Cleveland attorney Rebecca Maurer has been hankering to make public comments at City Council meetings for years.
In 2017, when former councilman Jeff Johnson was trying to get a lead safe ordinance off the ground, (ultimately to no avail), she wanted to speak on its behalf, to tell a story of her own street in Slavic Village which made the lead issue more urgent and personal for her. In 2019, she wanted to offer comment on the same topic, this time as a leader with Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing (CLASH), whose work forced the city to revive and strengthen Johnson's 2017 bill. In early 2020, she watched in dismay as local minister George Hrbek had to noisily interrupt
a council meeting to speak in support of the city's unhoused population. There was no other way for residents to make their voices heard.
Now, Maurer's running for Cleveland City Council. And she's less concerned with her own voice than she is with the voices of Clevelanders. She's launching her campaign with a public engagement pledge that she says will help residents build a better city together.
"I think there's a real sense in Cleveland that residents have disengaged from City Hall," Maurer said in a phone interview with Scene, referencing the low turnout in the 2020 election as Exhibit A. "The way I see it, that's not a resident problem, that's a City Hall problem. And City Hall has to fix it. We cannot tackle the large issues facing our city until we get this right."
Her pledge asks 2021 council candidates, both incumbents and challengers, to agree to three simple steps: 1) establish public comment at council meetings; 2) give residents the opportunity to engage with the city's budgeting process by, among other things, creating an interactive budget document online; and 3) take City Council on the road, convening meetings at neighborhood rec centers, libraries and public parks to make the legislative process more transparent and approachable, doing work that's "worthy of public viewing," in Maurer's words.
These are "easy, no brainer" commitments, Maurer wrote in a post announcing her candidacy and the 'Better Council, Better Cleveland' pledge
. They are designed to improve engagement for a body that Maurer says has "grown accustomed to operating without resident input."
Maurer has been a Slavic Village resident since 2016 and currently serves as the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Ward Leader in Ward 12. She has been an active and vocal community leader, particularly on voter engagement and housing issues. She told Scene that she intends to focus on a number of important issues during her campaign, including public safety, health and housing. But she said that all of these link back to the issues of public engagement, which she said were "fundamental to democracy and fundamental to good governance."
Ward 12 is one of only two wards in Cleveland that spans the Cuyahoga River. Maurer told Scene that unlike some wards which have unifying neighborhood identities — Ward 9, Glenville; Ward 17, West Park — Ward 12 includes not only the majority of Slavic Village on the east side but pieces of Old Brooklyn, Brooklyn Center and Tremont on the west. She said she's heard repeatedly from residents that they want better transparency regarding how resources are allocated across neighborhoods.
The current Ward 12 incumbent is Councilman Anthony Brancatelli, who has been the representative there since 2005. Maurer said that she plans to pull petitions at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in the next couple of days and wants to host a number of small, virtual campaign events over the next few months.
During the campaign season, she said she wants to leave voters with "a sense of excitement about the future of the city, one that maybe they haven't felt in a few years. I want to leave them with a sense of a vision, that Cleveland can be a 21st century city with really good city services, but also progress and innovation that we haven't seen."
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