Submitted by Roldo on Mon, 07/20/2009 - 18:44.

Sometimes you try to put people into boxes they don’t fit into. Mayor Frank Jackson is one of those people difficult to place. At least for me.


Is he just another politician? Or is he, as he says, the “right man” for the times. These not so good times.


I talked to Mayor Jackson because I happen to look at an old clipping that told me something about him and where he came from. I wanted to know more.


The clip was something I wrote in 1984 about the death of Lonnie Burten. Burten had been the Councilman of Ward 5, the city’s poorest ward, in Jackson’s Central area. Jackson didn’t succeed Burten after he died but he did eventually take that seat. He became a rescuer of that depressed ward. As its Councilman, Jackson brought it bundles of federal money.


Lonnie Burten had toppled two of the toughest old-time black politicians - Charlie Carr and Jimmy Bell. He got shot by someone during one of the campaigns against Carr. He survived that attack.


However, he died by heart attack at 40. I wrote upon Burten’s death: “Burten had the potential to become a true folk here. He did not achieve that status because he seemed to lack focus for his tremendous energy and thus the impact that creates legends.”


Burten and Jackson were youthful friends. When Jackson moved to 38th and Central, Burten “was the first person to knock on our door” and they became friends over the years. Burten went to college; Jackson to the Army.


People told Burten he was “crazy” to run against Carr. Crazy enough to get shot but live to defeat the legendary Carr in 1981. Jackson and the late David Donaldson, despite the danger, campaigned with Burten.


Burten later tried to topple Council President George Forbes. He came within a vote of winning. Councilman Mike White put so much pressure on first-term Councilman (now judge) Larry Jones that Jones changed his vote from Burten to Forbes.

“I told Lonnie that he needed 13 votes not just 11 votes,” recalled Jackson.


Preston Terry III succeeded Burten with Jackson’s help. But, as Jackson puts it, “things went awry” and Jackson ran and defeated Terry in 1989.  


Jackson laughed. He didn’t really want to be a Councilman. He was a city prosecutor at the time. He laughed again because he said, “I didn’t want to be Council President,” followed by “I didn’t want to be Mayor either.” It seems Jackson rises without any visible passion for power.


And that’s the strange thing. I believe him. From time to time for years I would make it up to Jackson’s Council office for talks. He never gave me the impression of wanting a higher office. He did have very strong opinions and I’d say a streak of stubbornness for his views.


But he also always played his cards close to the chest.


Mayor Jackson’s re-election spokesman Tom Andrzejewski said, “It’s still painful” for Jackson when I asked to talk to the Mayor about Burten’s influence upon him.


Jackson, in his low key way, said, “He passed away. It bothered me. We were pretty close.”


Jackson did say that he often thinks of Burten.


Burten was a larger than life person though likely pretty much forgotten or unknown to most Clevelanders.


“Burten,” I wrote in 1984, “was always a study in contrasts. Avoiding drink, meat and smoking and apparently in good physical condition, he died of a heart attack. He was stricken while demolishing a house he once lived in on East 38th Street…He had lived in a corner of the house, which was heated by a kerosene space heater… Damage from a fire had made the house uninhabitable.


“The fire had destroyed many of Burten’s belongings. Among the rubbish a visiting reporter found a leather-bound copy of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. Burten gave the copy to him.


“He was a politician, a ghetto philosopher, a carpenter, auto mechanic, even an artist. One of his pieces, a multi-media portrait of an elderly black man, hangs in an office at Case Western Reserve University.”


“He had a natural and charismatic flair,” said a professor told me.


He told me Burten had aspirations of being an academic but he told Burton his future was in politics, not academia.


Isn’t that what Cleveland needs right now? Someone with charisma. Unfortunately, Burten died. And it’s not clear he ever would have been able to go as far as Jackson has.


Jackson says he’s the right man to be mayor of Cleveland at this time. It’s clear to me that he was in the right place to take advantage of Jane Campbell’s inability to understand Cleveland politics. She was there for the picking; he for the taking.


I’ve been curious about whether Mayor Jackson had an ideology behind his political ambitions. It doesn’t seem so.


He does say “You always remember where you came from. You always go back home.” That’s his political reference point.


I believe he means it, too.


However, Jackson has been a mayor – unlike, say Dennis Kucinich – who has gone along with all the major projects that don’t seem so favorable for the economically deprived. He favors the Medical Mart and Convention Center, the expensive Port Authority relocation and all kinds of development subsidies.


Though he says of his philosophy, “You can’t live large when others are suffering.”


I don’t believe he’s living large. He laughs when people say he doesn’t really live in his home in the deprived Central area. “They say I really live in Shaker,” he says laughing.


