Cleveland Mayoral Candidate Justin Bibb Stresses "Sense of Urgency" in City Club Spotlight


  • Courtesy Justin Bibb
Cleveland mayoral candidate Justin Bibb appeared for a virtual forum at the City Club Wednesday afternoon and laid out the animating themes of his platform.

As he has in earlier campaign materials, including his professionally produced launch video, the young executive presented himself as a visionary leader who has both the lived experience and multi-disciplinary professional background to immediately improve the performance of City Hall and the lives of residents.

Responding to a wide topical range of questions from the City Club's Dan Moulthrop and audience members, Bibb often repeated his campaign's slogan, "Cleveland can't wait," and identified problematic elements of the status quo as a result, in many cases, of insufficient urgency.

From sustainability to economic development to infrastructure to criminal justice, Bibb stressed the idea of putting people first and crafting policies that centered democracy and equity. 

"Until we prioritize democracy building outside the election cycle," Bibb said, responding to a question about low voter turnout, "Cleveland can't move forward."

Not terribly unlike Barack Obama, for whom Bibb interned early in his career, the 33-year-old candidate tended to err on the side of abstraction. His solution to the digital divide? A sense of urgency. To the vaccine distribution nightmare? A sense of urgency. To the woes of the police department? A culture of accountability. And also a sense of urgency.

While these sometimes presented as scripted talking points — Moulthrop once accused Bibb of "stumping" — they do reveal something central about his message. In his view, making changes in city governance requires, first of all, the will to do so. Bibb's "sense of urgency" line, borrowed from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speaks to the belief that for many years, the will to improve Cleveland simply has not existed, or else has not been appropriately acted upon. Being the poorest big city in the country with the lowest social and economic outcomes for Black women, among other dismal metrics, should be regarded as unacceptable. They require urgent action from engaged elected leaders who must be willing to pursue new strategies and be held accountable for their failures.

"This is not normal," Bibb said, recounting the loss of a family friend to gun violence, and seeing someone Instagramming the funeral procession like the everyday occurrence it had become in certain "forgotten neighborhoods" of Cleveland's southeast side.

When Moulthrop pressed Bibb on how he would make changes at City Hall, he said he would initiate a "top down review of every single department" to determine what's working and what's not. He said he'd promote transparency and accountability and was prepared to fire employees unwilling to adhere to those priorities. He said he would bring along a team of "best in class advisors" whom he envisioned as a "team of rivals," who would challenge him and the city to be better.

Moulthop noted the irony, in an early question, of Bibb's contention that Cleveland "cant keep outsourcing leadership" and his belief that the West Side Market should be handed over to a "best in class operator." Wasn't that an example of outsourcing leadership, Moulthrop wondered? Bibb clarified that he believed the city should retain ownership of the market, but that a consultant should not be necessary to determine the best path forward. Regular engagement with vendors and stakeholders likely would have generated a consensus long ago. The market, incidentally, was one of two subjects in Bibb's first campaign commercial. The other was Cleveland Public Power. 

As to questions about his perceived lack of experience, Bibb said that though he is a first-time candidate, he is also not beholden to the status quo. He is also not above tackling what have long been intractable issues. Among other things, he said that decommissioning Burke Lakefront Airport, a wildly popular proposition which has been long forbidden by the corporate community, should be on the table. 

"My first response won't be no," he said, as a general rule. "It'll be, 'How can I help you?'"

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