Justin Bibb, now Mayor-Elect of Cleveland, on running for office and his vision to modernize city government.
Happy holidays everyone! We’re revisiting a topical and popular episode now that Justin Bibb has secured his position as Mayor-Elect of Cleveland.
We cover a lot in this conversation — through a lens of technology, entrepreneurship, and equity, we explore Justin’s vision for the city of Cleveland. Really enjoyed this conversation and hope you do too!
We’ll be back next week with new founder stories!
Learn more about Justin’s Platform: https://www.bibbforcle.com/
Follow Justin on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JustinMBibb
Follow Justin’s Campaign on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BibbForCLE
Learn more about Jeffrey Stern @ https://jeffreys.page
Connect with Jeffrey Stern on Linkedin or on Twitter
Follow Lay of The Land on Twitter and on LinkedIn
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:00:01]:
To really shape a different direction for our city would be the greatest job and the greatest opportunity of my lifetime. Land. That's really why I'm running, because I think we have a short amount of time to get some major decisions right about how we finally have a modern land engaged city hall, how we finally begin to eradicate racial inequities that exist in our police department, and how we finally begin to restore and build that trust with our residents. Land give them hope. Land the democratic process. And so we got to make some decisions right now or else we're going to miss a unique opportunity to truly meet the moment.
Jeffrey Stern [00:00:38]:
Let's discover the Cleveland entrepreneurial ecosystem. We are telling the stories of its entrepreneurs and those supporting them. Welcome to the Lay of the Land podcast, where we are exploring what people are building in Cleveland. I'm your host, Jeffrey Stern. Land coming to you live from Cleveland as well. Today I had the pleasure of speaking with Justin Bibb, and Justin is running for Mayor of Cleveland. Justin is a proud Cleveland native who grew up in Mount Pleasant on the northeast side of the city, and he's dedicated his career to rebuilding neighborhoods and making cities safer, healthier and more resilient through his work at the intersection of government, business and nonprofits. The currently serves as the Chief Strategy Officer of Urban Nova, a startup focused on solving the unique challenges faced by midsize cities. He interned for President Barack Obama when he was in the US. Senate and has served as a special assistant for Cuyahoga County, head of the Global Cities Practice at Gallup, and most recently as Vice President for Key Bank. He co founded Hack Cleveland back in 2014 following the death of Tamir Rice and launched Cleveland Can't Wait in 2019, a nonprofit focused on advancing racial equity and economic opportunity in underserved neighborhoods across the city. Justin is deeply committed to Cleveland, serving on the boards of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority of Teach for America in Ohio. Destination cleveland and Land Studio. We cover a lot of topics here in this conversation as we explore his vision for the city and platform, and I hope you all enjoy and learn more about Justin's mayoral candidacy. Given the nature of what we'll be talking about here today, namely your mayoral platform and vision that you have for the city instead of diving straight into Cleveland entrepreneurship land. Topics that we would normally cover on the show, I wanted to start just riffing on some things that I've noticed as a citizen of Cleveland. So I moved to Cleveland from New York City just over four years ago now. I moved to Statler Arms on east 12th land Euclid, right in the heart of downtown Cleveland. And just in the four years that I've been here, I have seen the city transform in incredibly exciting, land positive ways. But I have also become very aware of the severity and breadth of the systemic land historical challenges that the city faces. From institutionalized racism as one of the most segregated cities in the country, to the highest poverty rates in the country, to the highest infant mortality rates in the country, to the worst digital divide in internet connectivity in the country and a relative dearth of public transportation and accessibility coverage. And I don't mean to set the most somber stage here to start the conversation, but I don't think anyone would disagree. The challenges the city faces are substantial. But even with that, and having been made aware of that Cleveland reality, I remain really, truly optimistic and think there's such an incredible opportunity here in Cleveland, which is really why I'm excited to have you on and to learn more about the direction that you would like to take Cleveland land. So in the spirit of startups and founding stories, though, why is it that you are running for mayor? And what is the actual vision that you have for the city?
