CLEVELAND – Cleveland City Councilman Jeff Johnson officially entered the race for Mayor Tuesday. He was joined by his family as he pulled petitions at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections after taking questions from the press.
Johnson, who represents Ward 10, becomes the seventh and most prominent candidate to join the race so far. He will look to unseat incumbent Mayor Frank Jackson, who has held the office since 2006 and has not said if he will seek a fourth term.
“It’s time we look, I believe, to change directions of this city from where we’ve been for the last 11 years and move toward a more neighborhoods-first agenda,” Johnson said on the steps of the Board of Elections office.
Johnson previously served on council in the 1980s and served in the Ohio State Senate in the 1990s, but admitted a criminal conviction could become an issue in the mayoral campaign.
Johnson served 15 months behind bars after being convicted on federal extortion charges in 1998. Undercover tapes showed he demanded campaign contributions in exchange for helping local grocers with food stamps and liquor licenses.
“I want folks to look at my record. I don’t want them to ignore the fact that I made mistakes in the late 90s. I paid for my mistakes and had to rebuild my career,” Johnson said, adding that his record was since expunged.
Johnson later served in the administration of Mayor Jane Campbell before his reelection to City Council in 2009.
He said he will focus on spending resources to improve issues affecting neighborhoods, such as crime and poverty. He said the success of downtown has come at the expense of neighborhoods.
“Neighborhoods matter. We cannot continue to just focus on downtown. We can’t continue to think Cleveland is in a renaissance simply because we know how to throw a party for the Republicans or simply because we can build beautiful buildings or have multimillion dollar sports arenas for millionaires,” he said.
Councilman Zack Reed said he is also considering running for Mayor and plans to announce a decision by April 15.
Candidates must collect at least 3,000 signatures by late June to make the September primary ballot. The top two primary finishers will compete in the general election in November.