What it would take (to bring down Frank Jackson)

Submitted by Randino on Tue, 04/11/2017 - 06:00.

 What it would take (to bring down Frank Jackson)

by Randy Cunningham


            Mayor Frank Jackson is Cleveland’s longest serving mayor.  His story is full of contradictions. He was an early hero of advocates for low income housing when as a councilman, he was instrumental in keeping Longwood Estates and Rainbow Terrace as subsidized housing.  He has fought charter schools and supported hiring city residents for construction projects.  Despite declaring his loyalty to the least of Cleveland’s residents, he has found the power of the Greater Cleveland Partnership irresistible and has become the toast of the elite for bringing to completion a long list of downtown development projects.  The jewel in the crown of his labors was the 2016 Republican National Convention which was a success despite City Hall’s hysterical predictions of riot and ruin that turned the city into a police state. 

            But, in the immortal words of the Grateful Dead, “When life looks like Easy Street, there is danger at your door.” The most recent years of Frank’s tenure have been as filled with pot holes as Cleveland’s streets.  You had a mad car chase by the CPD in November 2012 that resulted in 137 bullets being fired into the bodies of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, who were not armed after all.  You had the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a murder that the CDP got away with like they usually do.  The backroom maneuver by Jackson and Council President Kevin Kelley to prevent a vote on the Raise Up $15 minimum wage proposal, set a new standard for political depravity at City Hall. So determined were they to beat back this proposal, that they made common cause with city hating GOP legislators in Columbus to pass legislation that not only blocked the wage referendum, but prevented any other city in the state from considering such legislation, thus diminishing local home rule even further.  You have the never-ending sickness unto death of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.  You have the curse of lead poisoned children and neighborhoods.  Those neighborhoods have also become shooting galleries of out of control gun play and a gangsterism that has decayed into a dystopian state of all versus all.  Despite all the glittering success of downtown, out where most Clevelanders live it is the same old, same old of decay, decline and despair.  To add insult to this list of injuries, the Jackson administration has spared no effort to further prostrate itself before the Cleveland Partnership, by backing yet another feast of subsidies for billionaire Dan Gilbert’s renovation of the Q for the Cavaliers. The glaring contradiction between downtown splendor and neighborhood squalor is a problem that causes unspoken unease among downtown boosters, even though their solutions to the problem is charity and the mailed fist of law enforcement, not justice.   

            This unease has even caused some to think the unthinkable - that Jackson may not be Mayor for Life after all. His aura of invincibility has been his greatest political asset, but the heap of problems besetting him has inspired some to dream of unseating him.  However, it is one thing to dream. It is another to execute a successful campaign to overthrow as popular and powerful a politician as Jackson.  What would the plotters need to consider?   


Splitting the Elite.

            One path forward in bringing an end to the Jackson regime is to split the ranks of those who really run Cleveland, namely the corporate elite that owns Cleveland.  You can include in their ranks the apparatchiks in the non-profit world and those who staff the higher levels of such mega powers as the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western University, and the Cleveland and Gund foundations.   

            There is some precedence for splitting the elite in the history of Cleveland politics.  Carl Stokes Jr. relied on the patronage of Cyrus Eaton of the Eaton corporation, to help him lay out the path to the Mayor’s office.  Old Cyrus knew the old racist ethnic political order was bad for business. It was better to have the African American population inside the tent of power, otherwise as was seen in the Hough riots of 1966, they might decide to burn the tent down. It did not end well for Carl who in the end left office embittered that the corporate elite just wanted to make him their Negro. Nevertheless, it did work well enough that the old racist ethnic regime of the past was never able to regain its footing at City Hall and the African American elite was coopted and is now comfortable inside the tent.  

            Just a cursory look at the powers that be in Cleveland shows an elite that is fat, dumb and happy with the Jackson regime and has few reasons to complain, and no reasons to encourage or help engineer Jackson’s ouster.  They certainly appreciate the end of the Caudillo style of mayoral politics that was so common in previous years.  Jackson is as colorless a manager as another of their favorites, George Voinovich was and that is just fine with them.

            However, his greatest asset is that he has kept the lid on any unrest in the general population of Cleveland’s neighborhoods, in the face of great provocations from the fourth branch of government in Cleveland – the Cleveland Police Department and its unions. The response of the general population to the Tamir Rice shooting and the mad 2012 car chase was deafening silence.  The passivity and resignation of most Clevelanders is the bedrock of Cleveland politics.

            But if the current time of peace but no justice is broken, then the whole game will change and we will now look at the only place where that can begin – from the neighborhoods and from the forgotten base of Cleveland society. 


Rebellion from below.

