An Interconnected Cuyahoga County

An Interconnected Cuyahoga County

For several decades now—at least—Cuyahoga County residents have owned an upfront view to the jumbled, disembodied polices of our elected leaders. This has culminated in the type of vision that often pits one municipality against another, or one sector of society against another, with little interest in building lasting partnerships or seeking out new ones. Instead of viewing our future as one region moving forward, we’ve seen disjointed efforts with very little thought to an overarching vision.

Our overarching goal for Cuyahoga County should be growth. Growth in all positive forms. Economic. Demographic. In educational attainments. In environmental sustainability outcomes. In the number of well-paying, family-wage jobs we produce. In the health of our citizens and communities. To name just a few metrics.

In much the same way that components of the human body must work together to ensure growth, so too must our county if we seek to progress. Or, if you enjoy sports colloquialisms, in order for a team to grow and achieve success, each separate part of the team must work together, functioning as one.

Moving forward, our aim is to consider the big picture when we think about upcoming projects and policy proposals and to recognize the interdependent nature of social and economic life in our county. All the varying facets of life, particularly our economic, environmental, transportation, housing, and health outcomes are interconnected and the success of each is interdependent on the other. This is something the majority of political leaders in our county have failed to grasp for half a century.

To achieve economic success we need educational & job training success; in order to succeed economically, we need a public transportation system that can get people to and from work and school effectively; to strengthen our economy, we need to increase the value of our homes; to improve our health we must take concurrent steps to better the environment around us. And so forth.

Thus, a true economic development plan for our future will include a greater focus on workers, strengthening our educational attainments, ensuring an eco-friendly future, a public transportation system that works, improving our current housing stock while including more housing starts for middle and working class families, and a commitment to public and individual health.  In short, we must favor development possibilities that link all these facets of our county life.

When we look at health we need to retrain our brain to view it not simply as a matter of whether we are living healthily, but to see the collective nature of our region’s public health. Health doesn’t entail only the physical well-being of an individual, it comprises the welfare of entire communities including: dietary options; access to grocery stores with fresh food; security and the right of our citizens to expect to be safe in their neighborhood; and an expectation that police will do their jobs effectively.

And when it comes to public health, there is an enormous connection between transportation, our environment, and our health. For example, walkable communities are inherently healthy. More efficient public transit will lead to less use of cars and reduce GHG emissions. The increased use of bikes and scooters, and programs like UHBikes, benefit our environment immensely.  If we improve our air and environment we stand to improve our health. Innovations like the NOACA-led efforts utilizing cutting-edge technology to create smart stoplights (STOP program) or the use of renewable energy like the soon-to-be-built wind turbines on Lake Erie (assuming their impact on marine and bird life is in fact minimal) stand to improve the quality of air by reducing auto emissions, fuel usage, and the output of fossil fuels more broadly.

Mixed land use is another superb illustration of how we can weave together different facets of our lives so that jobs, schools (of all kinds), multi-modal transportation options, amenities, services, etc., are near homes and neighborhoods, while we develop the land to ensure the smallest possible carbon footprint.

And by the way, we have 450 acres of lakefront land that all residents of the county should have access to and can serve as a model of mixed-use development, sustainable land use practices and even wetlands preservation, along with the amenities that we often associate with bustling cities. Not coincidentally, this is why I believe Burke Lakefront Airport should be closed and the land repurposed for our use.

On top of all of this, we need to start thinking about our county, and our fellow residents, as one. When something positive happens in greater Cleveland, whether it be in Brook Park, Lakewood, Cleveland Heights, or wherever it may be, it happens to all of us as Clevelanders. When a tragedy befalls one neighborhood, or group, it befalls us all. And there is no longer any question that cooperation and broad thinking are going to be necessary if we’re to rebuild our county. While it’s important and fun to root for our distinct towns, cities, and municipalities, it’s equally important to recognize that greater Cleveland rises or falls as one.

The easy route is to look at the enormity of the task in front of us and think “someone else will take care of that.” Or, “there isn’t much I can do to affect that part of life in my county.” The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. One small effort on an individual’s behalf, whether it’s joining a block club, attending a public forum, or supporting a cause with your time or money, can incrementally build the type of county we want. And, in order to accomplish this, we have to vote.

