Interview by Teri Heer
Mike Foley, 43, is the State Representative for the 14th Ohio House District, which includes Parma Heights, Brook Park and Wards 19, 20 and 21 on the west side of Cleveland. Recently elected to a second term – his first term was as an appointee, filling out the last seven months of Rep. Dale Miller’s term – Rep. Foley describes himself as having a “distinct political ideology…left of most others.” This self-proclaimed “progressive and passionate democrat” is strongly committed to Cleveland and the people he serves.
Foley is not a newcomer to this area. He has lived in the 14th district for over 20 years and his children attend Cleveland Public Schools. A graduate of the Cleveland Marshall College of Law, Foley has served as a community organizer for the St. Clair/Superior Coalition, worked for the Cleveland Housing Court and served as the executive director of the Cleveland Tenants Organization. His background in public service and the non-profit sector has trained him well for work in the state legislature. As Foley describes, his background has helped him to “think through issues, devise strategies, identify goals, [and] know who you need to get to in order to get things accomplished.”
During a recent drive to Columbus to participate in meetings, Representative Foley took the time to speak with The Homeless Grapevine.
The Homeless Grapevine: What do you think is the most significant issue facing the City of Cleveland today?
Representative Foley: There isn’t one single issue that I can point to. There are a lot of issues: vacant housing, affordable housing, health care, lack of jobs, and the school system. It all comes down to wealth distribution. Cleveland is a poor city surrounded by suburbs of middle class folks and exurbs of wealth folks.
GV: In light of Cleveland being named the Poorest City in America (again), what do you think needs to be done to address the issues with poverty that the city faces?
Foley: Poverty is a huge problem. It’s a national phenomenon and the national government will need to address it. It has many components (housing, job readiness/availability, health care, etc.) and it has to be addressed at a higher level than the city.
It’s a huge task with many components – Universal Health Care, affordable housing, and an educational system connected to jobs being created and available. You need a strong public school system and affordable university education. There are a lot of components and the person who must solve it needs to have access to and the power to control all of the issues. It must be someone from the federal level.
Mayor Jackson is as smart as they come. He is working to put Cleveland into as good of a position as possible. He is working around the edges to address things – directing the city toward accessing available resources to address the problem. But there is only so much that any one city can do.
GV: Are you still supporting a Single-Payer approach to health care? Why do you think this would be such a benefit to the people in the Cleveland area?
Foley: I’m in favor of universal health care and still support the Single-Payer approach (see inset). It is a simple method, not crazed in the bureaucracy of insurance companies. It takes the profit out of paper shuffling. 10% to 15% of the cost of health insurance is administration by health insurance companies. The Single-Payer approach makes a lot of sense. It’s not right – health insurance companies shouldn’t be profiting off of health care. Everyone should be covered. The system should be simple to utilize and as efficient as possible.
GV: You mentioned during your campaign that you plan on bringing jobs back to Greater Cleveland. How do you envision this being accomplished?
Foley: Greater Cleveland has advantages that others don’t. [We have] research abilities (NASA, Case Western Reserve, University Hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic) and lots of smart people to develop products. We need to further that. We need to focus development dollars on alternative energy, biotechnology and high tech. Cleveland has what Michael Polanyi refers to as “tacit knowledge” [knowledge that we don’t recognize ourselves and therefore isn’t easily shared]. We need to take advantage of that and put it into high tech [products] to create jobs. We need to make connections to make-work.
GV: What changes do you anticipate in the Ohio House of Representatives, since Democrats gained seven seats in the past election?
Foley: We are relevant now. Republicans could run roughshod [over the Democrats] prior to this session. There were 39 Dems. Now there are 46 Dems. We’re in the game. Some moderate Republicans will vote with us on things. It should be a lot easier to be a Democratic legislator this year. We should be in the mix.
GV: How do you think the identified budget deficit and Governor Strickland’s requested 30% cut on State Agencies affect social services in Cleveland?
Foley: It will be tough. I have been going to a lot of briefings. I haven’t seen the numbers yet. Current estimates are that the Governor’s budget will have a 1.5% increase over the last biennium. I can’t predict the effect this will have. It’s too early to tell.
GV: What plans do you have for the upcoming legislative session?
Foley: I’m planning on reintroducing the lead paint and foreclosure bills. I will also be introducing a Hate Crimes Bill, making it illegal to target the homeless. I met with the Homeless Congress in December  and promised to introduce the bill.
Foreclosure is a problem. We have a soft housing market right now. We lead the nation in foreclosures. Right now a house is foreclosed in court, goes up for sheriff’s sale and then the financial institution, by default, ends up buying the property back. But the financial institution doesn’t take over the deed [at the sheriff’s sale], so they end up not being responsible for bringing things up to code. Then properties can sit vacant for years. The bill would require the sheriff to automatically put the deed in the financial institution’s name at the end of the sheriff’s sale.
I will also be meeting with lead paint advocates to re-craft the bill from last session. It would take $25 million of the TANF money from the feds and dedicate it to lead paint removal activities. [The program] would be run through Ohio Department of Development (ODOD) and they would set the guidelines. They [ODOD] already run a lead paint abatement program using community development block grant monies. This would supplement that.
I will also be working on the reuse of vacant property. The foreclosure bill plays into that. I will be meeting with people involved with reuse of vacant properties in Cleveland, as well as the City Council, Mayor, City Treasurer and folks in the City of Dayton (which has an active vacant property reuse program). I’ll put my ideas out to a lot of people before I introduce things.
GV: You mentioned that you met with the Homeless Congress in December. Can you describe that experience?
Foley: It was a great experience. I’ve spent the last 20 years working with groups. The Homeless Congress has huge issues to address. They are articulate and well organized and I want to work with them. They have the biggest issues people can have and they are doing a good job saying, “O.K. These are the things we need to accomplish and this is what we need your help with.” It is a hard group of people to organize and I’m impressed with their focus and how articulate they are.
GV: Representative Foley, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 80 April 2007