Zack Reed has been a member of Cleveland City Council for over fifteen years and he has recently announced his candidacy to run as Mayor of Cleveland. I had the opportunity to sit down with Reed at a local coffee shop downtown where we were able to discuss a wide range of topics concerning Cleveland and its citizens.
Adam Dodd: Let’s start with the present and we’ll maybe work backward where we need to—You recently announced your candidacy to run for Mayor of Cleveland- congratulations. You’ve been on Council for about fifteen years, what made you decide 2017 to be the year that was the one?
Zack Reed: “I looked on the landscape of the city of Cleveland and looked at the person who now wants to run for an unprecedented fourth term and said ‘if this generation, a generation like mine that went to college and studied political science and urban studies and worked for two mayors, both democrat and republican, who worked for electing Willie Brown in San Francisco, and has now spent sixteen years in Cleveland City Council- if our time, our generation is not now then question that you have to ask yourself is “when”?’
“So we look at every election that it is about the future and the ideas that we see that are being spewed out by this administration, by Mayor Jackson are stale, old ideas of the past. As I continue to tell people, you got to look at the aspect that whoever is elected Mayor will lead us into the year 2020. If you think about what this administration, what Jackson has said he’s going to do- what’s he saying now? ‘We’re going to make us better.’ Well, he said that two terms ago. He said that the last term and that’s what he’s saying again this term. So you have to ask yourself, what’s in that slogan?
“The reason we made a decision to go this time is because we are looking to the future of Cleveland. When you look at the future of the entire city of Cleveland it’s bleak. We continue to high unemployment. We continue to have high poverty. We continue to be one of the leaders when it comes to violence. We’re well on our way as you and I are speaking right now, we got thirty-eight homicides this year. Far more than we’ve had for the past three years. The estimate is that we’re going to finish the year with one hundred and fifty homicides. That would mean for the last four years, the city of Cleveland has gone over one hundred homicides.
“When you weigh the negatives and the positives and look to the future what we are looking at is the future for the ENTIRE city of Cleveland. We’re going to finish the renaissance Downtown. We’re going to continue the renaissance in neighborhoods like Tremont and Ohio City and University Circle. But we’re going to spread this renaissance uptown, downtown, and bring these two together, to pull this engine ALL the way up the hill. Too many people think that we’re at the top of the hill. We’re only halfway up this hill.”
AD: We touched on the numbers and the last time we talked [State of the City; Issue 11] we talked about the violence last year but—
ZR: “You understand the importance of that right? You cannot have prosperity without safety.”
AD: Of course, and on that- in a Mayor Reed administration, putting philosophy aside, what actual policy would you implement to curb this violence?
ZR: “First of all, there is a philosophy that nothing stops a bullet like a job. Your main philosophy has got to be going into what they call distressed neighborhoods, I call them “depressed” neighborhoods, and you have to do the same thing that Franklin Roosevelt did during the Depression. You have to use public dollars to create public jobs to create public employment in those communities. You have to start utilizing those public dollars in those hard depressed neighborhoods. You have to have a philosophy that nothing stops a bullet like a job.
“Your main thrust has to be ‘how do we create jobs in those wards and communities that are depressed right now?’ You can see that’s not happening. One of the first things out of the box is, last year we had six thousand young people between the ages of fourteen and eighteen that didn’t get a summer job. Right off the bat we’re going to say that every young person in the city of Cleveland between the ages of fourteen and eighteen is going to have a summer job, is going to continue to go to school, is going to continue to at least have an internship. You cannot have six thousand young people walking around the city of Cleveland with nothing to do for an entire summer.
“I always tell people, ‘think about you, think about us. Where would we have been if we didn’t have summer jobs? Where would we be if we didn’t do anything eight weeks?’ You cannot have that. You have to have an administration that says first and foremost that they’re putting together a Youth Services Commission, a Youth Services department. If you have a Department of Aging to take care of seniors, which we should and we will continue to fund that even higher than what you have right now, if you’re going to take care of your seniors- and a society that does not take care of its young people and it’s not taking care of its seniors is not a society as a whole.
“The policies are that we are going to push as hard as we possibly can to ensure that jobs make it to the top of list because our philosophy will be that nothing stops a bullet like a job. If you’re going to reduce the violence in this city of Cleveland you have to create more jobs in the city of Cleveland.”
AD: Speaking of some of those very kids with nothing to do who are out in the street- the mayor’s proposed the 2.3 million dollar dirt bike park to be built as a way to deal with the numerous illegally operated dirt bikes that run through the streets. I wanted to read a brief part of transcript from Fox8 this past Sunday that includes Cleveland police dispatch:
“On the west side, an officer could be heard telling dispatch, “Oh my God. They’re on top of the hoods of cars. On the hood of a vehicle.”