Maybe Frank Jackson is the right person to be mayor of Cleveland right now. But for how long?  I asked him how long he thought he wanted to be Mayor of Cleveland.


He says he wants to build on his foundation. He sees balancing the budget as a major achievement. It is an achievement when so much of government is drowning in red ink. But it’s a holding action.


The closest he comes to giving a hint of when he’s likely ready to leave the office is this: “I don’t want to be an impediment to my own purpose.” It’s often hard for politicians to recognize that point.


Jackson is a low key kind of guy. He projects a steady hand at the helm, even if that’s the mark of a caretaker Mayor.


The person who upends him will have to offer Clevelanders – and voters will have to be ready to accept – some flair and excitement. They will have to be a sharp contrast to Jackson.


It may not be long, I believe, when Cleveland will want someone who gives them something to look forward to, some spark and flair. Someone who will promise more than a balanced budget.


I don’t think it’s this election. I don’t think we can wait too much longer. Cleveland needs a big lift.

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The BIG LIft

Mayor Jackson is definitely a study in contrasts.  Clumsy on camera, but in person disarmingly wry and almost charismatic.  He doesn't seem drunk with the power like most politicians--but more weary of the mantle.  I think he is certainly capable of better management of his personnel. 

As much as folks want to bad mouth, Mayor Mike White--as a city resident, he made me feel that the wheels were turning in my favor while he held office.  I know that there will always be petty corruption.  It seems to be a fact of life.  Look how well the scammers have set up their own falls around here.  A few years in restful reflection and then they get to retire to the riches they amassed off the backs of city folk. 

Frank Jackson won't have that luxury.  So, why can't he rise above our local political mess?  It seems he can't outsmart the fox(s), like Mike White, and it adds to the general inertia.  We are in a national depression, so Jackson can't be completely faulted for our collective malaise.

But, we desperately need a vision, or as you say, Roldo--a BIG Lift. 

NOTE: this video was pilfered from BHCleveland:

All's fair in love and war :)

Jackson's four challengers ...

... in one context or another all hit on Roldo's last point about spark and flair. I met yesterday with Laverne Jones Gore, who is running, and she, too, mentioned that she doesn't know that Cleveland can wait much longer for that promise.

No candidate seems to have established him or herself as a clear alternative. (I've been accused by some of favoring the mayor, an assertion I'm sure would make him laugh, but I am simply stating what I have observed thus far)

I'm working on a few pieces about how the mayor's race is shaking out this year, what people in the neighborhoods are saying and who the four challengers are. It is noteworthy that it is July 21, seven weeks before the primary, and the mayor's race lacks the buzz it has in previous election cycles. The focus on government locally seems to have slowly drifted away from City Hall and to the county.

But since City Hall is my beat, I want to offer as much as I can on the mayoral and council races. I'm interested in feedback and ideas for questions and topics. I also hope you will check out the Inside City Hall blog. I'm hoping that when there is less room in print to explore some of these races, I can use the blog to get things out there. I've been doing it so far with the endorsement interviews with council candidates (I sit in the meetings but only to take notes and ask the occassional question; I do not participate in the actual endorsement deliberations with the editorial board).

Anyhow, sorry for rambling. Thanks for the piece, Roldo.


Link to Mr. Gomez's Inside City Hall blog

Cleveland City Council Chambers have permanent seats - with name plates on the table - for the Cleveland legacy media.   Call and Post, Plain Dealer, etc.   Facing the podium, the press seats are on the far left of the audience area.

In the times I have visited the Chamber when the Councilor's were conductiing business, it was rare that any media folks were attending.

The PD's business decision to support Mr. Gomez's Inside City Hall blog,  coupled with Mr. Gomez's competent reporting and active engagement with the local (including the online) community, is one (of very few) aspects of the PD which deserves public attention.

Jeff, just now saw this

Thanks for the compliment. I appreciate the support RealNEO and its readers have given the Inside Cleveland City Hall blog.

I prefer to stand in the audience at the council meetings. It's easier to move around and pull aside a council member or Cabinet member if I need to; when it's really crowded I'll set up at the designated Plain Dealer table so I'm not disruptive or blocking anyone's view.

Inside City Hall

Henry G. Thanks for reading this site!  I am sorry that it can get a little rank at times. 

I hope that your editors are looking at the BIG untold story on council structure, CDCs and the shadow county/developer control of real estate transactions via demolitions and "forgiven" liens.  Have you read Black and White by Lewis Shiner?  A great read and it should be a contender for the local Ainsfield-Wolf Award.

I anxiously await more of your good work and more investigation by Gabriel Baird.


Laura McShane