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:03:59]:
I think you set my why very clearly on your opening comments. We have structural, systemic problems facing Cleveland that we've yet to make significant headwind on the poorest big city in America, nearly 50% of our kids are living in poverty, the least connected in terms of the digital divide. And being one of the most economically segregated cities in this country lead you to believe that until we fix these structural problems, cleveland will never be able to live up to its true potential. And so when I think about the enormity land, the weight of these challenges, before we can talk about any grand policy idea to solve public education, to eradicate the digital divide, to uplift black women across our city, there's one thing we need. We need a sense of urgency, and we need to have the political will in this community to actually want to tackle some of these problems. Essentially, that's why I'm running. The slogan for our campaign is Cleveland can't wait. And I believe it can't wait. And 18 months ago, when I was talking to a number of leaders and other community folks across the city about my desire to run, I got a lot of great feedback. I got a lot of shut doors in my face, told me I was crazy, that I should wait and run for city council or run for the state legislature. Land. I decided that I couldn't wait, because what Cleveland needs to truly, I think, be the city in my heart that I wanted to be. Be the city that I've always dreamed about. From my days of growing up on mount Pleasant on 121st land dove to whenever I'm traveling across the country and I've lived in other cities across the country and across the world, I always compare it to Cleveland because I'm like, what if we did this in Cleveland? Or what if we did that land to be able to lead this city and build a team and to bring residents along the lay to really shape a different direction for our city would be the greatest job and the greatest opportunity of my lifetime. Land. That's really why I'm running, because I think we have a short amount of time to get some major decisions right about how we finally have a modern and engaged city hall, how we finally begin to eradicate racial inequities that exist in our police department, and how we finally begin to restore and build that trust with our residents. Land give them hope in the democratic process. And so we got to make some decisions right now or else we're going to miss a unique opportunity to truly meet the moment.
Jeffrey Stern [00:06:42]:
So there's truly infinite things we can cover here. But I want to cover a few topics specifically and given kind of the focus of this podcast, I want to start with technology initiatives and entrepreneurship. So when I had moved to Cleveland, I was working out of Startmart, which was a co working space in the second floor of Terminal Tower in Tower City. It has since unfortunately closed, but it made way for efforts like City Block, which was proposed then and kind of painted this picture of a bold, radical, technology first entrepreneurial repurposing of that space. We don't have to talk specifically about city block, but just in my time here, I've noticed that there have long been talk about these kind of grand flagship projects like City Block block land the Opportunity Corridor, the Medical Mart, which is now the Global Center for Health Innovation, most recently the Innovation District. But really these efforts to revitalize Cleveland. Land I would love to get your perspective on these kinds of initiatives. And ultimately what kind of initiatives would you prioritize to drive equitable economic development and foster technology and entrepreneurship?
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:07:51]:
Jeff you talked about a laundry list of good ideas and good projects. Land good strategies and good plans. But in my time in Cleveland land since I've been back since 2014, the one thing I've learned is that Cleveland has become a place where good plans go to die. We love having great plans, and for a long time as a city we've been intoxicated with this let's build it land they will come mentality. The Global Center for Health and Innovation is a prime example of that. We can't expect a building to be the silver bullet to solve our economic problems, yet we're really good at collaborating and finding the resources to do those kind of projects. But imagine where we would be now that instead of building the Medical Mart and spending a half a billion dollars a public subsidy, what if we would have took that half a billion dollars and focused it on early childhood education? Or what if we would have focused on building a half a billion dollar access to capital fund for black and brown businesses in our cities to make sure that we're actually creating true community wealth in some of our forgotten neighborhoods, like where I grew up on the Southeast Side, we'd be a completely different place. And what makes Silicon Valley a great place pre COVID was the fact that it was a culture of innovation, it was a culture of risk taking, it was a culture of collaboration. And there was a sense of heightened urgency to go out to the marketplace and scale and try new ideas. We don't have that in Cleveland. And until we fix that, we'll never be able to achieve some of these longer term expectations and goals we have around inclusive, entrepreneurship and truly being a globally competitive city. So it's those fundamentals of changing the mindset we have to do to make sure to do that on a long term basis.
Jeffrey Stern [00:09:57]:
Yeah. So if in the proverbial road to hell paved with good intentions that maybe a lot of these ideas were, how in practice do you go about the execution and the follow through on those kinds of ideas?