Another officer could be heard saying, “They’re almost running people over, and they’re kicking at people, and they’re going crazy, I guess.”
Local resident, Bill Horton, saw some of this from a porch. “You know what really just frosted me? When I called 911, yesterday, to report it. And the lady told me
that the police aren’t allowed to do anything about it.”
In fact, on the radio tapes, you could hear chatter among officers and dispatch saying, “Guys are complaining that it’s a hazard. Someone’s gonna get hurt. We’re not doing anything, they said.” Another voice can be heard responding “That’s correct.”
Current policy says that they are not allowed to chase the bikers on safety concerns. given the transcript I just read to you it doesn’t sound like a very safe policy as it stands now. What would you do differently? Is Jackson’s dirt bike park a reasonable answer?
ZR: “First of all, a dirt bike track is not a solution. second of all, not chasing them is not a solution. They’re criminals. You chase criminals. You bring criminals to justice, first and foremost. Our policy is that we’re going to bring those criminals to justice. Doesn’t matter if they were doing dirt bikes, or if they assaulted somebody, or went out there and killed somebody. Our policy is that we are going to bring the criminals to justice.
“That’s why I’ve said, you’ve got to hire four hundred new police officers over the next two to three years to bring up the ranks of our police force up to 2,000. The mayor of New York just said yesterday, ‘if you want to see crime reduced you got to increase the amount of police officers you have on the force’. Simply because you have to have police officers doing community service. they’ve got to be walking the beat, they’ve got to be riding their bikes. They have to be interacting with the general public. We don’t have enough police officers. Even if you said right now, let’s go chase them, well now you’ve got another problem because you have to take police officers out of other districts and communities and now those communities are made unsafe.
“The first thing we’ve got to do is have the philosophy that criminals are brought to justice. Secondly, you’ve got to add more police. And thirdly, you’ve got to be aware of the technology. We’re going to put surveillance cameras throughout the city of Cleveland. If you can have surveillance cameras downtown, why can’t you have surveillance cameras uptown? The cameras at least put us in a better position to catch these criminals.
“We may not be able to catch those dirt bikes right off the bat but we’re going to know who they are, we’re going to know the bikes they’re on, and we’re going to bring them to justice. But you don’t have a solution of saying that we’re going to go out here and build a dirt bike track where 90 to 95% of the people who are going to use it are not going to be from the city of Cleveland.”
AD: East Cleveland continues to crumble. There’s always the premise of Cleveland annexing them. What is Cleveland’s obligation to East Cleveland, if any?
ZR: “Let’s be honest. It’s not going to be annex. it’s not going to be a merger. It’s not going to be a takeover. It’s going to be a conversation between us and the citizens of East Cleveland of whether or not they want to come in out of the rain and come into the city of Cleveland. If that conversation occurs and they believe this is the situation we need go with then we need to sit down the people in Washington, we need to sit down the people in Columbus, we need to sit down with the business community here in Cleveland and we need to sit down with the people of Cleveland. We need to work out a road map and a solution to the problems that face East Cleveland. That’s the only way you’re going to solve that problem.
“Yost, our auditor, has made it clear. They only have two solutions. There’s not another solution. There’s not a lot of wide range of solutions out there. Either they have to raise their taxes, which isn’t a solution because they don’t have enough tax base, or they’re going to come into the city of Cleveland. They can no longer continue to go down this path of doing nothing. They’ve got to make a decision, first and foremost. It’s not on us to make a decision for them. If they make a decision that they want to begin a robust conversation, a realistic conversation, not that first conversation that they brought over to us, not the proposal they gave us the first time. If they want to have a realistic proposal that says we are willing to sit down and figure out how to come together to make East Cleveland and the city of Cleveland better- it can’t be a solution that we bring them and they bring us down. It can’t be a solution that we bring them in and everybody else looks at it and says ‘we’re going to wait on the sidelines and see how it works.’
“The federal government is going to have to help. The state government is going to have to help us. County government is going to have to help us, the business community is going to have to help and the city of Cleveland is going to have to help us. If we do it that way I think we have a better chance and opportunity to make East Cleveland better. I think we have something of an obligation because that wasn’t a failure of the people of East Cleveland. That was a failure of government. Failure of government put them in that position. So it has to be the government that brings everybody to the table to figure out if there is a solution. And if there is a solution, how to make it work for everybody.”
AD: Now that the buses are running through Public Square again- you were vocal about that issue- do you feel that the issue is resolved or do you feel that the Mayor still needs to answer for why he stalled for so long and what his true intentions were throughout the whole ordeal?
ZR: “Like I said, elections are about the future and that’s in the past. I think a bigger question should be, how do we go forward in light of people in Washington and people in Columbus not giving us enough funding for public transportation. The bigger issue for me was not the fact that [Mayor Jackson] shut it down, it was that we didn’t have a conversation.
