New Cleveland City Council takes oaths as political leadership turns over

Cleveland city hall
Cleveland City Council members were sworn in Monday evening. [Tim Harrison / Ideastream Public Media]

The members of a new class of Cleveland City Council took their seats at City Hall Monday night and officially elevated Blaine Griffin to the council presidency.

The meeting, council’s first of the new year, showcased the turnover in the Cleveland area’s political leadership.

Of council’s 17 members, five were newly elected last November. Another three won their first elections after being appointed to their seats last term. Freshman U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown, who took office shortly after winning a special election last November, swore council in as newly minted Mayor Justin Bibb looked on.

Griffin has represented Ward 6, which runs from Little Italy to the Kinsman neighborhood on the East Side, since he was appointed to succeed Councilwoman Mamie Mitchell in 2017. Before that, he led the community relations board for Mayor Frank Jackson.

The newly elected council president congratulated the new mayor on his victory last year, saying he looked forward to working with Bibb to take care of Cleveland’s residents.

“I believe that you and we share many of the same principles and values to move this city forward,” Griffin told Bibb from the council president’s dais. “But I won’t sugarcoat it: You will have to deal with a rowdy bunch over here.”

One by one, the members of that rowdy bunch stood and thanked family and supporters, with many urging colleagues and the Bibb administration to confront violent crime.

“Council, in my opinion, must rise to the occasion and make quality-of-life issues our No. 1 priority,” said Ward 8 Councilman Mike Polensek, who has served on the body since 1978. “If we do that successfully, not only will we assist Mayor Bibb and his administration, but above all, we will benefit our citizens and their children, who want nothing less than safe streets, quality services and good schools.”

Although the mayor and all council members are Democrats, a few were on opposite sides of last year’s mayoral election. Griffin, Ward 9 Councilman Kevin Conwell and Ward 2’s Kevin Bishop became prominent supporters of outgoing Council President Kevin Kelley’s campaign. Both Conwell and Bishop wished Bibb well at the meeting and said they would work alongside him.

Only Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack endorsed Bibb last year. McCormack missed the meeting Monday night after testing positive for the coronavirus. He joined the meeting remotely, calling in on Zoom to a tablet set up on his desk.

“The good news is that I am fully vaccinated and boosted,” McCormack wrote on Twitter. “Because of my vaccination status, my symptoms are very mild and will most likely stay that way.”

McCormack will serve as council’s majority leader alongside the council whip, Jasmin Santana of Ward 14. Santana said over the next four years she would prioritize making it easier for residents who don’t speak English as a first language to access city services.

“I will tell you that our City Hall does not represent the diversity within the city of Cleveland, so I am looking forward to working on this,” she said.

Two of the incoming council members beat incumbents last year. Ward 12’s Rebecca Maurer unseated Tony Brancatelli, and Richard Starr of Ward 5 defeated Delores Gray.

The Gray family will retain a foothold in council, however. Gray’s twin sister, Deborah, was elected to represent Ward 4.

State Rep. Stephanie Howse is making a return to her Ward 7 council seat after more than a decade away. Howse was appointed to council in 2008 after the death of longtime Hough Councilwoman Fannie Lewis, but lost a special election months later.  

Howse is succeeding Basheer Jones, who opted to run for mayor rather than seek a second term as a councilman. Ward 13’s Kris Harsh replaces the other defeated mayoral candidate, Kevin Kelley.

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