Statement of Candidacy

Statement of Candidacy

Today, I am announcing that I am running for the Democratic nomination for Cuyahoga County Council in District 2, which includes the cities of Brook Park, Lakewood, and Wards 16 and 17 in Cleveland.

I am running in the primaries to unseat an incumbent who has held elective office since 1977. He is a good man. But after the ongoing disgrace at the county jail, the unforgiveable lead crisis, and the payouts to corporations and millionaires with the Q deal and the potential $6 million for the NuCLEus project, to name just a few calamities, I am running to propose new ways of thinking. More than anything else, we must put residents first.

Six years ago I moved back to my hometown of Cleveland after attending graduate school and teaching history at the college level. But even from afar, I followed the happenings in Northeast Ohio. Sadly, I’d hear about the alarming poverty rate (especially amongst children), the continued lack of cooperation among our leaders, persistent segregation, corruption in the county government, and the exodus of people from our beloved hometown. Moving back to Cuyahoga County I knew I wanted to reside in the West Park area, where my parents grew up, and where my grandparents called home. In the years since, I’ve been actively involved in progressive and Democratic causes. I’m currently president of the Ward 16 Democratic Club and one of the organizers for West Park Neighbor Up, a resident-led initiative where we join together to share our neighborhood experiences while seeking ways to improve our community in the process. For the past several years, I’ve worked in the nonprofit housing field, where I see firsthand the critical role housing plays in our county’s economy and in the lives of its residents.

With the long-term goal of creating jobs while growing our economy, educating our residents, and reversing our population decline, here are just a few of the policies I will pursue:

  • Greater support for job training and STEM education for people of all backgrounds and ages
  • An economic  development policy that prioritizes the middle class and workers with the chief goal of creating sustainable, family wage jobs
  • A public transportation system that is effective and no longer morally bankrupt. One that connects people with jobs and one that gives voice to those who use public transit.  
  • Countywide Offices on Transparency and one on Residential Engagement so that all public funds spent by Cuyahoga County are tracked and the needs of our residents are met
  • More assistance to homeowners for home repair and maintenance since our homes are crucial to the economic growth and sustainability of our county
  • Focus on helping businesses and firms already here instead of chasing unaffordable pipedreams
  • A commitment to sustainable land use and environmental policies that will put Cuyahoga County at the forefront of those endeavors.
  • A definitive 30 year plan for our county and region economically, socially, and demographically with benchmarks for us to achieve along the way

Simply put, our county government has let us down and to keep electing the same people while expecting different result will not allow us to achieve our potential. I am convinced that for Cuyahoga County to flourish we need new voices now more than ever, and I feel compelled to do all that I can.

Transforming the county will not be done in the 4 years of a county council term, nor will it be done alone. We will need the help of many others, including you. At the very least if you have friends or family residing in Brook Park, Lakewood, or West Park, please take a moment to tell them about a person who has dedicated his life to understanding governance as a student, as a teacher, and today in the nonprofit world.  

Every ounce of my mind and spirit will be dedicated to the residents of District 2 and to the long-term growth and sustainability of our region. I’m a proud progressive Democrat, but if a moderate or conservative has a solution that makes sense, you can bet I’ll be listening. The cities of Brook Park, Cleveland, and Lakewood deserve new ideas and policies that focus on our future. Together we can take that step. Together we can rebuild Cuyahoga County.

Along the way, I encourage you to stay in touch with me as we embark on this rebuilding effort. As Franklin Roosevelt said, “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” A little over a century ago, our county was considered a national beacon for good government. There’s no reason we can’t do that again. So let’s try something new.

All My Best,


Why I Am a Democrat

Why I Am a Democrat

It seems fashionable these days to formulate views and opinions based on that which we don’t like, instead of that which we do. This is especially true in politics with the Never-Trumpers or the Never-Hillarys serving as recent examples. Everybody is entitled to their own way of thinking, and anyone with a Twitter account and a modicum of free time can make pronouncements, steeped in a lack of self-awareness, that something is categorically right or wrong.  