            If the elite is happy with Frank, then the only other place to turn to, to leverage his retirement is the forgotten neighborhoods of Cleveland.  For the past thirty years, they have rightfully felt like the step children of the city.  The downtown shines while news from the neighborhoods ranges from the depressing to the downright horrific. If the political establishment of the city is boasting about championship sports teams, upscale housing and hip new entertainment districts downtown, they are silent about the condition of the neighborhoods that subsist outside of the glare of success. 

            The neighborhoods of Cleveland are where a base could be imagined launching an insurgent politics. But there are big problems with this scenario.  First, more than a generation of not only white flight, but black flight has turned most of the neighborhoods of Cleveland into Indian reservations for the poor.  As countless studies have documented, the poor are the hardest people to organize.  About the only insurgent group that succeeded in this daunting task was the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, which is why the FBI and police departments across the country exterminated them. Being poor is a 24/7 job. It is all most poor people can do just to survive. Going to a meeting, much less organizing against some very powerful people, is as thinkable to them as interstellar space travel. 

            Then there is the legacy of a very successful counter insurgency campaign that was launched in Cleveland in the aftermath of the Kucinich administration.  The movers and shakers of Cleveland were not only tired of Kucinich’s urban populism, but were tired of noisy Alinsky style community organizing groups that occupied the lobbies of their office buildings and chased their CEOs around town and even picketed their homes.  It was time to reassert the control that the elite lost in the 1960s and to house break the neighborhoods and their trouble makers.  One crucial asset in this campaign were the large philanthropic foundations that have long set the public agenda in Cleveland. The Gund and Cleveland Foundations determine who lives and who dies in the world of Cleveland non-profits and they applied this power to pacify the neighborhoods.  Organizing groups were out, and development corporations were in.  Corporate envy became the ruling ethos of the development corporations.  No one spoke of a movement as they had in the past.  They were now an industry.  Within the world of non-profit directors, the word empowerment was banished from the dictionary, but you could not say economic development enough. So even if the poor were in the mood to rebel, there were no organizations left standing to help organize or support that rebellion.  The result was that for over a generation, those who own Cleveland enjoyed peace and quiet and could go about their business unmolested and unchallenged.

            There is some evidence that this happy state of affairs for our elite is ending or is at least in a state of high decay.  The civic ice age may be melting.  The recent controversy over the renovation of the Q has shown what has not existed in decades – a coherent and broad based opposition made up of the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, the Greater Cleveland Congregations, and two unions – the SEIU, and AFSCME along with a handful of council members who remember that they represent neighborhoods, not professional sports plutocrats like Cavalier’s owner Dan Gilbert.

            So, an opposition is brewing, but it is nowhere close to defeating a mayor with the power and elite consensus behind him like Frank Jackson does. The smart money is still with Frank. Then there is the issue of what the opposition would stand for and what it would do differently from the old regime.

Would defeating Frank mean anything?


            Throwing the bums out will not mean much if the new people just adopt the bums’ operating manual.  We might be faced with a situation where in the morrow of the revolution, the new leaders will wake up and say to themselves, “What the hell do we do now?” and have no answer.

            Any opposition that is dedicated to bringing a true new deal to Cleveland, instead of just the same old, same old must develop and articulate a new governing philosophy and ideology to distinguish themselves from Frank’s philosophy of jumping whenever the Cleveland Area Partnership says jump. It must depend on new sources of policy ideas – and not just let the Gund and Cleveland Foundations continue to set the parameters of what is and is not acceptable public policy.  That is a pretty tall order. So far what we have is just an incoherent wish list of long deferred reforms. Nice, but not something that will inspire people to support the new regime and defend it from the former masters of Cleveland who will still be around plotting their return and revenge.

            There is another very big problem facing anyone who would want to bring a new operating philosophy into City Hall.  It is the pre-emption legislation that has acted like political Round Up to wither any new local experiments in public policy that does pass ideological muster with conservative state legislatures.  Home rule is dead in Ohio. Over the past generation pre-emption legislation has prevented municipalities from enforcing residence requirements for city employees, has banned any efforts at gun control, has taken away any rights to regulate fracking activities, and now – thanks in no small part to the efforts of Frank Jackson and City Council President Kevin Kelley – municipalities cannot act to raise local minimum wages.  The ability of local governments – especially Cleveland – to experiment with public policy has been progressively restricted to smaller and smaller areas of concern.  When African American mayors began to get elected in the 1960s they found themselves presiding over cities that had already been looted of most of their wealth.  Today most local governments – especially in Ohio –  have been looted of their powers to govern.

            We have a rough row to hoe, but it is a good, steady work and is well worth the effort. We might bring in a good crop, but the harvest is a still some time in the future. How long no one knows.  But it won’t get any closer, unless we start the work now. 

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