More than 400 residents and community members spent Wednesday evening listening to Cleveland mayoral candidates talk about environmental issues impacting the city.
The online event, Cleveland Mayoral Candidate Forum: For a Healthier and More Equitable Environment, was created by a coalition of more than a dozen environmental and policy groups as a next step following the publication of the Cleveland Comprehensive Environmental Policy Platform: 2021-2025.
The candidates – Justin Bibb, Ross DiBello, Basheer Jones, Kevin Kelley, Dennis Kucinich, Zack Reed and Sandra Williams – were given two minutes to address viewers during the opening of the forum. Moderator Justin Glanville of Ideastream Public Media then began asking a series of questions from residents. The questions targeted environmental justice, water, land and green space, infrastructure and transportation and energy and air quality issues.
Regarding water, residents voiced their concern with the recent announcement from Cleveland City Council to possibly raise water rates in 2024 and asked how the candidates will ensure water affordability if elected. Former Ward 2 Cleveland City Councilman Zack Reed said the payment plan was unrealistic for older residents.
“As mayor, I’m going to be advocating that we put a real payment plan in place for senior citizens,” Reed said.
In the environmental policy platform report, advocates for more green space want all Clevelanders to live within a 10-minute walk to a high-quality park by 2025. Residents asked how the candidates will restore parks in their neighborhoods.
“I would like to look at some of the land that we have in land banks that is just sitting there,” Williams, who represents Ohio’s 21st Senate District, said.
Voice a question from a West Side resident, Glanville asked, “What are some actionable steps you plan to take as a mayor to prioritize biking, walking and public transportation, not just catering to cars?”
Bibb, chief strategy officer at Urbanova, said he gained first-hand experience with public transportation as a former board member of Greater Cleveland Rapid Transit Authority. He said he would work with the state legislature “to ensure that cities like Cleveland … are getting their fair share of investments in public transit.” He added that “having protected bike lanes is critical in every part of our community.”
For Jacob VanSickle, executive director of Bike Cleveland, an environmental group part of the event host committee, that’s what it’s all about. “Over the past year, we’ve seen an increase in serious and injury fatal crashes” among cyclists. He said his goal is “to make sure that mobility and transportation are discussed as the candidates are vying to become mayors.”
A West Side resident asked how the candidates plan to “promote healthy housing and expand access to home repair programs.”
Kucinich, former Cleveland mayor and U.S. congressman, said he plans to create programs to help fund “new houses particularly for low and moderate income people.” Jones, Ward 7 councilman, said he wants to address “each issue house by house.”
An East Side resident asked what candidates proposed about Cleveland’s recycling program, which ended in 2020.
Bibb said he will bring back the recycling program “because every resident in the city deserves that level of high-quality basic city services.”
Dibello, a Cleveland attorney, said, “I think it goes beyond recycling. We want to put more trash cans throughout the city [because] not everything is recyclable, and we’ve got too much litter.”
A number of residents addressed climate change and asked how candidates will improve air quality for Clevelanders. Throughout the evening, candidates agreed on adding more tree coverage in the city.
Dibello said that “planting a lot of trees” would be a good place to start. He wants to “attack car culture” and encourage residents to embrace public transportation.
Coalition partners have created the Cleveland Environmental Resident Engagement Toolkit, an educational guide intended to help residents engage with city leaders and mayoral candidates about environmental issues as the election ramps up. Although the coalition of environmental and policy groups have no further plans for addressing environmental issues with candidates ahead of the Nov. 2 election, they will continue to educate the community and local leaders.
“It’s an ongoing education piece so making sure that the candidates continue to hear about the issues in the policy platform, the issues … in the forum and make sure that if they’re elected they’re ready to go on day one to put into practice some changes that need to be made,” VanSickle said.
Kelly Krabill is a journalism major at Kent State University and an intern with the NewsLab at KSU and The Land.
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