to deal with it immediately, you won’t be doing it for long.”
DiBello played poker 15 hours days for months on end with a hermit-like existence playing the same video game over and over. He eventually quit and went to law school.
Lead paint poisoning and Cleveland’s top ranking as the poorest city in the country, infant mortality, along with other systemic problems, are core issues to his political campaign platform. Furthering the wealth divide is a problem.
“My platform is government reform to reprioritize our tax dollars. Our tax dollars are being used to entrench the current administration and further the wealth divide,” said DiBello. “I would significantly lower campaign finance limits from $5,000 to $750 per person, and drop the corporate PAC limits from $7500 to $250. I want to institute term limits to two, four-year terms maximum for both council persons and the mayor.”
DiBello said that he would install public comments at all city council meetings along with reforms to the petition signing process. Through various technicalities, a number of petitions signed by thousands of citizens have been ignored, including the minimum wage petition, according to him.
“These reforms would allow us to put money back into City Hall services. The Public Health Department can’t even afford an epidemiologist. The present administration quit on the recycling program without ever telling the people,” said DiBello. “The majority of our tax dollars are going to a select few big businesses and that’s not fair when small businesses are closing their doors during the pandemic.”
DiBello believes that rebuilding the city neighborhoods should be tied to the $541 million as part of the federal coronavirus relief bill, with better marketing and chain of communication to ensure equitable distribution of the funds.
Non-profits could provide more nutritious and healthy food to do away with city wide food deserts, along with an increase in urban farming, according to DiBello. Areas of the city that were left out of the opportunity zone program, along with city tax abatement, need reform. Rent caps and escalation protection clauses should be part of the city code to make sure long time and elderly residents are not being forced from their homes because of rising property taxes.
Closing Burke Lakefront Airport isn’t a problem for DiBello, even though he understands the federal government needs to be involved. “It would be in the best interest of Clevelanders and future generations if that was not an airport,” he said.