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How One Republican Is Trying to Turn Cleveland's Poorest Neighborhoods Around

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Mark Gillispie

Every Thursday, when I’m taping the Todd Allyn Show with my colleagues, I drive through some of Cleveland’s worst neighborhoods. Do you remember the pictures of a bombed-out Sarajevo on our television screens in the mid-90s? The similarities are unnerving. You could say places like the Glenville neighborhood and East Cleveland are, in fact, battlegrounds of a war: a never-ending struggle with extreme poverty, crime, and gang violence.

Of course, Democrats try to blame Trump for the violence in cities like Baltimore and Chicago, the same way they tried to blame George W. Bush for the chaos in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and Ronald Reagan for the crack epidemic of the 1980s. The fact that Chicago was the subject of a 2012 VICE documentary in which gun-toting gang members referred to their city as “Chiraq” is lost on them. Instead of blaming the Republican who got into office five minutes ago, why not demand more action and accountability from local politicians who have been running these cities for five decades?

Earlier this week, Colin Jackson, the director of minority engagement for the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County (the county that engulfs Cleveland), did exactly that. He was at a meeting of black and Latino members of the Cleveland community about the presidential election. He blasted the vice chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party and the Cleveland City Council President, who is, needless to say, a Democrat.

“We have to question why we have allowed a single-party system to dominate our decision making,” Jackson said. “We’ve allowed them to be unaccountable…there are options here. Not only nationally, but also locally.”

As Jackson noted, many of the local politicians running Cleveland’s struggling neighborhoods have been in office since at least 2005. In parts of Cleveland, life is good: downtown is thriving, old west side neighborhoods are being rehabbed, and crime and homelessness seem to be down since the early aughts. But Cleveland’s poorest neighborhoods and suburbs, most located on the East side and all overwhelmingly African-American, are suffering more than ever.

“We haven’t been able to hold [politicians] accountable for what we’re seeing in our cities, which includes that ridiculous murder rate, the schools that are failing our children, and a community that is not allowing our elderly to walk the streets anymore,” Jackson said. “I want to make something very clear…this is the legacy of Democrats in Cleveland.”

After Latino Clevelanders cited “kids in cages” as a reason to never vote Republican, Jackson told them that those cages were built prior to 2016, when Barack Obama was in office. The laws that allow kids to be held in cages were written by the Obama administration but never enforced.

“The laws were enforced and acted upon [by Trump] as they were written. I tell people this all the time: you don’t get mad at the executor of the law, you get mad at who wrote it.”

Jackson told the audience that the Democrats have manipulated black and Latino communities into blaming Republicans at the national level for all of their problems, instead of demanding better from the local Democratic officials running their schools, neighborhoods, and cities.

Democrats who have been in office for decades have done little to nothing to better places like East Cleveland. Then, when residents look around at the misery and destruction, local politicians tell them it’s Trump’s fault—or Bush’s fault, or Ronald Reagan’s fault. Then they trot out a black or Latino Democrat and tell people of color to vote for them, promising things will change. We all remember the videos of poor inner-city residents who had been led to believe Barack Obama would buy them new phones and pay their bills. I have a relative who has worked as an elementary school teacher in Cleveland public schools for decades. After Obama got elected in 2008, her kindergarteners came to school celebrating, saying Obama was going to buy their families houses and new cars.

I have no doubt liberals led them to sincerely believe that. But needless to say, national Democrats didn’t deliver. The per capita income in East Cleveland was $16,119 in 2014, six years into Obama’s eight years as president. White people from the suburbs often snark about the wisdom of me venturing to the east side of Cleveland to record my radio show, saying it’s a place where people “find bodies in the bushes.”

That’s true, but it’s definitely not funny.

“In this upcoming election, are we going to go for the Dog and Pony Show, where they show you someone who looks like you, is in an elected position, but actually has no power to change anything in your community?” Jackson asked. “Or are we going to look for solutions that actually provide education, economic opportunity, and true criminal justice reform?”

In the upcoming election, it’s worth asking whether routinely voting for anyone with a “D” next to their name has done a damn bit of good. Colin Jackson, for one, is urging Cleveland’s black and Latino communities to stop voting on empty promises.

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