Sparks fly during Cleveland’s mayoral debate

CLEVELAND-Incumbent Mayor Frank Jackson faced off with challenger Councilman Zack Reed in a contentious debate Thursday afternoon.

The City Club event marked the first and only time the two candidates for Cleveland mayor were scheduled to debate one-on-one before election day on November 7.

Jackson pushed his accomplishments reforming safety and education and in drawing investment and development to the city.

He also went on offense, presenting Reed as saying whatever is politically advantageous with little to show for it.

“What’s your plan? How are you going to build your wall? How you going to create the environment that allows for investment? I have demonstrated that. I've done it,” Jackson said.

Reed, who has campaigned on a “safety first” platform, called for more to be done to combat crime and poverty in Cleveland neighborhoods. He portrayed Jackson as disconnected after 12 years in office.

“When you elect me mayor, you'll have a safer city of Cleveland, and a safer city means a city thriving with jobs, economic opportunities,” Reed said, adding that he feels improved safety will draw investment to the city. “Look at our wards today, and look at our neighborhoods today. On November 7th, that will change.”

Among a primary field of nine candidates, Jackson scored about 39 percent of the vote, while Reed pulled in about 22 percent.

Moderators and City Club members raised several topics that have made headlines in recent years, including the consent decree between the U.S. Justice Department and City of Cleveland regarding police reforms.

“It has been successful, it’s moving in the right direction, and one of the reasons why it’s been successful is because we were working on things before the consent decree,” Jackson said, adding additional training, equipment and technology have been added to the police force.

Reed pointed to a string of police shootings and faulted Jackson for continuing to employ Executive Assistant to the Mayor for Special Projects Martin Flask, who was Director of Public Safety for eight years until 2014 and Michael McGrath, who was Cleveland Police Chief for nine years before being promoted to Director of Public Safety in 2014.

“The debacle within the safety department, these two individuals got promoted, instead of getting fired,” Reed said.

There was also disagreement over a multi-million dollar dirt bike track proposed by Jackson, which Reed opposes.

“I'm not going to waste $2.4 million on a dirt bike track that 95 percent of people in the City of Cleveland will not use,” Reed said.

They also sparred over the handling of the issue of buses in public square, and the state of education in Cleveland after Jackson produced “The Cleveland Plan” to reform schools.

Jackson has said improvement of the education system would define whether he was a success or failure as mayor. He gave himself a C+ grade when asked whether he’s been successful or a failure.

“I'm not going to say an A because we have a way to go, but I would say a C+, and we're continuing to work on it,” he said.   Reed called the reform plan a complete failure.

“You can't call yourself a C+ when the state has called you an F on more than one occasion,” he said.

Jackson also defended making Reed’s three DUI convictions a campaign issue.

“What the issue is, is about judgement and accepting responsibility and holding himself accountable for actions,” Jackson said.

Reed said rehab and treatment have made him a better person.

“I have faced up to the fact I made a mistake, not once, not twice, but three times. So, don't let someone tell you I didn't do something, I did do something,” he said.

Reed, who has represented Ward two since 2001, said it’s time for change, particularly on safety.

“[Jackson] doesn't have a plan because he's just sat, and sat, and sat and said – you know what his famous words are – ‘It is what it is.’ And I'm telling you people that stops on November 7th.”

Jackson said he’s guided the city through tough times, including the 2008 economic downturn and state cuts, and needs a fourth term to finish what he’s started.

“It happened because we put the work in, and that is what it is,” Jackson said.

More stories on the Cleveland mayoral race here