“That’s why I said, every Saturday for two hours we are going to open up City Hall and the Mayor’s Office and we are going to allow the general public to come down and talk to the mayor personally and talk about the issues that they’re facing. We will never another [situation like] Public Square under my administration. We’re going to have people coming and talking to me, the Mayor of the city of Cleveland, about the issues that face them. That’s the only way we’re going to get this renaissance going for every ward, every community and neighborhood. We can’t pit ourselves one against another, one neighborhood against another.
“When you look at the overlying thing about Public Square, in the minds of people they felt that the mayor didn’t care about public transportation. When you think about it, some people rely on public transportation. It’s they’re only mode available. The bigger issue is how are we going to treat people who have to rely on public transportation and how do we create a better system of public transportation in light of what I just told you earlier. We’re stuck in these cars. How do we get these people out of their cars and into public transportation so we can free up these highways. They’ve got construction going from Cleveland to Cuyahoga county all the way to Summit to get these people from Downtown all the way to Summit county, but what does that do? We spend more and more on public highways than we do on public transportation. You can’t have that.
“When you think about young people like yourself, they don’t even want to own a car. They don’t want the hassle of owning a car. They want to use public transportation. They want to use Uber and they want to use Lyft, this is their mode of transportation. We should be thinking how they’re thinking. That’s why I go back to what I was telling you earlier today. Frank Jackson’s policies are old, they’re stale, they’re in the past. WE need new bright, innovative ideas for the future. Elections are about the future. It’s our generation, a new generation, a new frontier that is saying we want to go into the year 2020 with these bright ideas.
“The only way we can have these ideas is if, first of all, you need to change the leadership at City Hall. Second of all, you have to have a conversation with these people. If you would have a conversation with the people at Public Square, I’m not saying that they would have agreed with you but they would have at least tried to understand where you were coming from. One man in one building in one office should not have that much power to close a main artery like he did without a conversation with people of the city of Cleveland.”
AD: Where does a Mayor Reed stand with the current Trump administration and how that reflect they you govern if given the chance?
ZR: “I’ve made it clear. There are certain things that Trump said on the campaign trail that he stuck to. He talked about building a wall. He not only talked about building a wall on the campaign trail he talked about building a wall on Inauguration day and he talked about the wall when he had his first conversation before Congress. Another conversation he had during the campaign trail, and on inauguration day and on that night he stood before the American people and Congress was about what he wanted to do with the inner-cities and what he wanted to do about helping these young black men.
“My philosophy is, let’s take him up on his word. Don’t go to Chicago, come to Cleveland. We’ve got high unemployment, we’ve got high poverty, we’ve got a high murder rate. Come to Cleveland. If what you’re proposing is going to work, then come to Cleveland. Let’s see what your policies are. Let’s take him up on his words. You can only take a man and say he didn’t hold up his end of the deal if take him on his word. Has he built a wall? Is Mexico going to pay for it? No. So he’s not told the truth on that one. Did he say he was going to repeal and replace Obamacare? No. So we can take him up on that one. But on every one of these we’ve taken him up on so why don’t we take him up on his word that he wants to come into these inner-cities and improve them?
“My whole thing with Trump is that we should take a delegation of both public and private citizens, both the business community and those in education and we should go and ask for a meeting with the President in Washington D.C. and layout a game plan for him on how he can help us make the city of Cleveland whole again. We’re not whole right now, we’re only halfway up this mountain. I know it feels good- we have a new Public Square and the Cavs are in the playoffs again and look like they’re on their way to another championship, the Indians are playing well again, and it looks all well and good.
“You have to understand that in February of this year the city of Cleveland was the number one most unemployed city of 200,000 or more people in the entire country. From Hawaii to Maine, something’s not working well when you can look up and say the city of Cleveland had a 7.5% unemployment rate which led the entire nation. At the same time the Cavs are still making into the playoffs, the Indians are still doing what they’re doing and everyone is feeling good about themselves. Yet, those people that are unemployed- see, my thing is this- this is what I’m telling people on the campaign trail, the single mom with an eighteen year old son that just died from gun violence, the unemployed factory worker from Collinwood, the police officer in Westpark that can’t get a raise, the senior citizen who can’t afford to put a roof on her house- they know that we need a change, they know it. The question is whether or not we are that change; whether or not Zack Reed is that change.
“They know we need a change and our job is to go out there and convince them that lower unemployment will bring down this violence. More police officers on the street will lead to better police reform. Teaching our young people at a very young age that getting up and going to work and putting money in your pocket will benefit them now and in the future, to have creative ideas in our schools to make them more user friendly for our young people will give them a better opportunity to go to school and feel good about it and get a good education and then go onto college or trade school and come back and help our neighborhoods. That’s our job, because they know we need a change.
