Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Roldo studies Frank Jackson, "caretaker Mayor"

Reporters have a hard time getting their minds and pens around Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. They expect mayors to lead through stirring words, to exude charisma, to embody the city in an exciting way. Then their expectations run up against Jackson, and fail. He is the opposite of all that.

Roldo Bartimole is the latest to take on Jackson, the low-key enigma. For his new piece, "Mayor Jackson: A Mayor for the Times?", he interviews Jackson about his late friend Lonnie Burten, a city councilman in the 1980s. Roldo's piece revives vivid memories of Burten, then judges Jackson as a politician and mayor. He perceptively notes Jackson's lack of ambition, so unusual in an elected official. He notices Jackson's wariness, his "streak of stubbornness," his loyalty to his neighborhood. (I've seen these traits in Jackson too, when I wrote about him in a 2006 profile, "The Populist.")

"He projects a steady hand at the helm, even if that’s the mark of a caretaker Mayor," Roldo writes. I would have expected Roldo to be satisfied with that. He and Jackson have a lot in common. They're both longtime students of how the city runs. Both have populist streaks in their politics. Roldo's journalism is built on facts, not flash, just as Jackson says his leadership is built on tasks, not words.

But even Roldo wants Cleveland's mayor to be the bully pulpit figure that Jackson is not.

"It may not be long, I believe, when Cleveland will want someone who gives them something to look forward to, some spark and flair," he writes. "Someone who will promise more than a balanced budget."

Just when I think Roldo's building up to predicting a dramatic mayor's race this fall, or maybe a kind word for charismatic challenger Bill Patmon, he goes the other way.

"I don’t think it’s this election. I don’t think we can wait too much longer. Cleveland needs a big lift."

Sounds like Roldo's predicting the reelection of the caretaker mayor this year and a swing back to charisma in 2013.

1 comment:

John Ettorre said...

I like that line about his journalism being built on facts, not flash. How sad that something so basic should even stand out so much these days. But of course, it does.