Despite a drop in crime and efforts to revitalize the community, Ward 3, Cleveland's Mount Pleasant neighborhood, continues to struggle with it's image. And with the council race just a few months away, residents who find themselves alienated are looking for a leader to help restore that sense of pride.
With just a couple of days before the filing deadline, nine people have thrown their hats into the ring. Among them are two names familiar with most residents in the ward - incumbent councilman Zachary Reed and Cordell Stokes, son of the city's former mayor. But as 90.3 WCPN's Tarice Sims reports, although name recognition might help, the people of Mount Pleasant say they are more concerned about who can get the job done.
Tarice Sims- Abandoned storefronts sandwiched between two beauty shops help line Kinsman Road - Ward 3's main thoroughfare. Mom and Pop grocery stores and a few laundromats sit just a few doors away from this Murtis H. Taylor Multi-Service Center.
It's one of the community centerpieces serving the 23,000 residents of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Murtis Taylor offers mental health and community services. Last year, some of its employees helped facilitate a Mount Pleasant Action Summit where about 300 residents shared their concerns. Bruce Holmes is director of community services for Murtis Taylor.
Bruce Holmes- The residents in the community were concerned about lighting in the community, crime and safety, parking. A lot of the residents were concerned about the storefronts, abandoned buildings. There was a lot of discussion about the school systems.
TS- Also Holmes says now there is a push to improve the social structure of the neighborhood. The City of Cleveland is building larger homes valued at close to $200,000 to help woo middle class people back to the mostly African-American neighborhood and increase property value. In 1999, nearly 2,000 Mount Pleasant properties were tax delinquent.
But the people of Mount Pleasant don't want economic segregation - so leaders are encouraging more community events and festivals to foster the feeling of a neighborhood. At a recent festival in Luke Easter Park, Ward 3 incumbant Zachary Reed said he understands the community's need to overcome an image problem.
Zachary Reed- Drugs have destroyed this community. The drug dealers, the drug houses have continued to place a plague in this community. And what the stigma that they've left in this community for the last 10 to 15 years is not going to be erased in a year.
TS- Councilman Reed knows first hand it's not just an image problem. On August 7th, a few days after the community festival, he himself became a victim of violence on Kinsman Road. A gunman tried to rob him at a gas station and ended up shooting the windows out of his car. Reed says he's been working on making the area safer and a more productive environment since he was appointed to council in January, after long-time councilwoman Odelia Robinson stepped down. A stroll through Ward 3 finds Reed campaign signs decorating most areas. Keeping a lower profile, but riding the benefit of built-in name recognition is challenger Cordell Stokes.
Stokes is the son of one of the city's most prominent politicians, Carl Stokes, and says he has returned to Cleveland to follow in his father's footsteps. He left Cleveland in 1994 after running into trouble with the law.
Cordell Stokes- I was one of a couple who were arrested for, at the time, drug trafficking, and from that stand point I knew that I would not be able to fulfill an original dream that I had been longing for for so long.
TS- Stokes went on to work in city government in Phoenix, Arizona before returning to Cleveland last year. He's spent his time living and working in Cleveland with the Workforce Development Corporation and says that has put him in touch with the needs of the community. And Stokes says the most pressing need in the Mount Pleasant area is health care.
CS- The first things I want to be able to do is, if you take a look at the health aspect, Mt. Sinai, St. Luke's closing now. As an African-American community we are not afforded the opportunity to be able to have available the kind of medical attention that we had originally been able to retain.
TS- He says that's a problem especially for the more than 3,000 senior citizens. But residents say health care is just one of the many issues that needs attention. And life-long resident Rodney Jenkins says he's not surprised that so many issues are coming to the forefront. Jenkins is currently communications director for Cleveland City Council, and was one of three candidates being considered to replace Odelia Robinson earlier this year. Jenkins says although he's not running he knows what it takes to win.
Rodney Jenkins- Money and name recognition are very important - however, talking to people, going door-to-door, doesn't take much money to do that. Learning their needs and doing something about it, that's what wins races today.
TS- And those also vying for the right to represent Ward 3 include John Cash Jr., Ralph Cowan, Donita Jeffries, Richard Leonard, Tammie Robinson, Geraldine Tucker and Rodney White.
Residents meanwhile from the Mount Pleasant Summit say they are willing to do their part to improve the community including re-starting block clubs and keeping up property, and hopefully work with council to achieve overall revitalization. The last day for candidates to file is August 23rd. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 WCPN News.