Over the past few months, East Cleveland, Ohio, residents have been organizing to recall their current Mayor Brandon L. King. The ballot initiative to recall the mayor was certified on August 9 after enough valid signatures were submitted to the city’s clerk.
The East Cleveland Law Director Willa Hemmons has attempted to undermine this expression of democracy through frivolous lawsuits and lying to the media. She has sown confusion about the validity of the election. However, her attempts to undermine the recall election have failed. The election to recall Brandon L. King is valid and voters will get to decide on the issue Nov. 8.
Recall in response to widespread corruption and police terror
The recall election is a response to widespread corruption within the King administration. East Cleveland resident Charles Holmes Jr. raised several complaints in the recall petition, including:
- Using city contractors to do work on the mayor’s own personal property.
- Giving away $1.4 million in real estate to his friends with no payments made to the city.
- Refusing to be transparent about city finances and spending money not appropriated by the city council.
- The mayor does not reside in the City of East Cleveland, as required by the Charter.
- Refusing to bring his appointed Law Director and Finance Director to City Council for approval, as required by the Charter.
Patricia Blochowiak, East Cleveland City Council member at-large, told Liberation News, “The mayor gives contracts to his friends and family. He [also] gives Land Bank properties to his family and friends.”
Since January, the councilor has been asking for the names of businesses referred to only by abbreviations on the city’s finances, but the mayor has refused to allow the Finance Director to meet with her on this topic.
Supporters of the recall share these complaints about corruption in East Cleveland. “I have been overcharged for services I never received. [The administration] is uncaring and unresponsive towards myself and other residents.” said Dawn Jones, a resident of East Cleveland and supporter of the recall.
“I, personally, gave the mayor a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grant application where the mayor could have applied for a grant worth millions to support the men, women, and children of East Cleveland […] when I asked why [he didn’t apply], he stated ‘it didn’t line up with what he wanted to do.’ That was absolutely shocking. What mayor doesn’t want to help their residents?” Jones continued.
The King administration has also overseen a police department with several allegations of criminal behavior. Dozens of East Cleveland police are engaging in law enforcement despite a lack of required training, which is a violation of Ohio law. Nine police officers have recently been charged with crimes ranging from interfering with civil rights to theft in office.
“The mayor sets the tone of the police department,” said William Fambrough, an East Cleveland resident who was targeted by the police while campaigning for King’s rival last year.
“There are stories of East Cleveland police robbing people. Who are the people getting robbed? It is happening to the people right here in East Cleveland — the people who put Brandon King in office […] There needs to be consequences by the voters to change this situation.”
Attempts by the Law Director to subvert democracy
In response to the recall ballot initiative getting certified, Hemmons has attempted to undermine the democratic process by removing the vote from the ballot.
Hemmons provided a legal opinion which argued the recall petition had a general statement which exceeded the word limit in the Ohio Revised Code, and therefore the petition had to be decertified, even though a majority of petitions exceed the word limit.
The attempt to nullify the election through an obscure technicality was rejected by the Board of Elections. When their decision was appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, the court sided with the Board of Elections and said they did not have the authority to decertify the election. The East Cleveland Charter did not describe a process for decertifying an election. The election cannot be decertified.
In response to the ruling, Hemmons turned to the corporate news outlet WKYC to misrepresent the court’s decision to the public. An article published by Dave DeNatale claimed the court ruled that “the East Cleveland Clerk of Council is responsible for certifying or de-certifying a recall petition” and published a statement by the Clerk of Council “defer[ring]” to Hemmons.
The Clerk of Council cannot decertify a recall petition, and they cannot “defer” a made-up power to Hemmons. Hemmons brought this argument to the Ohio Supreme Court, and the court ruled once again that the recall petition cannot be decertified. It will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.
WKYC has yet to publish an article clarifying that the recall election is valid and will happen on Nov. 8. The false statements published in their article have not been retracted. The corporate news and Hemmons have misinformed the public about the recall election.
Hopes for a people-oriented government in East Cleveland
The city of East Cleveland has struggled for the past several decades. Since 2000, the population of the city has decreased by nearly 50%. The city is majority Black and it is the fourth poorest in the country, with a poverty rate of 42%. The racist and anti-poor system of U.S. capitalism has turned a blind eye to corruption in the city and exploited its residents.
In spite of these issues, residents are hopeful to see a new government that will be oriented towards the interests of the people, rather than a corrupt few.
“The money and land [in the city] could be better utilized by people who want to restore structures and revitalize the city […] I want to see an adequately functioning administration that cares about the residents and rebuilding,” said Jones.
“There are many needs,” said Blochowiak, listing better-funded public services and youth programs as priorities. “[We need] organizations to provide for the needs of citizens.”
If the recall passes on Nov. 8, Brandon King will be the second mayor in a row whose mayorship ended with a recall. A new government which genuinely serves the interests of the people can be won in East Cleveland. It will require the people to be organized with a demand for economic and political power.
Feature photo: The home in East Cleveland Mayor Brandon L. King claims to live in. Photo Credit: Dawn Jones.