Voters must insist on qualified leadership
The coronavirus crisis has reminded us of the fragility of our species and the frailty of the local communities that support us. We sometimes take our communities for granted and relate to them as consumers, rather than as citizens. We have to be careful to break from this pattern in our current up-ended situation.
In the Heights, we have an enviable collection of retail and restaurant businesses, many of them locally owned, along with arts organizations, theaters, citizens’ groups, and other community institutions. Though it has been heartening to see how residents have rallied to support these enterprises during this difficult time, we are still at risk of losing many of them, and must continue to be supportive.
In Cleveland Heights, we must also pay close attention if we wish to maintain control of our city government, which will undergo a significant change beginning with the November 2021 election.
Last November, voters decided to switch from our city-manager form of government to one in which voters will directly elect a mayor. The elected mayor will replace the city manager as the city’s chief executive.
Under the current system, the city manager is chosen by our seven-member city council and serves at the council’s will.
Under the system that will come into use in 2022, an executive mayor, who will be the first full-time elected official ever to serve in Cleveland Heights city government, will be directly elected by the voters.
Though city council is elected at-large, and thus subject to the will of all registered voters in the city, the new system has the potential to give voters a more-direct say in who runs the city on a day-to-day basis, albeit from a much smaller pool of possible candidates than the current system affords.
The new system’s potential can only be realized, however, if voters pay close attention to who the mayoral candidates are and how they come to be candidates. Otherwise, we run the risk of our next city executive being a political-party appointment, in the manner of U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, or our representatives in the Ohio Legislature. Though these elected officials usually do not run unopposed, they never have viable opposition, and their candidacies would not go forward without party approval.
In our first mayoral race in late 2021, we must insist that candidates not be required to be party insiders, and we must strive to have a choice of candidates. If we don’t, we will merely have shifted the power to choose our city executive from our city council to our local political party. The possibility of a mayoral candidate running unopposed is illustrated by last November’s election, in which 19 of the 36 mayoral contests in Cuyahoga County had only one candidate on the ballot.
In the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, our city government is likely to face problems as severe as, or worse than, those it faced as a result of the Great Recession and the accompanying foreclosure crisis. We will need the skills and temperament of a qualified leader. Only an informed and responsible citizenry can assure that we will have the leadership we will need.
Vince Reddy is a former FutureHeights board member and a 23-year resident of Cleveland Heights. He recently served on the city's Charter Review Commission and was the city's zoning administrator from 1996 to 2005.