There is much to be said, especially in a city soon to reach its 230th birthday, about the benefits of youth. Nowhere was that more evident than in 34-year-old Mayor Justin Bibb’s first-ever State of the City address.
Bibb is Cleveland’s first millennial mayor (a fact that his administration is fond of trumpeting), and his first-ever State of the City speech, given on the evening of April 13 at Case Western Reserve University, was a demonstration of the remarkably youthful energy that has recently gripped Cleveland’s civic life. Bibb had not even delivered a word when nearly 1,000 attendees gave him a standing ovation.
The speech, delivered on the 100th day of this young mayor’s young administration, was a restatement of the values that thrust Bibb into high municipal office, and an account of the progress his administration has made on its 85 priorities for the city. Here are four things to know about Bibb’s first State of the City address.
Bibb has been very busy in his first 100 days. In just a few months in office, Bibb’s administration has made progress on a multitude of goals that many Clevelanders had long wanted from the plodding administration of Mayor Frank Jackson. Among them are evaluating the possibility of closing Burke Lakefront Airport, getting rid of the ugly-as-hell jersey barriers on Public Square, revitalizing the lakefront, putting a framework in place for planning a city where everyone can walk to a park or grocery store within 15 minutes, and placing real oomph into reviving the flagging West Side Market. Among other goals, Bibb also reiterated the city’s commitment to a 60% COVID-19 vaccination rate and eradicating the city’s persistent lead poisoning problem in his speech. “Let’s not be afraid to set our expectations higher,” said Bibb. “We must be the change. We must give ourselves the permission and the courage to dream as a city.”
Public safety and police reform continue to be the metric by which Bibb, and other metropolitan mayors, are evaluated. Shootings still plague Cleveland and public trust in police is at low levels. But Bibb, who supported Issue 24, which has set into motion further reforms to the Cleveland Police Department, navigated those choppy waters ably in his speech. Bibb honored the memory of Shane Bartek, a police officer who died tragically in an off-duty shooting, while simultaneously pledging to reform the department and tackle the issue of rising violent crime. Public safety will always be his number one priority as mayor, said Bibb. “You deserve to feel safe in your homes,” Bibb said. “No one, and I repeat, no one, should have to live in fear in our city.”
Bibb is committed to modernizing City Hall’s approach to customer service. Cleveland has a tried-and-true method for testing the metal of young mayors: the Lake Effect snow storm. And Mayor Bibb was no exception. Shortly after Bibb took office, Cleveland was buried under monster snowdrifts. But that experience only reinforced Bibb’s resolve to modernize City Hall. In his speech, Bibb committed to overhauling the city ‘s 311 service by conducting a comprehensive audit, which would build upon the city’s already-released snow plow tracker. Those efforts are part of a new commitment to customer service at City Hall, said Bibb. “We know the onus shouldn’t be on you the residents,” said Bibb. “It should be on us at City Hall to follow up on your requests.”
What happened to Cleveland Public Power? Though Bibb touched on many topics in his address, perhaps the most conspicuous absence from his comments was any mention of Cleveland Public Power, the city-owned utility that continues to be in a state of crisis. Created as a way of busting the trusts that dominated the provision of electric power in Northeast Ohio, CPP is a vital mechanism for providing electricity to Cleveland’s least fortunate and fighting against the menacing power of big corporate monopoly, which continues to hold cities like Cleveland in a state of servility. Bibb, regrettably, did not mention CPP a single time. Perhaps he was holding his tongue for a later speech? One can only hope.