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:10:11]:
Well, running to be the CEO of the city, I have to set the culture and the tone. Land make sure that, number one, I'm building a best in class cabinet in City Hall that shares my sense of urgency, that shares my values around transparency and collaboration. And I want to make sure I have a leadership team that understands how to execute effectively and how to bring residents along in the process. But also I want to have a cabinet that's not afraid to take risk. Land not afraid to try new ideas. And so having a best in class team around me and attracting a talented leadership staff, I think is a key ingredient to that. I think the second thing is what I've learned in my career working in corporate America is you got to invest in your employees. You think about the fact that there are hundreds of admirable, great public servants working in City Hall right now that would love to do their job in a more innovative way, but they don't have the tools to do that. Land so I want to make sure as mayor that I'm investing in my employees, and I'm working directly with my employees, particularly our frontline service workers inside City Hall, to solicit their ideas on how we make sure we have a best in class city that's providing high quality city services for our residents. And then I would also say on the technology piece, you think about the ability for Cleveland to be a leader in smart cities. I spent a lot of my time working with other mayors across the country on how to upgrade legacy internal technology systems to improve service delivery. Everything from the fact that our website we have right now in City Hall is from the 2000 Bush era and it has been updated over the last 15 years to the fact that if you wanted to get a permit to start a small business or put a new roof on your garage and your home. You got to go down to City Hall, fill out a lot of paperwork, talk to a handful of people, and you have no idea when things are going to get done to finish your permit that would never succeed or work in the private sector. And so how do we start to take some of these best in class operating models around customer service as well, and embed those practices inside City Hall to make sure we're doing everything we can to do more with less, but also being as innovative as possible? Because those inefficiencies that we see inside City Hall only exacerbate the inequities that exist in our city. So there's material cost to not getting the basics right.
Jeffrey Stern [00:12:57]:
Yeah, there's a few threads there that I want to pull on. One is this you mentioned collaboration with other mayors. I know Mayor Suarez down in Miami.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:13:08]:
Florida has been a great guy, by the way, awesome guy.
Jeffrey Stern [00:13:10]:
He seems it from afar on Twitter.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:13:14]:
I got to work with him and a dozen other mayors when I was doing some work at Gallup with the US conference of Mayors. And we were trying to figure out how to build a racial equity framework for mayors to think about how to prioritize what technology to invest in around smart cities efforts. And so he's been on the front lines of this work for a long time.
Jeffrey Stern [00:13:37]:
Yeah, absolutely. It seems like he may have followed that playbook. But I've been from afar again observing that an explicit call recruitment almost of technology firms, scale ups, venture capitalists to more far out their ideas like direct government investment, land bitcoin. And not that that needs to be the playbook here or that makes sense to be the playbook here, but your perspective and take on how do we make Cleveland alluring to people as part of a technology forward and kind of innovation forward platform and solution.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:14:15]:
I think that there are a couple of things on that point, Jeff, who should think about? I think number one, I was having a fantastic conversation with the leader of Tech Elevator and the had this quote that has just been on my mind over the last couple of weeks. He says that cognitive ability was spread evenly across our city but accessed opportunity was not. And that hit home for me because when I think about the kids I grew up with on Doug, they were just as smart or smarter than me. But there were instances in their life where things didn't work out. They got caught up in the criminal justice system or their parents lost their job, so they couldn't afford to stay in their home, so they went from house to house or they didn't go to a good quality school. And I was blessed where although I went through a whole lot growing up in the city my mom. Land my dad, although they were divorced, made sure I kept myself busy, whether I was singing in the church choir, joining the science club, doing the spelling, be I was doing something. And unfortunately, when you look across the city, particularly in some of our most forgotten neighborhoods, you haven't seen that concerted investment in making sure these kids have access to opportunity. There's an old saying in my neighborhood, you are what you see. And during my time of my nonprofit, Cleveland Can't Wait, we worked with a number of different high school students to give them the venture development skills they needed to learn how to grow and start a business. And I remember on our first day kicking off the program, asked them, what's an entrepreneur? A lot of them could answer the question. But when I put up Zuckerberg oh, the Facebook guy. I pull up LeBron or Rich. Paul. Oh, yeah. They're building Clutch Sports. They're doing some really cool stuff. Land I'm like, well, you can do that, too. They're like, oh, I can be an entrepreneur. I'm like, yeah, let me show you how. So you see, it's a mindset issue. And I think until we start to have those intentional early conversations with our kids, then we're going to continue to miss out on the untapped opportunity that exists in our city. And so I'm not saying we shouldn't be as aggressive as we can to attract new VC investment and to make sure that we have a smart, coordinated, and connected ecosystem for tech talent. But I also want to make sure that we are investing in homegrown talent, too, because there are billion dollar companies waiting to be built on the streets of Dove and on the streets of Clark Fulton. But those kids haven't figured out how they can do it, and they're waiting for that shot. Land we got to figure out as leaders how to give them that shot.
