Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin speaks with an attendee at a news conference near Shaker Square.
Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin speaks with an attendee at a news conference near Shaker Square. Credit: Nick Castele / Signal Cleveland

The fight over participatory budgeting is shaping up to be the marquee local election in Cleveland this fall. Like any good political fight, it mixes high stakes with flash-in-the-pan drama. 

The latest drama sparked Sunday night, when word began to circulate about a curious piece of City Council legislation. The measure would have opened the door for the council president to spend taxpayer money to defeat Issue 38, the participatory budget amendment. 

Social media umbrage followed Monday morning, and the People’s Budget campaign called the move a subversion of the democratic process. Behind the scenes, council argued that it was in fact legal to tap the city coffers in a ballot campaign. 

It appeared that the debate was headed for open arguments at the Finance Committee table. 

But then Council President Blaine Griffin reversed course and pulled the legislation. A brief statement from City Council laid the blame on the city law department. 

Mayor Justin Bibb’s press secretary said the mayor opposes the legislation, even if there was some legal ground for it. (Bucking a cadre of his political supporters, Bibb is officially against Issue 38 – though it is becoming clear that he’d rather stay out of the fray.)

Council may have had legal precedent on its side, but it’s hard to see the episode as anything but a self-inflicted political wound. 

The ordeal is likely a harbinger of a bruising three-way political tussle to come, with City Council and the People’s Budget Campaign duking it out over Issue 38 while the Bibb administration tries to dodge punches from both sides.

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Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio. He has more than a decade experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. In 2021, he produced and hosted "After Jackson: Cleveland's Next Mayor," an Ideastream Public Media podcast on the Cleveland mayoral race. He has also covered breaking news, opioid lawsuits and elections nationally for NPR.