Yesterday, Senior Copywriter Jessica Forrester and Social Media Program Manager Ryan Collins attended Cleveland’s State of the City address with Mayor Frank Jackson.

Jessica Forrester
Jessica Forrester

I’ll be the first to admit: I didn’t know quite what to expect walking into my first State of the City address from Mayor Jackson. Yes, I knew it would be moderated by a prominent member of the community, but I was expecting a podium and a rehearsed speech. Sound bites. Pauses for polite rounds of applause.

Public Auditorium

In reality, Mayor Jackson sat, somewhat informally, in an armchair, opposite Beth Mooney, Chairman and CEO of KeyCorp, and moderator of the event.

(While we’re on the subject, does anyone know why the identity of the day’s moderator is kept under lock and key, until they moment he or she takes the stage? Is there a point or reason for the secrecy?)

Honestly, I’m struggling with what to even call State of the City. While I’d like to call it a “conversation,” it fell just short of that to me. But it wasn’t a “speech” in the traditional sense, either. Ms. Mooney did offer up a handful of questions to prompt him, but State of the City was really just Mayor Jackson speaking in earnest about the highs, lows, challenges and the opportunities surrounding Cleveland in 2015.

As someone who genuinely loves my city with all of my heart, there were some very big, very inspiring themes to what I heard from Mayor Jackson. He summarized the three key components to Cleveland’s success as education, sharing prosperity and quality of life—all of which were topics that came up multiple times in his address.

When it comes to education, Mayor Jackson spoke at great length on the importance of the tangible outcomes of education (think degrees and diplomas), as well as the intangibles. Things like maturity, enthusiasm, passion and life experiences help to educate the whole child, and build the well-rounded, motivated adult who will someday lead our city forward, he said.

Another huge opportunity—and priority—for Cleveland, according to Mayor Jackson, is the idea of sharing prosperity among all of our neighborhoods. We need to create policies and investments, he said, that allow for challenged neighborhoods to grow. How do we do so? By investing in those neighborhoods’ best assets—their people. “It comes down to the people,” he said. Success for Cleveland always comes when we “behave as a community.”

Of course, Mayor Jackson spoke on the recent Department of Justice reports. He acknowledged that, while the subject is a difficult one, “Hard times is what I do… and Cleveland is used to hard times.” Only through real reform and substantive, sustainable change, Mayor Jackson said, would Cleveland move forward as a community.

In addition, only as a community would Cleveland continue to grow and win. “We won’t be a great city just by wishing it,” he said. “We work for it here,” he added, citing “victories” like securing the Senior Games, Gay Games and the Republican National Convention away from other cities.

Many topics were covered in the audience Q&A, including more on education, standardized testing and the importance of women in government. But the most striking moments of the Q&A portion of the event were neither Qs nor As. It was when one citizen stepped to the microphone to personally accept the apology Mayor Jackson issued to the city on March 2. And then, immediately after, another audience member passionately thanked Mayor Jackson for all of his hard work and dedication to the city. Both were met with rounds of applause and appreciation from the audience.

Coming out of my very first (and hopefully not last) State of the City, one thing I couldn’t help but notice: the appeal of Mayor Jackson lies simply in his realness. By that, I mean all of the things he isn’t make him all of the things he is. Mayor Jackson is not a traditional “career politician.” He wasn’t necessarily “groomed” to do this. He is, at his core, a hometown boy who never left. A man who still lives in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood and is doing the best he can for the city he has always called home. Yes, at times he stumbled over words and rambled just a bit, but that’s ok. Mayor Jackson is far from perfect, but he’s working hard. You don’t always have to agree with him, but you can’t help but appreciate his honesty.

And when you think about it, couldn’t all of the same be said for Cleveland?

Ryan Collins
Ryan Collins

Cleveland’s greatest opportunities, according to Mayor Frank Jackson at his State of the City discussion on Wednesday, are education, equity and shared prosperity, and quality of life. Almost 1,000 people gathered in the city’s vintage Public Auditorium to hear the mayor speak with KeyCorp CEO Beth Mooney about Cleveland’s future. He also accepted questions ranging from education to immigration from the packed house.

Public Auditorium

Clevelanders have plenty to debate regarding the city’s progress forward in the 21st century, and no topic was off limits. Relations between police and the community, recent Department of Justice reports, and education reform were discussed almost immediately, allowing all to exhale after the elephant(s) in the room were acknowledged. I was proud to see such topics discussed head-on at such a public event.

Topics that weren’t covered but I wish had been included: urban sprawl, regionalism, the Opportunity Corridor and public transportation. I’m not complaining – not everything can be covered at these events.

To be honest, I was thrilled to hear the city’s neighborhoods receive shout-outs during the session, particularly one of my favorite gems: Detroit Shoreway. That area has undergone such a turnaround in recent years with greater access to Edgewater Park and the lake, Gordon Square’s retail revitalization, the theater scene firing up to offer world-class creative performances, and even new eateries taking part in Cleveland’s foodie revolution. If you can’t tell, I’m really excited about it, and I hope that success continues to integrate within the residential community there.

Lastly, I just want to point out how cool it is that Mayor Jackson, a resident of the Central neighborhood just southeast of downtown, has stayed and given back to his community. He attended Cleveland schools and eventually earned his law degree from Cleveland State University. After serving on city council, he ran for mayor and is currently on his third term. Putting aside politics, it’s amazing to see someone stick around and make an impact on the region.

If you’d like to follow the #StateofCLE hashtag feed from yesterday which includes Jess and Ryan’s tweets, click here.