CLEVELAND — Cleveland voters are just five weeks away from knowing who the top two mayoral hopefuls will be that will face off in November. Early voting begins next week in the Sept. 14 non-partisan primary—a contest that features seven hopefuls who are now free to make their case to city voters free from the shadow of the 11th Congressional District special primary that took much of the oxygen out of the political room over the last month.
"We have a vigorous campaign going on by all seven candidates,” said News 5 Political Analyst Dr. Tom Sutton of Baldwin Wallace University. “It's really hard to see who is emerging as the leader. I think your top candidates in terms of public exposure would be Kevin Kelley, the city council president and former mayor Dennis Kucinich and now just endorsed by Cleveland.com Justin Bibb—I think that certainly raises his profile.
“Then you have Zack Reed who ran four years ago and certainly has a pretty good base. The other candidates I think they also each have their own possibilities. Basheer Jones the city councilman, Sandra Williams the state senator. Ross DiBello is probably the one with the lowest name recognition as a first time candidate. But because of the regional split across the city you got three west side candidates and four east side candidates it's really hard to say where this is going to go come the primary on Sept. 14.”
The key for them now will be to use every debate–like Tuesday’s City Club forum—to make their case.
"Really the goal is public exposure and connection,” Sutton said. “I think name recognition is getting there for most of these candidates, but they really have to differentiate themselves from each other on the issues. They all agree on the issues that are important, the issues that will be talked about tonight—public safety, housing, healthcare. The question is what will they do about it?"
Turning out the voters that are turned onto them is key. Keep in mind, the last time this seat was open 20 years ago there were 10 candidates on that primary ballot with fewer than 1,000 votes separating the top two.
And four years ago there were only 33,500 votes cast in that primary. That’s in a city of over a quarter million voters. So just shy of 7,400 is all Zack Reed needed to make the top two. In a low turnout election it doesn't take much.
"Typically the turnout's going to be a lot higher on the West Side parts of the city compared to the East Side, but with these candidates you might see bump ups particularly in the wards where they're represented by Basheer Jones, used to be represented by Zack Reed and of course Sandra Williams representing the East Side area as a state senator."