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Justin Bibb, Kevin Kelley win Cleveland mayoral primary, head to General Election, unofficial results show

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Posted at 11:27 PM, Sep 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-15 08:13:17-04

CLEVELAND — For the first time in 15 years, the city of Cleveland will have a mayor who is not Frank Jackson. In a hotly contested race, voters advanced two Democratic candidates to the November general election: Justin Bibb and Kevin Kelley, according to unofficial results from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.

Bibb received 27.14% of the total votes cast, the unofficial results show. Kelley got 19.39% of the vote.

“I think the results tonight speak to the importance of having a mayor that’s not focused on the failed status quo of the past but focusing on moving Cleveland and the future as we claw our way out of this pandemic," Bibb said.

He added that his work is cut out for the next couple of months.

"We have more work to do, more doors to knock on, more voters to talk to to make sure we’re successful come November 2," said Bibb said.

At his victory party, Kelley called his journey long and tough, crediting his campaign staff and supporters as they look ahead to November.

“We all have to move forward from today believing in our mission, believing that we are going to create a Cleveland where every neighborhood counts, every person, every street, every community, every neighborhood will count into Cleveland that we believe in," he said.

He said it's time to move forward, especially in the midst of the pandemic.

“We’re not going back to the pre-COVID-19 Cleveland. We’re going to a Cleveland that we all believe in, where we all prosper, we all move forward," Kelley said.

Fifteen percent of Cleveland’s eligible voters turned out to vote for mayoral candidates in Tuesday’s primary election in Cuyahoga County — 38,350 voters of the city’s 247,742 eligible. Ward 17, on Cleveland’s far west side, had the highest turnout by far, with 28.3% of voters there casting their vote.

See unofficial results for this race and other Cuyahoga County Primary Elections here.

While 100% of precincts and all early in-person votes have been counted, not all mail-in votes have been counted, according to the Board of Elections, and the final numbers may fluctuate before the unofficial results are certified.

Nonprofit executive Bibb and Cleveland City Council President Kelley will now face off in the General Election on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

The other candidates included Cleveland City Councilman Basheer Jones, State Sen. Sandra Williams, former Mayor Dennis Kucinich, former Cleveland City Councilman Zack Reed, and attorney Ross DiBello.

Kucinich conceded to his supporters at a watch party Tuesday night when he was about 1,000 votes behind Kelley, and said it did not look like he'd be able to make up the ground to secure the second spot on the ballot.

This will be the first mayoral race since 2001 without an incumbent running for reelection.

Mayor Frank Jackson announced in May that he would not seek an unprecedented fifth term in office.

See more updates from Tuesday's election in our live blog here.

Winning candidates on the issues

News 5 conducted extensive interviews with all seven candidates. Here's where the two winning candidates stand on some of the most important issues to the Cleveland area.

Renter issues and evictions

After the Supreme Court struck down the Biden Administration's eviction moratorium last month, News 5 asked each candidate what they would do as mayor once the moratorium was lifted.

Bibb: In speaking to News 5, Bibb endorsed "pay to stay" legislation that would force landlords to accept late payments. He also called for cracking down on out-of-state predatory landlords and improving the housing department.

"We also need to do a better job inside City Hall of having a building and housing department that better supports our residents and renters and homeowners," said Bibb.

Kelley: City Council President Kevin Kelley said he supports creating an eviction protection fund and has worked in council to make sure people going through eviction have the right to representation.

"But there's no defense for non-pay," Kelley said. "We also have to remember that we have a lot of good landlords that are struggling as well.”

RELATED: Cleveland mayoral candidates say eliminating 'funding logjam' will save renters from eviction

COVID-19 vaccination

Bibb: Bibb laid out plans to go to churches, community centers, libraries and barbershops to make the vaccines more readily available.

"I think we've dropped the ball in this city in terms of giving people the confidence that they need and the information that they need to get vaccinated," said Bibb. "We can't get our economy moving again and get towards a more prosperous economic recovery until we get out of this pandemic."

Kelley: Kelley called vaccinations a "miracle of science" and "our biggest weapon to fight this." Kelley said, as public officials, "we need to do everything we can to get as many people vaccinated."

Kelley also discussed plans to go to churches, community centers, libraries and barbershops to make the vaccine more readily available.

RELATED: What all 7 Cleveland mayoral candidates had to say about their vaccination policies and status

Public Safety

Bibb: "We must do the hard work of rethinking what policing would look-like." In Bibb's vision, he would redeploy the police force so 70% of officers were walking the beat and visible in the community. Bibb would add officers to fill vacancies in the police force but would "do a better job with the existing resources that we currently have. "

He would add a fourth option around 911 so social workers and mental health professionals can respond to non-violent calls. He says the consent decree could be a national model for reform and accountability. He would also support a Cleveland Police Oversight Commission.

Bibb said he would initiate both a local and national search for the next police chief.

Kelley: He called the proliferation of guns "shocking" and says the state legislature has stripped the City of Cleveland from having "any kind of reasonable gun laws, and that's a shame."

Kelley would fill all of the open positions within the police department, ensuring full-staffing in homicide, sex crimes and domestic violence specialty units. He said a pilot co-responder program has shown some benefit but "the number of calls that are appropriate and safe for social workers or mental health professionals to respond to have been extremely limited."

His vision for community policing is installing a "neighborhood safety center" in every ward and an increase in officers on bike and foot patrols.

Kelley called for the simplification of the police department's 17-page chase policy so it is crystal clear to officers when a pursuit is necessary.

Kelley wouldn't "make any personnel decisions right now" when asked if he would retain chief Williams.

RELATED: Three Cleveland mayoral candidates say they will fire police chief, if elected

Bringing Jobs to Cleveland

Bibb: He said we need to invest in education and affordable workforce housing to "create a better middle class."

He said Cleveland has a reputation as being "one of the hardest cities in America to do business with."

To fix this, he would partner with the county to create a regional economic development cabinet to serve as a "one-stop shop and one concerted effort to make sure we have a distinct value proposition to attract good quality jobs in our community."

Kelley: He said Cleveland's biggest problem is finding and training qualified workers.

"Businesses will come. We will send a message to the nation once we’re able to match our citizens with available jobs," he said.

"Right now, I see that as the biggest weakness with our economy. The mismatch between available jobs and the skills of our citizens,” he said.

Kelley said we need to provide the education and training to provide the workforce that's needed today.

RELATED: Cleveland is the poorest big city in America. What the 7 mayoral candidates plan to do about that.

Future Plans for Cleveland’s Most Vital Investments

The West Side Market, our stadiums, and our lakefront are not only major tourist attractions, but they are synonymous with Cleveland. So what do the two candidates who won Tuesday’s primary have planned for some of Cleveland's most vital investments, including Cleveland’s water and power utilities?

Read our full story here to find where the candidates stand.

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View all our coverage of the 2021 Cleveland Mayoral Race here

The Associated Press contributed to this report.