More West Side Market debate

Some vendors are criticizing Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin on social media for his comments to Signal Cleveland and others about the West Side Market. Griffin said the city can’t afford to spend $15 million in federal COVID relief money on the landmark – as Mayor Justin Bibb has proposed – in light of bigger needs in neighborhoods. 

Vendor Kate’s Fish, often a critic of the city’s poor management of the market, tweeted, “So funding the @Browns stadium with public tax dollars is more important than funding the @WestSideMarket with free federal dollars?” 

The vendor then mocked Griffin’s potential to some day lead the city, adding, “Good to know, best of luck w/that mayoral campaign.” 

At Monday night’s council meeting, some of Griffin’s colleagues rallied to his defense. 

Ward 10 Council Member Anthony Hairston said the council president had been “unfairly targeted.” 

Ward 9’s Kevin Conwell, who represents Glenville, called the West Side Market money a “slap in the face” of neighborhoods where grocery options are few and far between. 

“How can you do that when you have people walking with crutches and canes and they’re going to a gas station just to get some food?” he said. 

Kerry McCormack, whose Ward 3 is home to the West Side Market, responded: 

“The best way to sink our city is pitting neighborhood versus neighborhood,” he said.

Bibb told reporters after his State of the City speech that he welcomed the conversation with council. He said the market is a regional asset that needs money for upgrades – if not from federal money, then from city bond or General Fund dollars. 

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use the American Rescue Plan dollars to address some of the long, structural, systemic, capital infrastructure needs that we failed to address as a city,” Bibb said. “And we still own the asset, so we’re still on the hook.”

An overhead image of various vendor stalls in the West Side Market.
Credit: Erin Woisnet for Signal Cleveland

Cleveland police in Akron

The City of Cleveland, which has a shortage of police officers, sent officers to Akron this week. They were there to help Akron’s police department manage crowds reacting to a special grand jury’s decision Monday to not indict eight police officers involved in the shooting death of Jayland Walker. Sergeant Jennifer Ciaccia, the Cleveland Division of Police public information officer, said the city sent some bicycle officers, but she didn’t say exactly how many. Bike patrols have been a visible and vital part of the city’s crowd control efforts at past Cleveland events. Cuyahoga County’s Sheriff Department told Signal Cleveland it has not sent any deputies to Akron.

Back on the presidential campaign trail

Former Cleveland mayor and two-time presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich is back on the campaign trail. This time, he’s campaigning for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (the son of Robert F. Kennedy), one of several Democrats challenging President Biden, who is expected to announce his re-election bid soon. 

Kucinich introduced Kennedy at his kick-off event in Boston this week. Kennedy, once best known as an environmental activist, has been criticized by his own family and health experts for his anti-vaccine views and ties to far-right groups. 

“Robert F. Kennedy is the Paul Revere of our time … warning us when water is unsafe to drink … warning us when pharmaceuticals are unsafe to use,” Kucinich said. 

Kucinich generated controversy during the 2021 campaign for Cleveland mayor when he initially refused to say whether he was vaccinated against COVID-19, though he later said he had not been vaccinated because of his personal medical issues.

Bibb and the “Big Four”

Fresh off his State of the City speech, Mayor Bibb went back on the road to the African American Mayors Association conference in Washington, D.C. 

There, Bibb moderated a panel with the mayors of America’s four largest cities: Eric Adams of New York, Karen Bass of Los Angeles, Lori Lightfoot of Chicago and Sylvester Turner of Houston. 

Joining the 35-year-old Cleveland mayor as moderator was Jaylen Smith, who was elected mayor of Earle, Ark., last year at age 18. 

You can watch the conversation here.

County to talk wage theft

Activists rally for worker rights, wage theft
Activists rally for worker rights and against wage theft. (Credit: Guardians for Fair Work) Credit: Guardians for Fair Work

Cuyahoga County Council Member Dale Miller is scheduled to introduce legislation that would bar businesses that have engaged in wage theft from receiving county contracts.

Miller told Signal Cleveland that he would introduce the legislation at the April 25 council meeting.

If approved, the county would join Cleveland in barring businesses that cheat workers out of their pay. Cleveland City Council passed a wage theft law last December. 

Wage theft is shorting workers for the hours they actually worked, but it also includes not paying them for tasks or duties that should be considered part of the workday. These include having workers come in early to do prep work or staying late to clean up. The legislation also would also prohibit businesses that have been penalized or barred from other public contracts for falsifying certified payroll records. Cleveland’s ordinance also addresses payroll fraud.

The county legislation would amend laws governing reasons for barring contractors. Contractors are generally barred for three years. However, depending on the offense, they could be prohibited from doing business with the county for as little as 18 months or for as long as five years. The law currently bars contractors for more than 30 reasons including “collusion to restrain competition,” tax evasion and unsatisfactory performance.

Miller said it is important to also include wage theft.

“Wage theft is more common than is commonly realized,” he said. “It’s very important that employees who work hard to make a living get the wages that they’re entitled to. We’re just hoping to put companies on notice that they have to treat their employees right and provide the wages that they promised them.”

Guardians for Fair Work, a coalition of community and faith-based groups and labor organizations, lobbied both legislative bodies to pass wage theft legislation.

Take note

Documenter Sarah Tan notes that Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority ridership is still down compared to pre-pandemic levels, but its post-COVID recovery is a bit better than cities with larger downtown financial districts. Cleveland ridership patterns are different from more dense cities, and RTA numbers are helped by weekend ridership. RTA estimates that ridership for 2023 will hit about 20 million, compared to 2019’s 32 million.

Sidenote: RTA officials said the Cleveland transit agency was the first in the United States to have direct rail from downtown to an international airport. You can read more here.

Managing Editor, News (he/him)
Mark is a veteran journalist with experience in alternative media, print, digital and television news. For 19 years, he was a groundbreaking reporter and metro columnist with The Plain Dealer and Most recently, Mark spent three years as an investigative, enterprise and breaking news reporter at WKYC-TV, where his "Leading the Land" series on Cleveland's 2021 mayoral primary race earned a regional Emmy.

Criminal Justice Reporter (she/her)
Stephanie, who covered criminal justice and breaking news at the Chicago Tribune, is a bilingual journalist with a passion for storytelling that is inclusive and reflects the diversity of the communities she covers. She has been a reporter and copy editor for local newspapers in South Dakota, Kansas and Arizona. Stephanie is also a Maynard 200 alumni, a Maynard Institute for Journalism Education training program for journalists of color that focuses on making newsrooms more equitable, diverse and anti-racist.

Economics Reporter (she/her)
Olivera, an award-winning journalist, covered labor, employment and workforce issues for several years at The Plain Dealer. She broke the story in 2013 of a food drive held for Walmart workers who made too little to afford Thanksgiving dinner. Olivera has received state and national awards for her coverage, including those from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. Olivera believes the sweet spot of high-impact journalism is combining strong storytelling with data analysis.

Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio, where he has 10 years' experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Last year 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.