“People talk about Frank Jackson being down there for twelve years. Frank Jackson has been down there for twenty-five years. You can listen to him, you can hear him. There are no new ideas. There’s no innovative ideas. There’s no creative ideas. ‘It is what it is and I’m going to do what I’ve been doing, and hasn’t that been good enough?’ I’m telling you, elections are about our future and the future of every ward, every community, very neighborhood in the city of Cleveland is not bright. WE have to do better than we’re doing now to make it bright.”
AD: As someone who is LGBT, I can personally say that there is a level of apprehension out there in regards to the current Federal administration. Whether or not it is warranted or not, it’s there and it’s real. What I’d like to know is what Mayor Reed would do to make sure that Cleveland is a safe place to live and do business in for the LGBT community no matter what may be happening in Washington.
ZR: “My track record is clear. I went to school in San Francisco. I worked for Mayor Willie Brown from 1996 to 2000, my family still lives in San Francisco. I learned at a young age, eighteen years old to be exact, that we’re all the same. Some are heterosexual, some are gay, some people are lesbians, some are transgendered. We can’t let someone in Washington dictate what we’re going to do and define us here in the city of Cleveland. So let them do what they’re doing in Washington and we’ll continue to fight back if they to bring forth their bigotry and their prejudice and their bias and if they bring that to Cleveland we’ll fight them at every turn.
“I was one of the first ones who led the fight when he first rolled out his immigration [ban]. I went out the airport and did that. We’re not going to let someone in Washington bring their policies here and dictate to us and bring forth their bigotry and their prejudice and their bias in Cleveland. I’ve never done it in the past and I’m not going to do it in the future.”
AD: You mentioned elections are about looking forward, and I agree, but the past can’t be ignored either- what do you have to say to voters that are apprehensive about casting a vote for you because of your past legal issues? and are you afraid the your opponents will use this against you in the race?
ZR: “I’ve been honest from the start, ‘we made a mistake, we made a serious mistake. We disappointed a lot of people, not only in the community I’ve had the honor to represent but my family and people outside of my community and family, and we’re very sorry for that. We know that the help that we got from the Cleveland Clinic, the help that we got in rooms where you talk to other people who have the same disease and have found themselves in the same place. You just keep working at it every single day. The key factor is not only what I’ve done in the past but it’s what I’m doing now to show people that you can get knocked down, but you can get back up. That’s one of the things that I try to get over to our young people that we all make mistakes.
“The Bible is clear; Romans 3:23 is clear as it can be ‘we’ve all sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ We’ve all made mistakes, but don’t let those mistakes define you. What I’m hoping is that people will say, ‘yes, he made a mistake and yes, he’s admitted to that mistake. Yes, he’s working hard to overcome not only the mistake but the problem that he has, but by the same token he can be a role model to those individuals who are now on opiates- to understand that we should not be arresting these people over illness of addiction.’ We need to give them more beds. We need to figure out what can we do to help these individuals because they have a full fledged addiction. no one wakes up in the morning saying that they want to be addicted to opiates, pain pills. They find themselves down that avenue, and when you find yourself down that avenue you do bad things like I did. You get behind the wheel of a car and you do something that you wish you had never done. But those individuals are in the same boat. They didn’t wake up in the morning saying they wanted to be addicted to pain pills and ‘now I’m so addicted I’m going out to rob a bank, and rob from my family’ and things like that.
“We’ve got to start treating these things as what they are- addictions, and start giving these people a second chance. One of the things that I’ve talked about, we’re going to continue to demolish homes that need to be demolished, and buildings that need to be demolished. Those homes and buildings that can be rehabbed, we’re going to rehab them using formerly incarcerated individuals, men and women. It goes back to, once again, we know if we don’t give that population an opportunity and a chance to find themselves into the mainstream of society, we know they’re going to offend again and they’re going to go back to prison. That doesn’t help anybody. It doesn’t help them. It doesn’t help their families.
“Everybody deserves a second chance but I’m not going to live in some fool’s paradise that people are going to vote for me if they don’t believe that I’ve changed or if they don’t believe in second chances, but I’ve got confidence in the voters of the city of Cleveland that the vast majority will look at and evaluate our policies and say, as I’ve said, ‘we need a change and we’re not going to go down this path with Frank Jackson. This individual at least gives us a breath of fresh air that there is a future out there. Elections are about the future. I’m willing to give him an opportunity to build upon the future for every ward, every community, and every neighborhood.’”
Our thanks to councilman Reed for his time.
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Content Strategist, novelist and prolific roustabout who drinks entirely too much coffee. You can find him on Twitter @therealadamdodd