Sam Allard / Scene
Blaine Griffin tries to make a presentation about the dirt bike track 5/11/17.
After the invocation of the "unit rule," whereby City Council Democrats (that is, the entire body) must vote the party line or else get booted from the caucus, Blaine Griffin was unanimously approved Monday afternoon as the replacement for Mamie Mitchell in Cleveland City Council's Ward 6.
This came as little surprise. The vote is in keeping with a council tradition to honor the recommendation of the outgoing member. It's a tradition that effectively controls who gets to be a part of the body, and it's a tactic that — deployed this close to a primary election — has challengers riled up.
Council President Kevin Kelley read a letter from Mitchell officially recommending Griffin. Jeff Johnson said he'd "made a few calls" and confirmed that Griffin was indeed Mitchell's choice. Both Johnson and Zack Reed clarified later during the caucus that while they would honor Mitchell's recommendation, doing so would have no bearing on whom they will support in this year's election.
In comments to council, Griffin said he'd presided, in the Community Relations Department, over some of the city's most trying and tumultuous times. He said he ran for city council unsuccessfully in 2001 against "a political juggernaut," Pat Britt, who is now the Clerk of Council, but didn't let his defeat stop him from engagement with the community. He said was eager to be "part of the team" because he saw the value in collaborative leadership and because he respected every council member's passion for Cleveland and making the city a better place.
Via a city council press release, Griffin worked with the Cuyahoga Department of Justice Affairs before his role with the community relations department. He also served as a program director for the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland and worked for the Harvard Community Services Center and the East End Neighborhood House. He is a 20-year resident of the Larchmere neighborhood in Ward 6.
Griffin acknowledged that he could be "rough around the edges," but that he has long worked in and for Ward 6 and was "ready to come home." He also said that Ward 6 was a caring community, and that residents would not cast Councilwoman Mamie Mitchell aside. He said they'd all help look after her. (Mitchell was not in attendance.) Griffin said there was a meeting of about 70 Ward 6 community leaders last Saturday and that they gave Griffin their blessing to replace Mitchell.
Griffin's council challengers, several of whom attended the Monday caucus, said afterward that they were frustrated by the entire process. Griffin has been appointed to this vacancy with less than four months before the September primaries, and most of that time will be during the summer recess, when council meets only once per month.
It would have been easy, challenger Alonzo Mitchell said, to let Mamie Mitchell retire gracefully and quietly at the end of her term and allow for a true Democratic election. Her health issues are a known secret — though no one likes verbalizing it, she is known to have dementia — and they are not particularly new. Despite the narrative that Griffin only made himself available recently, Frank Jackson's Community Relations Director and former campaign manager has been the presumed replacement for months. Alonzo Mitchell, in fact, told Scene in
February that he predicted council would appoint Griffin to the Ward 6 seat. So why now, challengers wonder?
Griffin, of course, will have to run along with everyone else to win the seat. And there may be 10 or more candidates in the Ward 6 primaries. (Candidates are listed here (Search "Ward 6")
and will also include Alonzo Mitchell and Aaron Nichols). But Alonzo Mitchell, Aaron Nichols, Dylan Sellers, and Josh McHamm, who attended the meeting, along with the other Ward 6 challengers who didn't, are now all at an extreme disadvantage.
Griffin not only now gets considerable media attention, name recognition and momentum that comes with incumbent status: he’ll also likely receive funding from the council leadership fund, which is used in part to help finance incumbents’ campaigns.
"It's not a level playing field," said Nichols, who is a precinct committeeman in the ward.