On the steps of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Tuesday afternoon, Cleveland City Councilman Jeff Johnson officially declared his candidacy for Mayor.
Alongside his wife Felicia and two stepdaughters, Lauren (15) and Victoria (13), Johnson said he believed himself to be the best and most qualified candidate for the office. He vowed to change the culture of City Hall, where he said those in power have forgotten that they represent people.
"It's time to move more towards a neighborhoods-first agenda," Johnson said.
"We can't continue to think that Cleveland is in a renaissance just because we know how to throw a party for the Republicans, or simply because we can build beautiful buildings and have multi-million-dollar facilities for millionaires."
Johnson was born and raised in the Collinwood neighborhood and currently represents residents of Cleveland's Ward 10, the long, jagged east side ward
with pieces of Glenville, Euclid Park, Nottingham Village and St. Clair-Superior. Ward 10 was jerry-rigged by former Council President Martin Sweeney as a gift to his sycophant Eugene Miller, but Johnson nonetheless prevailed. Johnson said he's capable of representing both the east and west sides of the city.
Sam Allard / Scene
Johnson arrives at the BOE with his wife Felicia and two stepdaughters, Lauren and Victoria.
"Glenville and Collinwood are very similar to Clark-Fulton, to Slavic Village, to Kamm's Corner," he said. "They're not 'Destination Neighborhoods.' That's the word we're using now, but there are only about three or four of them. My ward resembles a lot of Cleveland and it gives me knowledge and understanding of what's going on on the west side."
Johnson, whose political career was derailed by a felony in 1998 — he was convicted of extortion in connection to campaign contributions from grocer Aly Hamed — said the issue of his past is not new, and that many of the city's households have forgiven him.
"I want folks to look at my record," Johnson said. "I don't want folks to ignore that I've made mistakes. I paid for my mistakes and had to rebuild my career. If my opponents use it, I'll simply say they're right and I take responsibility. Now let's talk about what you've done or did not do for the residents of Cleveland."
The issues that Johnson has already referenced — education, crime, poverty, housing — are those that he fights for every week at City Hall. He is a regular dissident on council, and speaks forcefully at meetings on behalf of his constituents. He said that residents can rest assured that won't be afraid to stand up to powerful forces; he's been doing it for his entire career.
But the biggest issue of all for Johnson will continue to be investment in the city's neighborhoods.
"It's not one thing [that inspired me to run for Mayor,]" Johnson said. "But I've sat in the back row in city council and I've seen the Mayor and city council giving money to FirstEnergy stadium...I've seen them give a million dollars for a chandelier. The practices and procedures at City Hall have been unacceptable. It's the continual deterioration of the idea that we represent the people. And the people live in the neighborhoods."