I’ve been listening to “The CleCast” selectively for a little while now. I don’t bother with every single episode; there are so many, and they’re kind of long, and I’m not interested in all the topics. But I do want to say this.
First of all, it’s a really good show. Dan and Brian ask good questions, they follow up intelligently, and they book interesting guests to begin with. Also, their sound quality is excellent.
When you talk to Council members, they are so excited about real estate development. They geek out on it. It’s fun for them. If you didn’t know any better you’d think that real estate is their job.
Get them on any other subject? They aren’t focused. They don’t know much. They haven’t considered any of it deeply. They know very little about economics (other than, of course, microeconomics of local real estate), very little about policing, very little about human rights, very little about transportation, and basically nothing about anything that has to do with race, gentrification, job development, law, and education.
It’s not just from the CleCast. I’ve observed this a little bit at a time over the last 30+ years here. Most Council members can recite the history of use of just about any interesting location in their wards, but they are stymied when you ask them to explain any other local issue.
Surprise! I have a strong opinion about this!
This ignorance is a large part of why Cleveland is such a mess. It’s not that Council members have terribly wrong ideas about, for example, police reform. Don’t get me wrong, they do. But more fundamentally: collectively, they’re not even engaged with that stuff. You can’t argue with them about macroeconomic policy because they literally don’t know it’s a thing. You can’t productively lobby for civil service reform because they aren’t interested.
I’ve literally, truly, actually sat in on a Council meeting in which members wondered aloud whether they had the authority to create regulations for the police department. They did not know that that is in fact part of the job.
Because you know what? Realistically it actually isn’t. It’s not how they get elected or re-elected. We don’t have policy-based elections in this town, so we get terrible policies.
I’m going to have to write some more about what policy-based politics would look like in Cleveland. Right now though, Council ward politics is dominated by small-scale real estate ambitions rather than anything that resembles the public good. You get what you cultivate and what you reward.