As Mayor Justin Bibb took the stage for his second state of the city on April 19, he looked out across a sea of supporters and public servants at East Technical High School in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood. For Bibb, whose first speech came only months after his inauguration last year, this his first chance to reflect on the evolution from COVID-19 uncertainty to a recovering city.
“We worked to usher in a new era of safety and opportunity, so every person in every corner of Cleveland can thrive and grow,” the 35-year-old mayor said. “But maybe more importantly, we sought to bring our community closer together. But today is also a time for optimism because today we’ve made significant progress in keeping our citizens safe and creating jobs and opportunities for residents.
“And together, we’ve shouted with one resounding voice that Cleveland is open and ready for business.”
Here are a few takeaways from Bibb’s Wednesday night speech hosted by the City Club of Cleveland.
Shout Out to Eric Gordon, Outgoing CMSD CEO
Early in the speech, Bibb congratulated outgoing Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon. A Cleveland Scene report last year suggested tension with Bibb may have caused Gordon’s resignation. Bibb seemed eager to squash the illusion of beef.
“Eric, thank you for showing us every single day what empathetic purpose-driven leadership looks like,” Bibb said. “Because of your tireless dedication and unwavering commitment, our kids have made significant and remarkable progress over the last decade. Eric helped launch reforms of Cleveland plan, oversaw a dramatic increase in our high school graduation rates, passed four critical levies, implemented the say yes education program, and most importantly, he helped foster an active school-city civic partnership. Eric, your legacy will live with us for generations to come. That deserves another round of applause and standing ovation.”
Recognition for City Council and President Blaine Griffin
Perhaps more beef squashing, Bibb asked for another round of applause for the work being done by city council. No doubt the recent disagreement over the West Side Market was top of mind.
Honoring the Fallen
Four members of Engine 22 were on hand to honor 27-year Cleveland Firefighter Johnny Tetrick, who died in the line of duty in November. Falon Tetrick, one of his three daughters, was also in attendance.
“We remember him as a devoted father, a cherished friend and an exemplary public servant who put others first every single day,” Bibb said.
Becoming a Safer City
Though the city’s neighborhoods have experienced unprecedented violence, the city has taken steps toward becoming safer, says Bibb. The mayor pointed to the 11% pay increase for officers — the largest in history. Additionally, community-cop relations are improving thanks to “walk and talks,” where cops walk the beat and meet the citizenry, and the new 13-member community police commission, ushered in by the passage of Issue 24.
Building Business Opportunity
If there was one overarching theme in the mayor’s speech, however, it was economic growth. The numbers are sobering. Cleveland has lost 25% of jobs, 22% of population and, while the country experienced 11% economic growth, Cleveland experienced a 5% decline.
Bibb’s big idea to combat that came in the form of legislation during Monday’s council meeting. He proposed creating a $50 million site readiness fund to activate 1,000 acres of land for future development. The plan, which would seek another $50 million in private and public funding and likely relies on American Rescue Plan funding, has the potential to create 25,000 new jobs and 4,000 indirect jobs, according to Bibb.
“We have a chance to attract good jobs so hard-working residents and their children don’t have to move away and search for opportunity,” says the mayor. “We want them to find it right here right now at home.”