Jeffrey Stern [00:17:05]:
Yeah. And those ideas, culture of innovation, access to opportunity, a sense of urgency, I think are really the perfect segue to talk about this severe problem of the digital divide. And I'd love if you could just for the audience, explain really what's going on in Cleveland with regards to the digital divide. And we can talk about addressing it, but really just kind of laying the problem out here.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:17:31]:
So we are the least connected city in America, which means that a low percent of our population have access to high speed broadband. And what we've seen during COVID-19 is having access to high speed broadband. It's table stakes. It's a matter of whether or not you can work every day. It's a matter or not if your kid can hop on a zoom and go to school. The fact that about a third of our kids haven't logged online in Cleveland who go to CMSD should outrage everybody. The fact that we've lost over 8000 kids right now during COVID-19 to other school districts should outrage everybody. And this is a challenge that we weren't prepared for. And I started to recognize this in 2014 when a group of us got together to co found Hack Cleveland, which is really focused on how do we connect underserved communities of color to the digital economy? And we could barely get a meeting with city leadership to talk about this issue, and we're seven years behind having a strategy to solve this problem. And so what you've seen in other cities is they've started to patchwork together city infrastructure and non city infrastructure to address the digital divide. So let me give you an example. First and foremost, you think about all the street lights we have in Cleveland. Just last year, we spent a significant amount of resources to upgrade 61,000 street lights across our city. And we could have put cellular devices in there to have WiFi hotspots in those street lights, to connect those homes in proximity to those street lights, but we didn't do it. Land it would have been a cost neutral investment. But in a city like San Jose, California, for example, they are looking at okay, every time we upgrade a streetlight, let's put a smart note in the and then let's call at and T at verizon to see if they can have some connectivity with the fiber they have or other main wire lines they're connecting to ensure that if they're doing any kind of infrastructure upgrade, the digital divide is a part of that solution. It's been done in other cities, and it's something we should be trying to do in Cleveland. But until we find a way to connect those dots, I don't think we'll be able to solve the problem moving forward.
Jeffrey Stern [00:20:04]:
Yeah, the severity of the problem really has been amplified over the last year. I think the UN has classified it as a public utility. I think table stakes is the right way to think about it. One thing that you mentioned there that I'm curious about is how you think about the role of the government versus the role of the private sector in collaboration, but working to address not just the digital divide, but a lot of these macro, larger scale problems that we face.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:20:37]:
Jeff I think it's important when thinking about the role of government, it's important to be very clear and not naive about the fact that these structural, systemic issues are going to need support from other sectors to solve the government can't solve these problems alone. We only have a $1.8 billion budget, and that is a finite amount of resources to tackle systemic structural issues, from the digital divide to segregation and housing, to segregation and access to capital and banking services. And so these are multisector problems that require multisector solutions. We need to be clear about that. The other thing I would say is that my philosophy as a leader and as mayor, my philosophy will really be about smart government. Right. So what does that mean to me? Number one, it means how do I work with the private sector to make sure that I'm getting the best ideas I can and leveraging their infrastructure to solve some of these problems? So how can I call the CEO of Eaton and talk about a major engineering issue we're having in City Hall? And do you have some talent I can deploy on that problem as mayor? Or can I call the CFO at Key Bank and say, I really want to make sure that the city has a strong bond rating so that I can go and tap into the capital markets and put together a nice bond package to revitalize our infrastructure over the next decade? Do you have some smart guys on Muni debt and Munich financing I can talk to to make sure that we have the right strategy in place that's smart government and that is making sure we're bringing all the talent we have in our community to the table to solve these conversations? I would also say one of the major opportunities we have right now is with our strong foundation sector. You think about the millions of dollars that Cleveland Foundation and Gunn deploy to address some of these issues. How do we work more in tandem with those foundations to get more collective impact so we can actually move the needle in a more systemic way? And those are all things we need to be exploring as we think about the next chapter of Cleveland's renaissance.
