Mayor Justin Bibb’s leadership and messaging was tested last week following another violent Cleveland weekend, punctuated by a mass shooting in the city’s entertainment district that left nine people injured.
Bibb used a series of media interviews and news conferences last week to reassure the public that combating violence remains his top priority and that his administration is open to all options to recruit and retain officers to get the police force back to full strength. (The administration is not suggesting that adding more police officers is the only answer to stemming violence.)
Bibb has previously complained that Cuyahoga County judges are allowing “repeat offenders” out of jail (though he’s never put hard numbers behind such claims), and he more recently blamed lawmakers in Columbus and Washington for resisting gun control measures that he said are at the heart of the problem.
This argument drew a response this week from the Cuyahoga County and Ohio Republican parties, which largely ignore Cleveland politics. They attacked Bibb with a national GOP talking point, claiming he represents another Democrat mayor losing control of his city. The parties also poked Bibb’s frequent out-of-town travels. (The Republican shots on Bibb suggest the parties recognize the mayor might have political ambitions beyond City Hall.)
While such attacks are largely meaningless to Bibb, his relationship with City Council is not. His response to the increase in violence has exposed a political rift between him and council.
Council members used their most recent meeting to call out the mayor for his response to the police shortage and violence on the streets. But the mayor and every member of his administration skipped the meeting, which fueled anger among council members. The mayor’s spokesperson said the administration won’t waste its time being lectured to. The mayor’s office also teased council about its summer schedule, lamenting, “The city’s problems and violence do not get a summer recess like council.”
Signal Cleveland talked to Council President Blaine Griffin before the meeting about what the city should be doing beyond trying to add more officers.
Under former Mayor Frank Jackson, Griffin was director of the Community Relations Board, which is the city’s eyes and ears in the neighborhoods. Griffin was credited with helping keep peace in the city after highly charged police shootings and with interrupting violent beefs between neighborhood rivals.
“We have to do a better job of monitoring social media because everything is so impulsive and we need to get in front of it quicker, and that’s where everyone is struggling,” he said. “We had a very good system when I was [on the Community Relations Board]. We were able to get ahead of a lot of things.”
He said the city needs to recruit more “new blood and some of the young people who had the same passion to correct the streets.”
“We sometimes got to use the people who tore it up to fix it up,” he said. “Those are the ones with credibility in the streets.”