But in my mind, being a Democrat or a progressive or a liberal, is more than the sum of what I’m opposed to, it is about the ideals I believe in and the policies I embrace. It just so happens they run counter to much of what the Republican Party stands for, especially the party as led by Donald Trump. It would be mindlessly uncomplicated to say that I’m a progressive simply because I’m not a conservative. That I’m not a conservative because I don’t see conspiracies lurking around every corner, nor do I view hypocrisy with the expediency the Religious Right does. After all, Donald Trump represents everything they supposedly oppose. Yet their hatred of the Democratic Party is so irrationally ingrained that their inherent hypocrisy wins out as they support a twice-divorced womanizer whose grasp of the Bible is less secure than his self-purported grasp on female genitalia.

Nevertheless, the primary reason why I’m a Democrat is because of what I believe, not what I don’t.

E. Pluribus Unum
To me, E. Pluribus Unum is more than a slogan on our paper currency. “Out of many, one,” carries a two-fold meaning. First, we are all in this together. And, second, our diversity must continue to be celebrated. Being one of the most heterogeneous countries on Earth is what has made us the symbol of hope that we are. Here in Cleveland we regularly celebrate our diversity with events like our large-scale St. Patrick’s Day festivities, the Pride parade, the Feast of the Assumption, or any of the astounding Greek festivals in our county. Indeed, the fact that we have an African-American mayor, a Jewish County Executive, and a Catholic City Council President highlights the varying backgrounds that constitutes our city’s history. By the way, if you think the aforementioned are failing us as residents of greater Cleveland (and there’s ample evidence to support your opinion), it isn’t due to their race, religion, or ancestry I assure you.

Everyone to Whom Much is Given, of (Them) Much Will Be Required
I don’t often quote the Bible, nor do I want to cause anxiety amongst conservatives who believe God is a Republican (I’ll let them find the answer to that one in due time), but this concept is about the idea of sacrifice. As an American, it is incumbent upon all of us to be involved. Yet at the end of the day, it is this simple notion as represented by St. Luke that underlies what it means to be a Democrat today. For example, it clearly characterizes the Democratic Party’s belief in progressive taxation; a belief that has been torn asunder by the modern Republican Party’s fealty to corporations and the wealthy. Yet, it is the conviction to require more from those who possess it, in order to benefit those who do not, that explains why Democrats use government to create and enforce a more just society.

One of my all-time favorite Democrats (who happened to hail from Cleveland) was one of the foremost representations of the above proverb. Paul Newman spoke often about the role luck played in his life. Accordingly, he established a massive enterprise whose profits go to charity, numerous camps for children with life-threating illnesses, and donated the bulk of his personal fortune when he died. St. Luke would be proud.   

A basic quest for fairness and justice undergirds the modern Democratic Party as much as any other ideal. Thus, equality of all before the law and therefore within our political system, is a cornerstone belief of Democrats today. In essence we seek equality of opportunity for all no matter their skin color, orientation, socioeconomic status, sex, religion, or nationality. Republicans will have you believe that Democrats want everyone to be equal. It is this bastardized argument, simply stated and more simply swallowed by many of their followers, that fulfills the conservative mindset that the world is a zero-sum, black and white place with no shades of grey nor tolerance for complexities. Democrats do not seek equality of outcomes, just an equal opportunity to let people live out their lives without barriers in their way due to how or where they were born or by anything else that is beyond their control. A child born into poverty, with a flourishing intellectual capacity, should not be prevented from going to college because she was born poor. Nor denied necessary medical coverage because she’s not rich. Nor pulled over in her car because she’s black, or Latina, or female. When this threshold for equality is not met, Democrats believe it is the job of government to step into the fold with remedies.

 A Belief in Science and Data
I’m not typically comfortable when politics intrudes on science. Yes, I think human cloning would be bizarre, but otherwise I tend to believe science should be used for the betterment of humanity. If the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, the arc of the scientific world bends toward progress. For example, measles was once considered essentially eradicated in the United States, yet when simpletons get involved and start making pseudo-scientific claims, actual science steps back in. Thus, more Americans have measles than at any other time in the past quarter century.  