Jeffrey Stern [00:22:57]:
Absolutely. I think that makes a lot of sense. Like I mentioned, there are truly unlimited topics here. But I'm going to focus next just on another one that I think has been really interesting for me to observe. Again, as someone who's moved here relatively recently from, from New York City and to this day, the most surprising thing that I have learned about Cleveland is that with a population in the ballpark of like 300, 8400 thousand folks, is that the number of people who live in downtown Cleveland is 20,000. And that is double what it was just a decade ago. And then on top of that, the number of people who work downtown is over 100,000. And so that kind of framework of the quantity and the magnitude of the influx on a daily basis I think speaks to a lot of topics that I'm very curious to get your take on, but really spanning housing and transportation, it touches on the geographic tension in Cleveland between the city and the suburbs. And so I'd love to start maybe with just how can we expand supply across the board and given your prior work with the RTA, would love to just understand your vision for transportation and mobility and housing.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:24:18]:
So on the supply side issue, I think that the first thing we should be focused on is how do we diversify the housing stock that exists in Cleveland. I've lived downtown for the last seven years. And I would say one of the things I continue to be frustrated with is the lack of ownership available in downtown. If I wanted to buy a condo downtown, there are a finite amount of rent of units for me to be able to do that. And we need to make sure that we are diversifying the housing stock in areas like downtown, in areas like the southeast side and east side of the city. We have a number of different abandoned lots and vacant properties. And I think having a more streamlined approach for residents to be able to buy those vacant homes and also acquire those abandoned lots would really go a long way in not only diversifying our housing stock, but also it could be a great path to build more community wealth in those neighborhoods. Because we know that homeownership is one of the biggest drivers of long term wealth creation that we see. And when you look at the racial wealth gap that exists between whites, land, blacks, it's massive. And the housing prices land housing values, rather, on the east side of the city, haven't really recovered since the great depression like they have recovered and have appreciated on a tremendous scale on some areas of the west side of our city. So there's a massive divide there. Land as mayor, I have to do everything I can to work with investors to make sure that we are having a very deliberate allocation of incentives to address these fundamental market challenges and problems. Because what's going to work in mount pleasant doesn't necessarily is going to work in tremont, and we need to be clear about that. To your second point on transit, we're the poorest big city in America, as I mentioned before, and housing and transit are the two biggest expenses for working class folks across the city. I think we need to think about how do we find different revenue streams to subsidize free or highly discounted transit for our most disadvantaged residents. And I think one possible solution for that could be finally upgrading our parking meters and making them smart meters and making sure that you don't need quarters and dimes and nickels to pay for parking downtown. You can use your smartphone, use your credit card, pay for parking. Land then we'll see increased revenue as a city, and we can invest those revenues to invest in transit. Land invest in multimodal solutions for our city in our region. The other thing I want to see is more collaboration. I've been on the board of RTA for the last two years, and I think the new CEO, India birdsong, has done a tremendous job of restructuring RTA and repositioning the organization for a more competitive future. And I think enhancing the collaboration between the mayor, the head of RTA and the county really go a long way to address some of the transit issues we see in the city and the region. And that's why, as mayor, I'm going to work to create an office of transit and mobility to make sure we can start to convene and coordinate some of these resources. To invest in complete streets, to finally have a pathway to create a 15 minutes city in Cleveland and to make sure we have highly affordable, connected network where our residents can hop on a bus or hop on rail to get to a job, or they want to walk to a job or bike to a job. Our infrastructure is built in order to do that.
Jeffrey Stern [00:28:37]:
One of the technology infrastructure challenges that I keep thinking about land that I would like to get your perspective on as well is when you think about these large scale government deployments, which are often built to last multiple decades, potentially even centuries, you think the West Side market just hit 100 years recently. How do you think about the infrastructure that you put in place will be able to adapt to what has clearly been an exponential rate of change, of new technology development and scale rapidly and kind of accommodate what is increasingly a technology driven world and at the same time ensuring that people involved aren't left behind. Land again, just always with the consideration for equity across these.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:29:29]:
Can you give me a concrete example of what you're thinking about?
Jeffrey Stern [00:29:33]:
Yeah, I'm just pulling from some of the developments I've seen more recently in New York, for example, the High Line is a recent development, taking some of this old infrastructure. People had really negative connotations of the area and the space and really turning it into something beautiful that I think will stand the test of time and has ultimately come one of the primary tourist attractions in Manhattan over the last decade now. And so just thinking about how what you put in place in the next four years could have implications 100 years down the road.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:30:06]:
Jeffrey yeah, I think what you're getting at is how do you build things that last? Right. And I think there are a couple of things. I think, number one, you need to bring residents along in the process so they have buy in. We do a terrible job of that in Cleveland. Land regardless of what you think about the Quick land loan stern we saw a couple of years ago, the fact that voters are just so frustrated with the lack of community engagement in that process speaks to a breakdown of trust and community engagement. And so, as mayor, I would do everything I can to prioritize Resident Voice land giving residents a seat at the table on those major infrastructure or development initiatives across the entire city. I think, secondly, we have to be okay with asking for help and bringing in expertise. As mayor, it's my job to figure out what the answer is and build the team to figure out what the answers are as well. Right. And the High Line. Is a prime example in New York where you source best in class talent, land best in class ideas and put together a strategy and you get the high line. And this is a place where I think being able to find a best in class operator to manage the West Side market is a prime example. Or we are able to bring in a best in class designer for public Square, but yet the city has dropped the ball in terms of how we continue to program and manage Public Square. And so these are prime examples of not being afraid to collaborate, not being afraid to ask for help, but also not being afraid to bring residents along in the process really go a long way.
