Jul 17, 2023 - Politics

City Hall tensions erupt after Warehouse District shooting

Illustration of Cleveland City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Simmering tensions between Mayor Justin Bibb and Cleveland City Council erupted last week after a high-profile mass shooting in the Warehouse District.

Driving the news: Councilman Mike Polensek, chair of the council's safety committee, sent a press release saying he planned to comment on the city's "out of control" violence at last Wednesday's council meeting.

  • In response, Bibb and every member of his cabinet boycotted the meeting.

What they're saying: "The mayor will not subject his cabinet to sit politely for yet another monologue attacking their integrity, ethics and basic functionality," Bibb's spokesperson said in a statement.

  • In a pointed jab, the statement noted that "the city's problems and violence do not get a summer recess like council."

Context: Council is on its extended annual break until Sept. 18, during which it meets only twice: last Wednesday and on Aug. 16.

The other side: "The mayor is the mayor, and the buck stops with him," councilman Brian Kazy said on the Outlaws Radio Show. "He seems to be upset because he's being held accountable by the council, which is our job. Sorry if you've got thin skin."

Reality check: Violent crime has been high in 2023, but is roughly on pace with 2020 and 2021, according to the Cleveland Division of Police's weekly crime stats.

By the numbers: Through July 8, there were 96 homicides in the city of Cleveland this year, 85 involving a firearm.

  • Through the same period last year, there were 74 total homicides, 65 with a firearm. In 2021, there were 88 total, 83 with a firearm.

The intrigue: The most striking area of rising crime in 2023 is motor vehicle thefts, up nearly 100% over the same period in 2022 and 2021.

The big picture: Council has been frustrated by the city's inability to recruit new police officers, which some members see as a proximate cause of the recent violence.

Between the lines: Both Bibb and the council are pointing fingers while scrambling to be seen as tackling the problem.

Meanwhile, councilman Richard Starr has proposed legislation requiring late-night establishments to have armed security, a proposal met with instant criticism by bar and restaurant owners.

What's next: Council president Blaine Griffin and Bibb met Thursday morning to discuss their frayed relationship and how to move forward.

  • Without going into details, a city spokesperson told Axios the meeting was productive.
  • "Both sides committed to work towards improving their relationship — one that is collaborative, genuine, results-oriented and, most importantly, puts our residents first."

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