The Cleveland corporate community is hosting a fundraiser for Mayor Frank Jackson on June 28 at the Gates Mills home of Umberto and Maryellen Fedeli. The "home" is in fact a bomb-ass "European-inspired" mansion with a full Italian restaurant in the basement. (Check out the video above. It's nuts.)
Fedeli is the president and CEO of The Fedeli Group, a big insurance company. He's a hard-core Catholic and a longtime Republican party contributor. He has hosted George W. Bush, Mitt Romney and Steve LaTourrette for gatherings at his estate, which have included tête-à-têtes in his Godfather-ish private office. In 2008, the Fedelis were hosting parties basically every weekend.
"[Jackson] has capably and fearlessly taken on many crises head on, providing the sure and steady leadership that has enabled our city to remain stable," the letter read. "He continues to be the leader that Cleveland needs to maintain the positive momentum created by the public and private sectors working cooperatively."
Naymik reported that some of the region's big wigs have been "privately grumbling" about a perceived lack of "vision and innovation" in the 12-year incumbent. "In the end, however," he wrote, "business leaders don't like big change and especially don't like the bombast displayed by several of Jackson's challengers."
But it's not just the bombast, surely. On one hand, these business leaders love Jackson because he's so congenial to their interests. Jackson is a man who called the Q Deal the "best deal [he'd] ever seen" in his entire career of public service. On the other, the business community isn't keen on the idea of a Mayor who will stand up to them, or even one who won't be totally subservient to their agenda and whim.
Councilman and candidate Jeff Johnson supports a minimum wage increase, for instance, something that the business community strenuously opposes and ideologically abhors. All the candidates save young Tony Madalone have spoken out strongly against the Quicken Loans Arena deal, something that the business community exults in: Some of them own the companies that will get the construction work. Others will be providing the insurance, others the legal representation, others the financing. Developers and their bankers and their lawyers have thrived under Jackson.
So it's natural that they don't want to rock the boat. And they're willing to generously "show [their] support and gratitude" to Jackson for representing them so consistently and well.
But Jackson is squaring off against two competent city council challengers with populist messages and two outsiders with appeal and pull with certain demographics. And while maintaining his war chest is important — Jackson knows that the candidate with the most money wins virtually every time — this Gates Mills party just looks gross.
For years, Jackson has been an honorary Republican, but the fact that his most ardent supporters and biggest contributors are the suburban corporate crowd, (people who, stated affection for the city notwithstanding, won't be casing votes in the election), should give every resident of Cleveland pause. The fact that this genre of support is worth a great deal more this year is even more disheartening. When Kevin Kelley was pushing for the extreme increase in campaign contribution limits last year — and remember he initially wanted the cap to be $10,000 for personal and PAC contributions — it was said that the increase would disproportionately help out incumbents like Jackson. Surprise surprise: It does.
Political fundraisers happen all the time. Candidates seek out wealthy donors as a matter of course. That's just true. There's nothing wrong with that in principle. But this is a fundraiser at a mansion in Gates Mills — hosted by an exorbitantly wealthy finance guy who's a dyed-in-the-wool religious conservative — which will be attended by business executives and real estate developers from Shaker Heights, Hunting Valley, Pepper Pike, Solon, Chagrin Falls and all the other forested deep-driveway hamlets of Cleveland's Southeast Side. This is the constituency Jackson is accused of catering to when people say that he's focused on "downtown interests." (Downtown interests tend, paradoxically, to be in the interest of people who live in the suburbs). Shouldn't Jackson be more sensitive to that? Shouldn't he be aware of these ugly optics?
Maybe not. Given the rhetoric coming out of City Hall lately, don't be surprised when we hear that Gates Mills fundraisers like this one are necessary so that Jackson can continue investing in Cleveland's neighborhoods.