Jeffrey Stern [00:32:01]:
You brought up something that I wanted to touch on next. As important as it is to build things to last, it's just as important, I think, to keep things that were built to last lasting land again. When I moved here, some of the things that really just kind of blew me away, especially in downtown, where as I explored it walking through the arcade and this is the most gorgeous thing I've ever seen.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:32:27]:
Do you imagine that, being in New York land, how busy that would be?
Jeffrey Stern [00:32:31]:
Unbelievable. I can't even imagine.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:32:33]:
Or imagine if we were able to transform parts of Chelsea market to the West Side Market or Union Market in DC. And what frustrates me, Jeff, is these are all things we can do right, and we just have to continue to kind of try to get that cultural shift, to try some of these things that have been done and we won't succeed in everything. And that's okay, but we have to try. And it's this lack of bidding, wanting to try, that just continues to frustrate me.
Jeffrey Stern [00:33:06]:
Yeah, I would love to see a lot more people in the arcade when I get people to come visit me in Cleveland and I show them, I just do a walking tour of downtown.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:33:17]:
Crazy idea. It might not be too crazy, but pre COVID. I used to love to go to Mix at the art museum. I don't know if you've ever been to one of those Mix events, but it is a fantastic symbol of the power of culture in Cleveland and the power of our diversity. And every time I would have folks come in from out of town, I would make sure it was on a Friday when Mickey, we had, I think, one of the best art museums in the world right in our backyard. And we learned how to program that space to make it a place where every Clevelander from all walks of life can come together and really celebrate and have joy in this amazing institution. Land for the arcade. Think about in a pre COVID world, and maybe in a post COVID world we can pull this off. But being able to have a version of Mix in the arcade after work on Fridays, where you have Frontline City employees coming off from City Hall having a beer sponsored by Platform or Saucy Brew or Market Garden. You have a DJ, have some vendors there. And then you can start to build more community with folks who live downtown and also for the workers who may not live downtown but work there day in and day out. And so these are all creative things we can do to activate our public spaces more, to really invigorate our city.
Jeffrey Stern [00:34:42]:
Yeah. Land it resonates yearning for a post COVID world.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:34:47]:
Whatever that looks like.
Jeffrey Stern [00:34:48]:
Whatever that looks like.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:34:49]:
Jeffrey Stern [00:34:50]:
All right. So another issue that I've thought a lot about again over the last four years is it's the New Yorker in me that persists, but I do not have a car, and I have not had a car here in Cleveland for the last four years.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:35:04]:
And where do you live now?
Jeffrey Stern [00:35:05]:
I'm over in Ohio City.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:35:06]:
Oh, nice. Great.
