CLEVELAND — Demagoguery is an appeal that stirs up people’s emotions and prejudices as a way of controlling them. It is used often in politics, and the recent piece from Dennis J. Kucinich’s campaign for mayor showing the Cleveland destination logo riddled with bullet holes and dripping blood is a perfect example. Even as the campaign agreed to cease exploiting this trademarked image, they noted they made their point. They got what they wanted out of their marketing strategy: They made the Fourth of July weekend news cycle and the image is on the internet and seared into our mind’s eye. It cannot be erased or replaced with new words and story lines.
Cleveland residents must hold the candidate accountable for this demeaning and reckless political choice. I hope my neighbors agree with me that there is no place for these hyperbolic antics in the Cleveland mayoral election. We can and must do better.
It is true that violent crime has increased since the start of the pandemic; however, while there is no question that safety is a real concern for Clevelanders, the coercive visual rebranding of the Cleveland logo, coupled with a repeated commitment by Kucinich to hire 400 police officers and purchase two helicopters to pursue “violent felons” is reminiscent of the law-and-order platforms of previous decades. Getting tough on crime, as a political strategy, has worked because it taps into white racial anxieties and stereotypes; and its legacy has been significant economic and health disparities among people living within the same city. It is a dated political approach, and we must not allow it to succeed in 2021.
I say dated because this is reminiscent of another mayoral campaign in Cleveland. In 1967, my grandfather, Frank P. Celeste, was recruited to run for mayor of Cleveland when Ralph Locher said he wasn’t going to run for re-election. Locher decided to stay in the race and the top issue for his and my grandfather’s campaign was law and order. There was another candidate that year: Carl Stokes. His campaign didn’t argue whether our streets were safe; the Ohio National Guard in Hough and its aftermath were proof they were not. However, Stokes provided a different answer to how to attack inner-city violence. His campaign slogan was “It’s time to believe in Cleveland” and his vision was grounded in our potential as a city as well as a renewed faith in ourselves. He advocated for the needs of people on both sides of town and honored the dignity of the working class and the Black children and families of Cleveland. Stokes won the Democratic primary, securing 54% of the vote. Locher got 45% of the vote and my grandfather got 2%. Stokes went on to beat Seth Taft in the general election.
If my grandfather were alive today, I believe he would say his was a well-deserved defeat.
In this upcoming mayoral election, Cleveland has an opportunity to choose who will lead our city after 16 years of Mayor Frank Jackson managing a city through critical periods of crisis and reimagining. We do not need old-style politics and demagoguery that reinforces systems which have been oppressing people of color in this region for decades; we need bold vision and intelligent, compassionate leadership. We need someone who will remind us to keep the faith in ourselves and our city and who will prioritize solving the issues that lead to increased violence, instead of a provocateur publishing violent imagery and descriptors and simultaneously promising helicopters and a Department of Civic Peace.
Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, do better.” In 2021, I hope that Clevelanders know better than to fall victim to politics that encourages anxiety about our city, and instead that we choose candidates who celebrate our progress and potential.
Natalie Celeste is a Cleveland resident.
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