CLEVELAND — Kevin Kelley, a stalwart of Cleveland's city council since 2005, stood on the steps of City Hall and announced the start of his mayoral campaign on Thursday afternoon. The current council president and former social worker joins the list of growing yet still incomplete list of mayoral hopefuls within the filing deadline still two months away.
Kelley, the current councilman for Ward 13, which includes the Old Brooklyn and Stockyards neighborhoods, brings name recognition, years of experience in municipal government, and fundraising connections to what is expected to be a hotly contested race. It remains unclear if current Mayor Frank Jackson, who's been in office since 2005, will seek re-election.
During his campaign announcement, Kelley addressed the proverbial elephant in the room.
"Mayor Jackson was the right mayor at the right time but I believe it's time for a new path forward," Kelley said. "I believe it's time that we make certain changes. We are not operating at our potential."
Kelley's announcement comes on the heels of a city-wide virtual listening tour that highlighted the litany of resident concerns across the city's 17 wards. One of the most pressing concerns is public safety. The city logged more than 170 homicides in 2020, a substantial increase over the previous year and more than 100 additional homicides compared to a year ago. In the first three months of this year, there have been 35 murders, compared to the 22 murders in the same time period last year.
"[Residents] have a right to live in a safe neighborhood. They need to feel safe in their homes. If we don't succeed at doing that, it doesn't matter what else we do. We need to create safe neighborhoods," Kelley said. "We need to make sure that sex crimes, domestic violence, homicide, all of those units [at the Cleveland Division of Police] are full. We need to make sure that every detective position is full. If we aren't solving crimes, they will commit additional crimes. In any one shift, a police officer may answer 20-30 calls for service per shift. That is mentally exhausting and we need to make sure we're taking care of the officers."
Kelley said his approach to public safety will be multi-pronged because there is not one solution to fix it. During his press conference Thursday, Kelley floating the idea of mini-sub stations spread throughout the community.
If elected mayor, Kelley said every policing strategy will have a focus on the community.
"People need to see the police. People need to make sure that when they call the police, they show up so people have that confidence in their own safety and safety of their family," Kelley said.
Kelley joins other mayor hopefuls that include -- but are not limited to -- RTA board member Justin Bibb and previous mayoral candidate Zack Reed. Former mayor Dennis Kucinich has also been linked to a possible mayoral run. Two candidates will be selected as a result of the September primaries ahead of the mayoral election in November.
Whoever becomes the city's next mayor will have the challenge of recovery from the pandemic recession greeting them on day one.
"Each election cycle we are told that this is the most important election of our lifetimes. Well, I happen to believe that the 2021 election is the most important municipal election in our lifetimes," Kelley said. "The path forward does not lead us back to the Cleveland that was. The path forward leads us to the Cleveland that can be."
Kelley said his recovery plan will focus on those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including small business owners and hospitality workers. One of the key messages of his campaign moving forward will be centered on job creation and economic development in all of the city's neighborhoods -- not just downtown.
"Recovery starts with those building blocks of making sure that we are helping those that were most hurt by the pandemic," Kelley said. "Then our ultimate path forward is going to be making sure that we educating our kids, training our workers so they can take one of the thousands of well-paying jobs that are available. Every person, every neighborhood has to be a part of the Cleveland recovery."
A small group of people from Clevelanders for Public Comment, a grassroots effort to bring public comment and more public engagement to the city's public meetings, including council committee meetings, also attended Kelley's announcement. Kelley vowed a transparent and responsive administration, especially when it comes to public records.
The issue of public comment is one that Kelley is open to, he said, and he has asked council researchers and staff to study the issue and make a recommendation to the operations and rules committee.
“Since I have been council president, I have made [transparency] a priority. I believe in open data,” Kelley said. “I believe that what the city does is the public's business. I support as much transparency and openness as much as possible.”
Kelley, who resides in Old Brooklyn with his wife, Elizabeth, has five daughters, ranging from the ages of 11 to 24. He said the decision to run for mayor was made as a family.
"We all kind of understand that politics is a family decision. When I'm mayor, there's going to be a lot of late nights," Kelley said. "At the end of the day, nothing matters if it affects your family."