Jeffrey Stern [00:35:07]:
So I've been taking the RTA in to downtown for work in the winter, been biking in the warmer times. But as I've thought about, again, those 20,000 people living downtown, 100,000 people commuting in, really? How much of the city is kind of in this transient mode where people live around the edges and kind of come in and yeah, it was an idea that was just a little new to me, again, coming from New York. And so I'm curious your perspective on the geographic division of the city and just how you're thinking about addressing what are ultimately different and diverse groups of people, of commuters and non commuters and just the geographic difference of the city and how large a part of Jeff.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:36:07]:
On this point, I think it's important to call out a couple of things to set the context. I think. Yeah, because of redlining, we had massive white flight. At one point in time, cleveland had in the core population of 1.2 million people living in the core of the city. Then you have white flight that occurs due to the Civil Rights Act and the massive reforms you saw if you eradicate Jim Crow. And I think about the fact that when my grandpa came back from World War II, he fought like everybody else who fought, but when he came back from the war, he didn't have access to the GI Bill. He couldn't go and have an FHA loan to buy a home to start to build wealth for our family. He was locked out from that. And that's a story of many black Americans across the city, and we continue to see the ramifications of that right now. So even the maps in which we make investments in the city have the built in biases rooted in redlining and the segregation that's occurred because of that. And so the makeup of our community right now is a direct consequence of those decisions. And so we need to number one, reset the map and draw new maps and start to force investment in places to truly undesign the Red Line. Actually, a couple of years ago, cleveland Boats did an amazing job of showcasing this exhibit called Focus on the Red Line. Land it really was so important to think about how we start to undesign our thinking and the structural barriers that have plagued our community for far too long when it comes to racial segregation. Land economic segregation as well, too. I would also say this is a cultural problem we need to address. As a kid growing up in Mount Pleasant, I didn't go to the West Side markets. I was a junior in high school. Right. My dad told me I because it was known as a racist neighborhood and the are still knitting Clevelanders who feel that way about certain parts of our city. I was just having a conversation with a good buddy of mine, and I was telling him about my favorite barbecue spot, unpleasant barbecue. And he's like, I've never been to that part of the city. And he's lived in Cleveland all his life. So until we both get out of our comfort zones, black and white, east Side and West Side, and really explore, then we'll never be able to solve this problem. I would also say it's important that this city play a large role in reinvesting in neighborhoods that have been forgotten and being very intentional of doing it and prioritizing equity. Land centering those investments around equity, because all of those things are interconnected.
Jeffrey Stern [00:39:11]:
Yeah, I'm glad you set that context there. Yeah, I want to revisit something that you actually brought up earlier, which was this kind of external collaboration. And as much as these are challenges that we face here in Cleveland, there are challenges that our neighboring adjacent cities face in similar capacities as well. So I'd love to hear your kind of approach on collaboration or working with Akron, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Toledo, Detroit as part of the larger region around us. Land kind of opportunity you see for Cleveland to work with those cities.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:39:52]:
Well, the first thing you have to do is we have to want the desire to collaborate. That's the first thing. The fact that Cleveland is not a part of the Ohio Marriage Alliance is a problem. The fact that we're not advocating for our city at the national stage with the US. Conference of Mayors, that's a problem. And so, as mayor, I intend to really use the bully pulpit of the mayor's office to make sure Cleveland has a seat at the table at the state and federal level, to make sure we're getting our fair share of the resources we deserve as a city. I would also say the best way for us to change is to think about what's worked and what hasn't worked in other cities that look like us. I'm really excited to see the leadership of Mayor Dan Horgan and akron and what he's done to really begin to change the story of Akron. I really love what him and his team have done around their new Office of Integrated Development, which truly tries to streamline economic and community development and integrate it with enhancing the urban experience in Akron. And it's a model that I think we should explore in Cleveland. You think about Columbus, the fact that Columbus was able to really convene the private and public sector together to compete for the major Smart Cities Initiative Prize that came out during the Obama administration. And they've been using the Smart Columbus Initiative to think about how to use mobility as a way to address infamity in some of the most underserved communities in Columbus. It's a great north star. It's a great example for Cleveland to take a look at as we think about how to really leverage issues around mobility to support black women to address infamous mortality crisis in Cleveland land. So there's a lot of good examples to learn from, and we need to make sure we have a leadership in City Hall that's going to prioritize collaboration and not be afraid to look outside of Cleveland for good ideas.
Jeffrey Stern [00:41:59]:
Yeah. The other topic here I wanted to come back to was one of as important as it is to attract outside talent, really, how do we raise up and cultivate the talent and people that we have here in Cleveland? And with that, there's been this challenge coined, the brain drain, if you will, of people who grow up in cities like Cleveland, who, post graduation, are for good reason attracted to cities elsewhere, recruited by the larger tech firms or the opportunities that they find elsewhere. And it's again, a problem that some of those neighboring cities we just mentioned face as well. But how do you tackle the brain drain, the idea that we're going to lose some of those folks that we have brought up and raised up? And are those probably some of the best of who we have to offer here and to other places?
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:42:59]:
We do a terrible job of telling our story as a city. If you're not from Cleveland and you come here and you live here, you begin to see all the great assets this community has, and you're like, how come no one's ever told me about this? It's actually not right.
