Congratulations on your election. You will be besieged with advice in the coming weeks, so I decided to write to you with some unsolicited advice before you have been elected and even before I know your name.
Your political capital will never be higher than it is now, so garner widespread support for some bold initiatives in your first 100 days. Your success as mayor will be measured by your ability to bring diverse Greater Clevelanders together around a common agenda.
I urge you to be humble. Listen. Be inclusive. Reach out to rivals, critics and skeptics and bring them to your table.
I urge you to be bold. You have been elected to one four-year term. Don’t act as if you will have two or three. Think of your tenure as mayor as a successive series of your first 100 days and act with urgency.
Too often, cities move too quickly to strategies and tactics before they establish an inclusive, open process for developing the best solutions.
The single most important thing you can do in your first 100 days to grow our economy is make sure that a far more inclusive group of leaders is in the room where economic development thinking and planning happens. While the key, established actors must be at the table, that’s only the beginning. It must be an open table that attracts a diverse group of changemakers and connectors.
Embrace our new generation of disrupters. They don’t wait for permission; they refuse to sit at the kids table until the older generation gets off the stage. They see possibilities where others see barriers and roadblocks. They are everywhere, often hidden in plain sight. They are the new city CEOs.
You must work across political parties, borders, sectors, generations, genders, races and cultures. Too often, each sector and organization is its own audience, working inside an echo chamber and operating within a narrow frame.
If you google “strategic plan” and “Cleveland,” you will find a number of very thoughtful, well-written strategic plans from a number of nonprofit economic and community development organizations. But you will not find a growth plan that aligns, connects and unifies these plans with a common framework of shared goals, strategies and metrics for our city and our region. As our new mayor, working with County Executive Armond Budish, you have the opportunity to do just that.
The greatest single way to keep Cleveland competitive and accelerate our trajectory as a rising city is to foster innovation. The recently announced Cleveland Innovation District is a great first start that you should immediately embrace and support.
We must be a city where there are clearly defined industry clusters and job hubs anchored by knowledge centers — our colleges, universities and hospitals — that partner with adjacent large and small companies and startup incubators. As the late David Morgenthaler once told me, an innovation district is where, if you lose your job, you don’t lose your parking space because the brain hub creates and attracts so many jobs. In innovation, a company’s success depends in part on the critical mass of the entire ecosystem that surrounds it.
Our greatest physical asset is the waterfront along Lake Erie. Cleveland’s downtown is separated from North Coast Harbor by a 50-foot drop in elevation, the shoreway and a wasteland of railroad lines and parking lots. Our waterfront must be more at the center of gravity of downtown and connected to all parts of the city.
You can start by supporting the building of a pedestrian and bicycle bridge connecting Downtown Cleveland to the lakefront. You should also begin the process of closing Burke Lakefront Airport. It’s seen more than a 60% decline in flights in recent years and opening up its 450 acres and 3 miles of Lake Erie shoreline for development would be transformational.
Inclusive economic growth means that Cleveland’s success will be measured not just by how many new jobs you help create or how much you revitalize our lakefront. It means we must also be measured about how well Cleveland’s rising tide lifts all boats, not just some.
As the Fund for Our Economic Future has noted, job creation, preparation and access must include an explicit focus on strategies that lead to more racially equitable outcomes. We must be able to connect light rail and bus rapid transit to jobs, and go from one neighborhood to the next safely and effortlessly 24/7.
Your agenda must directly address the issue of race. Somewhere along the way, the effort to improve race relations dropped from our community’s overarching agenda. While organizations such as the NAACP, Urban League and Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio play a vital role in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion, you should create a forum where leaders from the business, education, labor, civic and religious organizations meet regularly to talk about race and work to improve race relations in Greater Cleveland.
Talking about race, even when it is uncomfortable to do so, is necessary for progress. While conversation alone will not be enough, skipping the conversation ignores the human element of this systemic crisis. In 1981, community leaders formed the Greater Cleveland Roundtable. I had the privilege of serving on the roundtable for many years, and I witnessed the power of regular conversation between races, cultures and generations. It’s time for you to bring the roundtable back.
Every city goes through challenging times and unexpected crises, all of which tear at a city’s soul. The common thread of those that not only survive but thrive is trust. When a city establishes a strong foundation of trust among its leaders and with its citizens, it can withstand those forces trying to tear it apart.
Please remember that change happens at the speed of trust.
Mayor, all of us, including those who did not support you, want you to succeed, because if you succeed, we succeed.