I Care About People I’ve Never Met
It’s easy to live in a bubble and think the world revolves around ourselves, our families, and the infinitesimal fraction of the world’s population we call our friends, but billions of other people share this planet and this small period of time with us. Accordingly I want my fellow humans to have the best life possible. And while I won’t say I stay awake nights hoping people on other continents are living the good life, I am sympathetic to the plight of those who suffer

The Constitution is a Living Document
A document written over two centuries ago can hardly be seen as the last word on American society in 2019. The changes in the world since 1789 are so vast that it hurts the mind to think of them. But, when it comes to the difference between progressives and conservatives the debate over the Constitution really gets at the heart of the matter. Conservatives inherently prefer order and maintaining an unbending view of the Constitution fulfills that desire. Meanwhile, progressives view society itself as improvable and rely upon a document that must be interpreted for the times in which we live. Progress can hardly be achieved if we stay rooted in the past.

Capitalism has inherent flaws
The free market doesn’t have a heart. It doesn’t see, much less correct, injustices. Thus, it is the responsibility of a duly-elected government, not some “hidden-hand,” to make corrections. I do not believe government is our enemy. Nor do I believe it is our savior. In most cases it is our last line of defense against countervailing forces whose primary goal is neither justice nor equality. Simply put, I believe in the free-market, but it needs regulations from time to time.

So we’re clear, socialism has its own inherent flaws as well. As does communism, militarism, and especially fascism (if you don’t know the difference between these ideologies or systems feel free to contact me). As Winston Churchill pointed out with his typical elegance: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Any form of government or economic system, created by human beings, will inherently be flawed and not making corrections just because you’re a believer is like not turning the volume up on your TV when it’s low because you’re a believer in Sharp.

The Democratic Party’s History and Evolution
Lastly, the history of the Democratic Party, and its many, varied leaders and proponents, and what it has accomplished and championed over the last century, are an immense part of why I am a Democrat. After all, it’s the party that led America to victory in two world wars while also reducing poverty amongst millions of people of all backgrounds and geographies. The party that helped unions construct the middle class as we know it today with legislation like the Wagner Act. (And, seeks to lift more into the middle class by fighting for minimum wage increases). The party of Head Start and CHIP that aims to help children after they leave the womb. The party that ensured the aged would have health care and a way to avoid poverty in their twilight years with Medicare and Social Security. The party that cares about families, of all kinds, passed the Family & Medical Leave Law and found themselves on the right side of history by championing gay marriage, even if the latter took too long. And of course the party of Kennedy and Johnson who, spurred on by the civil rights movement, introduced and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, codifying legal and political citizenship for all Americans at long last.

Yes, some Republicans voted for and supported these programs. But clearly today’s Republican Party does not support these ideals. And, I’m equally proud of the Democratic Party and its adherents for driving the segregationists out of their party and into the arms of…well you know where I’m going.

If some or all of these seem interconnected, that’s because I sorta intended it that way. I hope. The history of the Democratic Party is not without mistakes. And practitioners, elected and unelected, are not without flaws. But these are the underlying reasons why I’m proud to be a Democrat today.

6 Questions Every County Policymaker Should Ask

6 Questions Every County Policymaker Should Ask

These are not necessarily the only questions one in a position of power should take into consideration. Concerns about morality and common sense must always be in the foreground of thinking for those involved in our region’s economic development and community building. But, given the current state of the county and region, it’s perhaps best if those who are voting on funds, designing projects, and formulating policies stop some point along the way and ask him/herself the following:

1.) What will be the impact of this policy in 25 years?
In short, how will this impact the lives of your children and grandchildren for the better?

For contextual purposes, let’s take a look at the Opportunity Corridor to shine light on this question. The massive undertaking has been going on for years now, with at least two more to follow. What are some of the initial results? Well, the tremendously successful and well-respected Bruder Inc., a staple in the Woodland Avenue area dating to at least the 1940s, was forced to move to a suburban location in Maple Heights.