Jeffrey Stern [00:43:19]:
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:43:20]:
This is where I think we failed in so many ways of really telling our story authentically. And it's okay to admit that we have we're not perfect, but we have to do a better job of telling our story. I think, first and foremost, as a city, the other thing I would say is for a long time, cleveland has been a place where you can be born here, raised here, but it's a place you leave and never come back to. And until we find a way to create a more vibrant economy, to attract dynamic employers and really grow our city, then I think it'll continue to be a major problem. And one of the drivers of that, I think, is lack of quality public education in Cleveland. We lose many families in the urban core to the surrounding suburbs because of our school district, and we've made some really good strides over the last decade or so. But the pace and change inside of our public school district has not happened fast enough, in my opinion. And we need to do a better job of really connecting our public education system to our workforce economic development system as well. And I believe having a K through twelve system in Cleveland that not only prioritize getting a four year degree, but also we need to make sure that we have career pathways for kids who don't want to go to college. And that's okay, and we need to be okay with that. And until we fix the structural problem of workforce readiness, then I think we'll continue to have this long term macroeconomic issue of our inability to attract large scale employers to come to Cleveland. But it also affects the ability for that gazelle type company who maybe starts with ten employees, but skyrockets to 500 or 1000 really fast. And they're saying, Can I stay here? Do I have the talent to stay here? Think about root insurance out of Columbus. Great example of a gazelle that has grown tremendously. And they can stay there because of the talent infrastructure that exists in Columbus. We can't say that about Cleveland right now. And so I think we need to fix that structural issue to address this long term headwind of really eradicating the brain drain.
Jeffrey Stern [00:45:44]:
Yeah, what you mentioned, it just reminded me one of the questions I always get from Clevelanders is when I tell the I moved here from New York.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:45:54]:
I got what part of the city were you in? You came back?
Jeffrey Stern [00:45:58]:
I grew up in Manhattan.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:46:00]:
Oh, dope. Nice.
Jeffrey Stern [00:46:01]:
Yeah, I moved to Cleveland, and as I've been here over the last few years, truly every single person I get to come and visit and show them there's such a pleasant surprise. It's because for not whatever reason, for many historical reasons, the bar at a national level is set very low, which.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:46:22]:
Is a great advantage we have that no one really knows yet. Hopefully this pocket doesn't go viral, but people have just set expectations so low for Cleveland land. If we start to address some of these major headwinds and get some momentum on it, man, our potential is unlimitless. Man, it really is limitless.
Jeffrey Stern [00:46:40]:
Well, not to pull the curtain too far back on some of the secret greatness of Cleveland, but one of the questions that I do ask everyone on the show is for their not necessarily their favorite thing about Cleveland, but their favorite hidden gem about Cleveland.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:46:55]:
Good question. Great question. Wow. I have two. Is that okay?
Jeffrey Stern [00:47:01]:
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:47:02]:
That's okay, well, I talked about this a little bit, but Mount Pleasant Barbecue is becoming my go to spot. I mean, when I lived downtown, when I first moved downtown, hot Sauce Williams was right on Carnegie, but they left and I'm like, man, I don't have, like, a neighborhood barbecue spot downtown. And so I was doing some organizing and stumbled upon Mount Pleasant Barbecue and been going once a week ever since. So that's my new go to. And then I would say, secondly, Velvet Tango Room got a cool speakeasy vibe. I'm a big speakeasy guy.
Jeffrey Stern [00:47:38]:
Yeah, it's a very cool vibe over there. Great choices, I guess, given the nature of what we're talking about here. I don't know. We can do closing statements if you want. Two minutes on the clock. Your mic will be shut off.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:47:55]:
No, if there was one thing I would want to tell the viewers out there, we are building something special in this campaign. Since we announced January 12, we had over 500 volunteers sign up. We had over 60,000 views of our launch video out of any other candidate. We've raised the most money from folks who live in the city of Cleveland, and we've raised the most money out of any campaign for mayor for a non incumbent in Cleveland history thus far, over a quarter million dollars in just five months. Land so I think those early signs of momentum speak to the desire for change that people have, but also the desire to have a sense of urgency to solve these problems. And so I know you can't wait, and Cleveland can't wait. And so I would invite folks to learn more about our email@example.com. Land you spell out the forcle.com or check us out on social at Bib for CLE as well. We're on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and looking forward to the ride ahead.
Jeffrey Stern [00:49:04]:
Yeah, absolutely. I really appreciate you coming on and sharing more about yourself and vision for the city and platform and definitely excited to follow along here.
Mayor Justin Bibb [00:49:17]:
Looking forward to it and hopefully I'll be back soon.
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