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Early Voting Underway in Cleveland Mayoral Primary

August 29, 2021 by Dan McCue
Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio speaking during the Ohio Democratic Party's fifth debate in the primary race for governor in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

CLEVELAND — Early voting is now underway in Cleveland, where an unexpectedly robust race for mayor is headed into its final weeks before a Sept. 14, 2021 primary election.

A total of seven candidates are vying to replace Frank Jackson, Cleveland’s longest-serving chief, who announced in May that he would not seek a fifth term in office.

Jackson, who was first elected mayor of Cleveland in 2005, after he defeated incumbent Jane Campbell has been a popular figure in the city, but his final term was marked by multiple family scandals and a rise in both the violent crime and poverty rate in the city.

Already this year, gun confiscations are reportedly up 120% in the city and homicides are on pace to outnumber 2020, with 88 homicides in the first six months of 2021 — up from 63 in the same period of 2020 — the Cleveland Police Department said.

Against this backdrop, several of Mayor Jackson’s grandchildren were arrested in separate incidents involving area police departments.

In announcing his intention not to seek re-election, Jackson said “Everything we do in Cleveland and we’re successful at turns out to be a total community effort. But I’m not retired until I turn out the lights. When I turn out the lights, and I’m no longer here, then my plans are to do nothing unless I want to do it.”

As sobering as some things currently are in Cleveland, Jackson’s announcement set off what has become a crowded primary contest to succeed him.

The top two finishers in September’s primary will face each other again on November 2, when Cleveland voters will select their first new leader in almost two decades in the general election.

The seven candidates vying to be the city’s next mayor are former mayor and congressman Dennis Kucinich, who has been leading in the early polls, nonprofit executive Justin Bibb, attorney Ross DiBello, City Councilman Basheer Jones, City Council President Kevin Kelley, former City Councilman Zack Reed, and State Senator Sandra Williams.

Kelley, Bibb, Jones and Reed are all clustered right behind Kucinich in early polls and each has an advantage that could lead to a last-minute upset.

Kelley, for instance, is the leader with cash on-hand, his support coming from the business and construction trade communities. Justin Bibb has built up a strong campaign network of both paid staff and young volunteers, while Jones is known as a spirited public speaker who has fared well in recent debates.

Reed meanwhile has been campaigning hard and has a lot of support from his former city council district.

According to a recent poll of likely primary voters commissioned by North Shore AFL-CIO and conducted by public opinion poll company Change Research, Kucinich is the front-runner for the Sept. 14 election with 20% of the vote, followed by a tight pack of contenders for the second spot on the general election ballot.

Kevin Kelley garnered 13% of the vote in the poll, Zack Reed and Justin Bibb each got 12%, followed by Basheer Jones with 11%, Sandra Williams with 8% and Ross DiBello with 1%. Twenty-one percent of those polled responded that they were not sure for whom they would vote.

The poll, which collected the opinions of 451 likely mayoral primary votes, found that Kucinich had broad support among men and women, Democrats and independents, those with and without a college degree, and most age groups, with the exception of 35 to 49-year-olds, who favored Jones.

Kucinich, who was already mayor from 1977 to 1979, also had the highest name recognition – 96% of respondents knew who he is, and he had a net positive favorability rating among the voters polled: 42% viewed him favorably, 38% did not.

Bibb was the only other candidate with a net-positive favorability rating. Among Black voters, Jones and Reed were the top candidates, with a statistically-tied 20% and 19% of the vote, respectively. Jones and Kucinich were the top second choices in that demographic.

The poll also found that 86% of respondents believe the Cleveland city government “is not working well and needs a major overhaul to make it more transparent and responsive to the needs of the city,” as opposed to “Working fine and needs only some small adjustments.”

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