The now $331 million dollar price tag for the corridor should alone get your attention immediately. And, what are we being promised as a result? Greater access to the east side, specifically places like University Circle and the Cleveland Clinic, and jobs. This is what we’ve been told. I personally attended a talk by the city’s Planning Director in which he was given 15 minutes to explain the Opportunity Corridor, took 55 minutes instead, and was still unable to articulate to the audience how it will generate well-paying/family wage jobs. Nor did anyone leave feeling the corridor was necessary in an of itself. To say nothing about the incredible inconvenience it has caused thousands of us, all while our city’s other streets often necessitate an off-road vehicle to navigate.  

The promise of more, and higher-paying, jobs the powers that be are telling us will come due to this project seems unlikely. Too many Cleveland-area residents are under-educated for the skills needed in today’s job market. And that’s a failure of our elected and un-elected leaders. Their fear of rocking the proverbial status quo boat has ensured this.

My biggest fear isn’t just that the panacea we’ve been promised won’t materialize. But even worse, in a few years the corridor will be littered by the type of undesirable businesses already flourishing in parts of the city: check cashing schemes, fast food restaurants, and the type of convenience stores whose owners institute poor-taxes on their customers with fees for anyone using a plastic card, or by selling cigarettes at the exorbitant rate of 50 cents apiece (which by the way is completely illegal yet continues unabated).

You can find out much more about the Opportunity Corridor at Scene Magazine, who’s been skeptical of the project from the outset and serves as Cleveland’s foremost progressive watchdog. Their artwork below tells you how much faith they have in the OC.

2.) Who benefits the most from this and who is excluded?
Perhaps the most enlightening examples of this question involve two recent—incredibly expensive—projects taking place practically a few feet away from one another. The so-called Q deal (was the renaming of the Cavaliers’ home just a naked attempt to gain more money, or a re-branding to avoid the association between the Q and millions of taxpayer dollars?) involves millions (up to $40 mil) of Cuyahoga County dollars for upgrades to the arena. And, thanks to an all-too-common ability to adopt forward thinking, the lease between the Cavaliers and Gilbert for the arena is so unfavorable to the city/county that few other cities could match it.

If your argument in favor of funding the Q/Rocket Mortgage is that if we don’t they’ll leave, well the best way to avoid that is by increasing our population. Because I assure you, if Cuyahoga County continues to hemorrhage population, our professional sports teams will leave. But the words “population increase” rarely escape the lips of our elected officials and policymakers, much less has a coherent plan for doing so emerged.

Meanwhile, the proposed NuCLEus building that’s set to go up across the street from the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse should have residents’ skepticism antenna all the way up.  

On the surface of it I am in favor of less parking lots downtown. The area near West 6th Street, northwest of Public Square, is the most obvious example of wasted space downtown. And the area between Huron and Prospect by East 4th would be undeniably improved by this building.

Yet, not only should we be asking ourselves how long it’s going to take until the building(s) are complete, but how long will it take for Cleveland and the county–who are potentially chipping in $12 million and $6 million respectively–to reap economic benefits from their investment. The city is trying to tell us that their $12 mil is a loan. Yet, the questionable financing is really a “self-generating” subsidy that won’t pay back the city’s investment, but simply “guarantees” the recouping of the money in taxes generated over 20 years from employees in the building and from the parking spaces. Taxes that would’ve already been due to the city by the way.

Of course the fact that the NuCLEus’ flagship tenant, Benesch Law, is already headquartered downtown, a couple thousand feet away in the Huntington building, doesn’t change the income tax situation at all. They’re already headquartered downtown! And, so little has been released about the potential other tenants that one would be naive to simply accept Stark Enterprises’ promises of future glory.

So, who benefits the most from these deals? One would be hard-pressed to find anyone who could say the vast majority of the benefits won’t be reaped by Dan Gilbert and the Stark family. With a lead crisis that’s reaching frightening proportions in terms of its public harm and the inability to resolve it, along with a central city where half of all children live in poverty, (just 2 of the most obvious crises we are facing) one must prioritize and wonder if helping to foot the bill for billionaires is the best use of our money or energy.

