Ozetta Harris, a longtime downtown resident, wanted Justin Bibb as Cleveland’s next mayor. That was until she had a conversation with Basheer Jones, Ward 7’s city council representative who endorsed Bibb’s opponent in the mayoral race, City Council President Kevin Kelly.
Come Election Day on Nov. 2, Harris found herself next to both Kelley and Jones, handing out Kelley campaign literature at Hough’s Fatima Family Center.
“He know where the system failed,” Harris said. “If you got a cut, you know where it’s at. You’re gonna put a bandaid on it. You ain’t got to search for that cut. … He in the city. He know where the hurt at. And he can heal the hurt.”
Based on voters The Land spoke to on Election Day, Harris’ story of flipping between candidates isn’t unique. While some said they liked Bibb’s youthful energy and promises of change, others said Kelley’s political experience puts him in a better position to lead.
But regardless of which mayoral candidate they voted for, many Clevelanders cited political skepticism and distrust as a driving force in their decision. As of this article’s publication, 19 percent of eligible Clevelanders have voted, according to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.
It was distrust that drove Lee-Harvard resident Jeff Melton to vote for Kelley, he said after voting at the John F. Kennedy High School polling station. He doesn’t trust “popup” candidates like Bibb.
But just a bit earlier at the same polling station, one Keith Corbin, another lifelong Lee-Harvard resident, said his community needs fresh leadership. Cleveland’s political establishment has failed the east side, he said, and he sees Kelley as a part of that.
“The streets of Cleveland are no better than they were — or they’re worse — than they were 16 years ago,” Corbin said.
So he cast his vote for Bibb from the sidewalk outside the high school. With his movement limited by a physical disability, poll workers Jeff Nemeth and Mary Robbins brought a ballot out to him.
The division was in full view on the other side of town, too. News cameras flanked Kelley this morning as he cast his vote at St. Thomas More Church in Brooklyn. But even at his home turf, a voter interrupted his interview with an emphatic “Go Bibb.”
Further west at Gunning Recreation Center in West Park, Dennis Leffel said he was on the fence about his mayoral vote, even after he cast it for Kelley.
Leffel said he doesn’t doubt Bibb’s ability, but Kelley has “more fingers in the pie.” It’s Kelley’s experience in Cleveland politics that both appealed to Leffel and made him skeptical.
“I don’t trust any of them,” he said. “I think they all get richer as they’re in. How many politicians get into office and then come out in worse shape?”
Graham Sullivan, another voter at Gunning who moved to West Park about five years ago, voted for Bibb in the name of fresh ideas, he said. More than anything, he just wants a mayor who empathizes with all Clevelanders rather than improving a select few neighborhoods.
Surely, Sullivan isn’t alone in that hope.
Back at the Fatima Family Center in Hough, Ozetta Harris, the Bibb supporter turned Kelley campaigner, called out to Kelley, who had stopped by the center.
“You gonna come through for us, right?” she asked him.
For information about the Sept. 14 primary and Nov. 2 general election, visit boe.cuyahogacounty.gov.
Michael Indriolo is a reporting fellow at The Land.
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