Candidate’ Debate

By Alex Grabtree

             Cleveland tenants and homeless people held the fourth annual tenant Town Hall Forum and invited all ten candidates running for Mayor of Cleveland to talk about their plans for improving access to affordable housing.  The forum took lace only four days after the terrorist attack in New York and Washing D.C.  Despite the close proximity to the September national tragedy 150 people showed up to listen to the next Mayor of Cleveland. 

            After a moment of silent reflection and introductions by the host for the evening, Councilman Frank Jackson thanked all of those who came out to embrace democracy in this time of national mourning.  The event was co-sponsored by the northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, the Cleveland Tenants organization, the Alliance of Cleveland HUD Tenants, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Councilpersons, Jackson, Joe Cimperman, Pat Britt, Merle Gordon, and Michael Polensek.

            Candidates were given an opportunity to introduce themselves and talk about their plans around the issue of affordable housing if elected Mayor then a panel of tenants and advocates were given the opportunity to ask one question of two of the ten candidates.  Finally, the floor opened to the audience to ask questions for a little over one hour.

            Fiery activists Irv Chudner electrified the crown with a brand of blasting the establishment and preaching a revolution of the citizens to overthrow big business backed candidates.  A number of the candidates talked about their experience with tying to find affordable housing.  William Denihan talked about growing up in public housing complex.  Tim Mc Cormack promised his first act would be to address the housing problems in the city of Cleveland.

          Raymond Pierce cited his experience studying landlord tenant and poverty law as part of his to pass the bar exam. Jane Campbell was aware of the losses in affordable housing in our community and promised a neighborhood endowment fund to build affordable housing, but she was sketchy on the funding authority to create such a fund. Kent Whitley who insisted on standing when answering questions rejecting the table microphone for the podium instead highlighted his background in architecture, as the reason tenants should vote for him. The huge underdog Rickey Pittman also grew up in public housing and has a great deal of volunteering experience. The centerpiece of the Pittman campaign was a contract that he filed stating that he live by his promises or quit the job of Mayor. A nice touch, according to the panel asking the questions, unfortunately, Pittman was short on promise.

         John Barnes concentrated his mark on educational opportunities for young people and promised to stay overnight in a subsidized apartment when asked by a tenant. Mary Rose Oakar wanted to help people in public housing especially the senior citizen.

             In an auditorium full of tenants, the candidates did not venture far out on any limbs by criticizing absentee landlords or a crack down on drug dealer. The phrase “greedy landlords” was used three or four times in the afternoon. There were some interesting proposals set forth that really have nothing to with the Mayor of Cleveland. She did not mention how to pay for such an expense or how to dissuade businesses from dropping health care coverage for they’re for their City of Cleveland employees.

             Oakar also called for laws to prevent landlords from discriminating against voucher holders. There was discussion about improving the City health department and working

            With housing court to reduce eviction rates. A number of candidates voiced their support of the Day Labor Organizing Committee, and their efforts to fight for decent wages. Pierce had seen many good people in housing court, and wanted to develop ways to prevent people from having to move to the streets.

            There was one disturbance in the crowd of an audience member attempting to hijack the show, but otherwise the candidates endured the two hours of questions with little complaint. Some of the tenants expressed frustration that the candidates did not seem to know the difference between public housing and other forms in the community. Cleo Busby, President of the alliance of Cleveland HUD Tenants, found that most of the candidates were either not listening to the question or were avoiding answering many of the questions asked.

           The elderly, disabled, homeless, wheelchair bound, and the lower income tenants were treated to quite a show. In talking to a number of those who sat through the entire event, the overriding opinion was that the tenants felt honored that all ten candidates saw the importance of this gathering of concerned citizens.     

  Copyright NEOCH published 2001 Issue 50