ERIC SANDY / SCENE
Pittman speaks at East Cleveland Public Library.
Delivering a stark contrast to Mayor Gary Norton's merger study pitch last month
, residents packed the East Cleveland Public Library to hear and share thoughts on why annexation into the city of Cleveland might not be the preferred economic solution for the city.
A panel of regional experts — former Cuyahoga County director of regional collaboration Ed Jerse, former Cleveland Planning Commission chair Anthony Coyne, East Cleveland Municipal Judge William Dawson and others — spoke at length about the path toward a more robust tax base and, ipso facto, broader revenue streams for the city's on-the-ropes budget books.
Cassi Pittman, a daughter of East Cleveland and a current sociology professor at Case Western Reserve University, gave the keynote speech and explained simply that the tax base shrank alongside population due to increased unemployment. It's the structural causes of unemployment, she said, that must be taken into account when addressing the future of East Cleveland.
She cautioned residents against a merger or annexation with the city of Cleveland. Using Glenville as a demographic and geographic analogy, Pittman outlined how poor city services would remain a hallmark of life in what is presently East Cleveland. It's not like Cleveland is funneling its investment into the far-flung neighborhoods along its southern and eastern borders, she said.
"Why would East Cleveland all of a sudden become a priority?" Pittman asked. The crowd applauded.
Pittman echoed earlier assertions from City Councilman Nathaniel Martin, who has repeatedly claimed that the explosive need for land and property in the city's southeast corner will drive development — and taxes — in the coming years. He's talked at length about University Circle and it's inevitable growth. Pittman seemed to concur.
"Development will happen — but will we gain from it?" Pittman asked toward the end of her address, remarking that, if East Cleveland were to merge with Cleveland, all University Circle growth would then be subsumed by the city as a whole and not whatever ward East Cleveland's boundaries comprise.
Another young East Cleveland resident, Devin Branch, added: "We can access our political leadership here. That is the difference. If you surrender, that is a defeat from which you cannot walk back."