Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s really good idea in opening up State of the City speech: editorial

August 29, 2018

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s really good idea in opening up State of the City speech: editorial

Mayor Frank Jackson too often shuns the limelight, preferring to work behind the scenes rather than give speeches. So he’s spot-on in trying to make his annual State of the City speech more accessible to average Clevelanders, switching to a free evening format this year instead of a paid lunch speech (previously hosted by the City Club of Cleveland). 

The mayor, however, should agree to take audience questions, a traditional part of the City Club format. Why open his speech to more citizens but then not give them an opportunity to ask their questions? He should also consider taking the annual speech on the road to city neighborhoods in future years.

Although the Oct. 10 speech at Public Hall downtown will be free, registration is required and can be made online. 

Exhibit A for why Jackson needs to do more speeches like this is the dirt bike controversy.

The Jackson administration has delivered on tougher enforcement against illegal dirt bike riders who flout police and threaten citizen safety with unlicensed, illegal riding and stunts on city streets. He needs to talk about that.

More opportunities to mainstream dirt bikes also are needed, as the mayor often states. But the public only hears that part of his message.

Jackson can use the State of the City speech this year to make clear that a crackdown on illegal dirt bike riding is happening in Cleveland even as the city continues to explore alternative engagement. 

Among recent actions:

* Sweeping new dirt bike legislation that Jackson proposed was adopted by Cleveland City Council in October. It makes unlicensed riding on city streets illegal, bars gas stations from selling to unlicensed riders, and prohibits trick riding, defined broadly, on city property. Repeat offenses are first-degree misdemeanors, punishable by up to six months in jail and $1,000 fines.

* The city also is intensifying enforcement, with its own off-road-vehicle-riding cops. Citations, tows and arrests of illegal dirt bike riders all are on pace to far exceed last year’s numbers. 

After nearly 100 dirt bike riders marauded through the West Side and into the western suburbs, Jackson again spoke of the need to work with riders to give them other opportunities. Too many people hear that as giving a pass to miscreants.

It’s not, and the enforcement numbers show it.

Jackson demonstrated his skills as an extemporaneous speaker during his most recent re-election campaign, when he laid zingers on some of his opponents at a City Club debate.

He can use that skill in communicating the reality on dirt bike enforcement in Cleveland.

The mayor needs to make crystal clear, repeating as necessary, the full sweep of his thoughts on bike life: that he sees mainstreaming bike life as a way to pull street life into a steadier, more lawful life, and that he also understands that there are two types of riders: illegal riders; and riders who’ve gone the other way, who’ve turned their lives around to teach, repair bikes and manage events.

To the Cleveland mayor, it’s a matter of equity: to find a way to mainstream an activity popular in the inner city, the way the city has found accommodations for regular bicyclists (who sometimes also ride in unsafe, unlicensed ways).

He can make these distinctions clearer, and he can hear from citizens at the same time, through their questions.

A golden opportunity is coming up on Oct. 10 at his State of the City speech at Public Hall. 

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