3.) How does this improve the region as a whole?
In order for Cleveland to thrive, economic development and progress can’t be limited only to certain areas.

In Milwaukee, the Milwaukee 7 or M7, is a long-term economic development strategy between seven neighboring counties. These counties even went so far as to sign a code of ethics that prohibits the participants from pilfering jobs or businesses from other jurisdictions. Not only do they recognize the need for a regional strategy, something groups like the Fund for our Economic Future and a few others here are now actively promoting, but they also recognize the harmfulness of direct competition. When the overarching goal must be long-term regional growth, poaching just doesn’t benefit anybody and especially not individual residents.

With a particular emphasis on creating advanced manufacturing jobs, recycling former industrial sites for new uses, and most importantly, creating family wage jobs (defined as approx. $22/hour) and connecting residents in the 7-county area to those jobs, the M7 is just one template Cleveland and our region can look at for inspiration.

4.) Will this actually work as its proponents describe?
Cleveland has a long history of PR campaigns. So much so that sloganeering has often been employed as a growth policy itself. If you can, look at Believing in Clevelandby Cleveland State historian J. Mark Souther. Does anybody remember Erieview? Or did you know Cleveland was once a plum? Souther’s research depicts the burgeoning divide that cropped after World War II between downtown business interests and neighborhood residents, as well as the city-suburban divide that slowly but definitively escalated in those decades. His work should serve as a wake up call to anyone who thinks intra-regional and intra-county squabbles are new, or that they’ll be fixed over night. Or, quite frankly, that they’ll be fixed if we continue to elect the same people ad nauseum. Souther especially excels in a fascinating final chapter on the use of sloganeering as policy.

I love Cleveland, I think that goes without saying. But, needless championing of Cleveland and the region, along with the get-along, go-along strategy that our policymakers too often rely upon, works to obscure some of the fundamental problems we must surmount and worse, the critical viewpoints it will take to improve the region’s socioeconomic life.

5.) Has this process been transparent and inclusive?
It is essential that elected officials, city planners, economic development officers, and most definitely building developers, improve at asking themselves this question: Were all groups who could be impacted, especially residents, consulted on the upcoming project?  A recent Crain’sarticle highlighted community-led objections to impending development projects in places like Lakewood and Hudson. There’s little argument that development is necessary, to keep people from moving further away from the central city, and to attract new residents. So, we cannot close our eyes to development, nor should we be afraid of change. But, were the people in Lakewood and Hudson for example, fully integrated into the decision-making of these recent projects?

In Lakewood, attempts are underway to replace car dealerships along Detroit Avenue with, amongst other things, new apartments. First off, did the people in charge of approving the development ask themselves if Lakewood needs more apartments? Second, were the residents who live nearby (and in the densely-populated Lakewood residents live nearby just about everything) consulted? According to Crain’s the answer to that question is no. Indeed, they spoke to local musical legend, and true county treasure, Colin Dussault, who made it quite clear that neither he nor his neighbors, whose homes abut the planned 5000 square feet of commercial development set to be built, were genuinely listened to by decision-makers.

Though few projects we’ll be embraced by every resident or stakeholder, the people who live in our communities must be consulted. And, elected officials and policymakers need to exert more effort to reach out to residents. Which by the way, is why we need to elect people like Laura Rodriguez-Carbone to Lakewood City Council.

6.) Is this a new idea/way of thinking?
Just because something is new does not mean it’s beneficial. In the same way that building something big doesn’t inherently make it positive. I’m not saying it has to be new, but it’s a good question to ask. If we continue with the circular way of thinking that has dominated our area for decades, where for example building something is in and of itself is called a victory, why would we think anything different is going to happen? If Albert Einstein was right, and the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results, what makes us in Cuyahoga County think things are going to be different if we follow the same path we’ve been on for half a century?

Notice that none of these questions involve, on the face of them, ideological tests. While I am a progressive, and believe progressive policies by and large work best, I don’t believe we can get out of the decades-long rut we’ve been in by holding an ideological mirror up to each idea or policy. But, by asking ourselves questions like these six, we can begin to contemplate long-term growth in a different manner that will benefit ALL county and regional residents.