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Opinion: Local Politicians Should Step Up and Lead

By Sheehan Hannan, Cleveland magazine

On Dec. 3, over a Monday lunch hour, Cleveland.com president and editor Chris Quinn and City Club of Cleveland CEO Dan Moulthrop sat in a conference room and attempted to resuscitate Northeast Ohio’s economy with some creative brainstorming. 

Settling in on a Facebook livestream, the pair hosted the session on Remesh, a live commenting platform founded in Cleveland. With the title “Strengthening Northeast Ohio’s Economy,” one might have expected new ideas, a gleefully discordant choir. In a post beforehand, they said they had space on the risers for up to 1,000 people. 

Only about 80 logged on. And they bore songbooks full of greatest hits. Northeast Ohio’s economic strength, apparently, is our ability to get the old band back together. Over and over. Lakefront development jammed out a guitar solo, backed by stadium deals on bass. Affordable housing drummed faithfully along. Public transit, the backup singer, added bounce to every note. But one bandmate, that reliably Tom Waitsian singer Poor Leadership, croaked along front and center.

“What’s your biggest concern about the region’s future?” Moulthrop asked.

“That we will continue to do the same old thing and not innovate,” was the top-voted response. “That the same people will remain in power and not listen to new voices.”

Irony upon irony.

Last year, Kohrman Jackson & Krantz managing partner Jon Pinney declared Cleveland “dead last in most economic metrics” during a speech at the City Club. It was a ballsy sentiment for the self-proclaimed “know-it-all lawyer” to utter to his peers. Pinney had torn back Cleveland’s veil of self-delusion. 

“Depending on who you talked to, there was a lot of praise for just having the courage to do it, and there was some criticism,” Pinney told me after the speech when I cornered him at a Blockland event in August. “It’s created a really great conversation, one that needed to occur.”

The conversation may be rollicking, but it’s abundantly clear who has the loudest voice — the business community. Months later, there was a planning summit of 15 local leaders Dec. 13 and 14. (Cleveland Magazine editor Steve Gleydura was invited to attend as one of 55 “community members” who will assist in the planning.) The core group of 15 includes, as of this writing, two women, and is drawn from the Union Club orbit. Even the Rev. Stephen Rowan, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church, is a former partner at Ulmer & Berne and also chairman of the Cleveland Foundation board. 

Where are the politicians? Cleveland councilman Kerry McCormack appeared to have been the only prominent one to attend Pinney’s speech and most have had little to say about it publicly since. Democratically elected officeholders should lead any conversation about this region’s future, especially one as important as plotting its economic path. 

Yet they are more than happy to cede leadership to the business community — the same community that bears responsibility for Northeast Ohio’s economic decline in the first place. They are the ones who moved jobs to the Sun Belt, put Progressive’s headquarters in Mayfield Village instead of downtown Cleveland and reincorporated Eaton Corp. in Ireland for a tax break. Good as their intentions may now be, they will not save us.

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