Commentary: Who Elected You Mayor?

by Brian Davis

A lot of times activists are criticized for not dealing with reality, but dealing in an academic or dream world. Critics say that we are cynical and overly sensitive. They say that we are the first to criticize, but we never offer realistic solutions. Activists never have to serve many divergent communities with varied backgrounds and prejudices. Most of these criticisms are not far off base. In fact, The Grapevine is just one of the songbooks for the choir.

Activists have to represent the idealistic viewpoint. They have to see things as they could be and say “why not?” It is a radical concept, but we need to elect leaders to serve the needs of the most vulnerable while raising society by convincing the citizens of the importance of your activities. A true leader shapes and molds the issues, as opposed to our current elected officials, who react to public opinion polls.

So what would I do if I were elected Mayor of the City of Cleveland? My first day, I would get every city worker together. I would tell them my plan for the next four years. I would outline my focus for the administration, which would be to significantly reduce poverty in Cleveland. We would bring in programs and ideas from around the country and around the world that have had the most success. I would then ask each employee to “adopt” two or three families who live below poverty.

A part of their week would have to be to check up on this family and help out whenever possible. The success of each city worker’s adopted family would factor into promotions and pay increases. This would allow the city workers to see how their efforts impact the families who they serve. It would give workers a taste of the bureaucratic nightmare that we have created. It is hoped that systems would work better if the people in charge of those bureaucracies had to navigate them on a regular basis. From police officers to sanitation workers, they would be responsible for helping to lift people out of poverty.

Housing

I would make housing my highest priority. From low income to high income, housing would be a priority. All development that took place would require a commitment to developing low-income subsidized housing as a part of the project. We would work with the County to construct a local housing trust fund to develop affordable housing funded by a modest fee in the tax homeowners pay when they buy a home.

Income and Jobs:

So that workers can afford this housing, we would pass a living wage ordinance in Cleveland. All organizations doing business with the City of Cleveland would have to pay a living wage. This would include non-profits that receive any funding and businesses that get any kind of tax abatement. This livable wage would also include health care. We would then publicly identify those businesses that are providing an anti-family poverty level wages.

I would also get public funding for a not-for-profit temporary service to compete against the exploitative downtown temporary services. This agency would put more money in the hands of those most in need. This would provide a decent income by which people could pay for housing and some stability.

Health Care:

Next, I would address the growing disparity in health care to low income and homeless people. Since we now only have one non-profit hospital, and the many of the for-profit hospitals seem to have plenty of money for new buildings and fancy research facilities. We need a commitment from the hospitals to serve low income individuals with a motto of a person’s health is priceless. We need longer-term respite care centers for people who stay on the streets. We need dental assistance for homeless and low-income people, so that the solution to a cavity is not pulling the problem tooth. (There is some stigma associated with showing up for a job interview with missing teeth).

I would convene a meeting with all the hospitals that operate in the community to begin to get some commitments to better health care for low-income individuals and families. I would also lobby the County Commissioners to significantly increase the Human Services levy to pass a separate Mental Health levy to bring funding for mental health services to those of other cities in Ohio. Then I would march down to Columbus and get the Alcohol and Drug Boards more money. Alcohol addiction services as well as mental health services should receive the same funding from HMOs as any other health problem. I would demand that housing people with drug problems be a part of the treatment efforts. Without housing, we are just wasting money putting people into treatment.

While in Columbus, I would urge that a stable source of funding be found for the Ohio Housing Trust fund and there be significant influx of money for housing. (Thank you for fixing the schools finally, but without housing no matter how great the school is homeless children have hard time learning). I would also tell the elected officials working in Columbus that their welfare plan is hurting our community. I would also tell the elected officials working in Columbus that their welfare plan is hurting our community.

Upon my return, I would direct my law department to file a lawsuit against alcohol and spirits producers and distributors. Using the same precedence established in the smoking lawsuits, I would sue in order to develop a source of funds to create treatment on demand for all our citizens.

Children’s Welfare:

I would ask that the two major foundations in the community fund the two major universities to collaborate on studies to show the health and welfare of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County children. That would be the measurement of my success or failure. If children were better off in this community than my efforts are successful. As long as I was talking to the two large foundations, I would ask why they fund programs that serve low-income individuals but they do not have any people living in poverty on their Boards

or Advisory committees?

Cleveland Public Schools:

I would return the school control to the community. I have enough to do without having to be the CEO of the schools. I would like to have a majority elected school board, but a couple of seats reserved for stakeholders like the City of Cleveland. This mix of elected and appointed Board should be held accountable to the community for improving the schools quickly.

I have no idea what I would do the second month…Oh yeah, those two important issues that so dominated the previous administration would be handled a little differently. First, I think that the importance of the airport is a little overblown. I would continue the strategy of the White Administration except to offer the City of Brookpark something in exchange for the loss of the IX Center. Second, I would end all public subsidies for play- grounds for the rich. The importance of sports to our economy has been way overstated and I would hold these publicly funded playgrounds accountable to returning a profit to the citizens of Cleveland.

At the end of my term, I am sure that Cleveland would be a better place to live and there would be fewer homeless people on the streets. Homelessness is a solvable problem and through leadership and broad community activism we can implement the years of trial and error to begin to reduce poverty.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 35, June 1999, Cleveland, Ohio