Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ideastream picks up 'Quiet Mayor' theme

It is hard to write about Frank Jackson. Hard to even have an opinion about him sometimes. Cleveland's mayor defies our usual sense of how politicians act. So journalists, involved citizens, and politicians sputter and puzzle over him. When talk turns to leadership style, you can almost hear people goading him: For God's sake, man, have a personality!

Dan Bobkoff, reporter for Changing Gears, ideastream's Midwest project, is the latest to prod the inscrutable sphinx. "Some call him the Quiet Mayor," Bobkoff says in his report, broadcast on WCPN yesterday. (I smiled when I heard that -- I thought I was the first to dub Jackson the Quiet Mayor, though Google reminds me I may have picked it up from Bill Callahan.)

"Some Clevelanders are yearning for a big personality mayor, like Chicago’s Richard Daley, who can bulldoze his way to progress," Bobkoff says. (That's a clever nod to the ultimate triumph of the modern strongman mayor, Daley's 2003 destruction of Chicago's lakefront airport.) Cleveland Magazine columnist Mike Roberts, a frequent Jackson critic, echoes the lament: "Some days you get the feeling the town doesn't even have a mayor."

In the radio segment, Jackson once again bats away the cliché that he ought to be a "cheerleader" for Cleveland. (This is now his critics' most popular line. It's the new version of the idea that mayors should command the "bully pulpit.") Jackson says if people want that kind of mayor, they should vote for one. He knows city voters like having a no-drama leader.

The more interesting Jackson quotes come from Bobkoff's web-only audio clips. Interesting compared to most Jackson quotes, mind you -- this isn't Chairman Mao's little red book we're talking about, or even Coleman Young's. Still, here's a sampling of Jacksonian bons mots:

Paranoia is only wrong if it's not justified.

Everyone has an ego. When you're in positions like these, you can't survive without an ego. The question is whether or not it's healthy. I try to have a healthy sense of confidence that does not translate into arrogance.

I don't need the recognition.

The government closest to the people is the best government. Government, if left to its own accord, will always be abusive. Always.

The Flats East Bank is a project that we put a whole lot of public subsidy in, more than we should. Much more than we should. But we needed to do that because I had to put to rest the debate. The debate was whether there could be waterfront development in downtown Cleveland.

Those cities and urban centers that positioned themselves for the future survived [the '70s] pretty well. Those -- Cleveland being one of them -- who did not do that and were still trying to hold onto that old way of doing business, we declined. ... The corporate world and the political leadership made a decision to stay where they are or not invest in the emerging economy. As a result of that, they were left behind. My intent is not to have that done on my watch.

People always ask me if I'm running again for re-election. ... I'm not running for mayor to be mayor. ... My purpose is to accomplish my purpose. So my decision on whether or not I run or not is based on whether or not I'm effective. If I get to the point where I believe -- and hopefully I can see that -- that I'm not effective, [then] I've outlived my usefulness. ... I don't want to be an old fighter, not knowing when to retire.


Anonymous said...

Sadly, the best thing one can say about Frank "Action" Jackson is that he's not a crook. Not much charisma. Not much vision. Not much populism. But again, he is the guy voters selected, so more to power to him. If they wanted someone else, they would've elected someone else.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit I've never paid much attention to the man but I'm all in favor of the mindset demonstrated by these quotes.

And I ran across a PD story yesterday re a balanced budget (?) Granted, it relied on one-time earnings that won't be available next year. But corporations do that all the time. And how many other cities - or federal governments, for that matter - wouldn't love to have a balanced budget right now.

Cleveland could definitely use strong leadership - and some positive PR for a change - but if quiet, behind-the-scenes effectiveness is getting the job done, I'll take that over ego-driven media posturing any day.