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Calfee NOW Episode 20 With Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin

On Episode 20 of Calfee NOW, Raymond Tarasuck, Senior Counsel, and Michael Bowen, Associate with Calfee's Government Relations and Legislation practice group spoke with Cleveland City Council President, Blaine Griffin, who represents Ward 6. 

Topics discussed included:

  • How Council President Griffin became involved with Cleveland City Council 
  • The makeup up Ward 6 and the challenges it presents
  • The priorities he would like to see City Council address
  • Initiatives people in the business community can look forward to under Council President Griffin's leadership 

Calfee NOW Blaine Griffin

Watch the full episode. 



Video Transcript

Michael Bowen:

Okay everybody. I want to welcome everyone to another Calfee Now. It's been a little bit, we're actually joined by my colleague, Ray Tarasuck and most importantly, our esteemed honorable guest, the newly elected city council president for the city of Cleveland, Blaine Griffin. Blaine how you doing today?

Blaine Griffin:

I'm doing great. Thank you, Michael. How are you?

Michael Bowen:

Great. We'll start off with kind of a background question. What's your background, and kind of what made you get into public service and ultimately, how did you get to the position of Cleveland city council president?

Blaine Griffin:

Well, I'll try to be brief mike, but everybody has a story and my story is unlike so many people across this area. I was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, raised by a single parent. A mom, who actually was a social worker. Even though my father was very active and involved in my life, my mother and I really lived together, and at the end of the day, she was very astute on education. She really pushed reading to me and really pushed me to always look at education, not just as getting A's, B's and C's, but how we can really do critical, become critical thinkers. I'll never forget, she used to make me write when I was young and it really now is coming in very handy. Instead of sometimes the punishment she actually would make me write.

Blaine Griffin:

From there, I got pretty decent in sports and wound up getting basketball scholarship, going to Malone college in Canton, Ohio. In Canton, Ohio, was a four year player, varsity player for the Malone Pioneers. We had a pretty good ball club there and used that to get a good quality education. Met a young lady, got married, we've been married for 25 years. Met her while I was in school in Canton. We now have three children, live in the Buckeye-Shaker, Woodland Hills community.

Blaine Griffin:

Came up to Cleveland in 1992 and really just got involved in the community. My first job was at Harvard Community Services Center as a community organizer. As a person that was dedicated to trying to focus on Rights of Passage, which helped young people go from childhood to adulthood.

Blaine Griffin:

Then I went over to East End Neighborhood House, in the neighborhood that I currently live in, and really worked hard on trying to develop their family programs. Everything from Rights of Passage, to senior programs, to youth programs, youth and young adult programs. Really learned there for about four years.

Blaine Griffin:

Then I ran Hunger Network for a time, the Hunger Network of greater Cleveland. Which had about 300 pantries all across the city of Cleveland and the county at the time. In that process, I always mentored young people. One of the things that I always seen, was that young people were getting a raw deal in the criminal justice system. So I began meeting a lot of judges to advocate for these young people.

Blaine Griffin:

In meeting some of these judges, they would say "Hey, could you help me get elected?", and the good judges that I met, I helped him get elected. From there I met great people like Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who took me under her wing. Frank Jackson, who took me under his wing. This was after I ran and lost for a council race in 2001, to then council person, Pat Brit.

Blaine Griffin:

Now she's the Clerk of Cleveland City Council Pat Brit. But after I lost that race, Frank Jackson and Stephanie Tubbs Jones really took me under their wing. I eventually helped Frank Jackson become mayor of the city where we unseated an incumbent. From there he brought me into his cabinet where I served for 11 years from 2006 to 2017.

Blaine Griffin:

Then the council person for ward six fell ill, and they were looking for someone to fill that position. So I came over and filled that position for Cleveland City Council. From there, I had a mission to revive and revitalize our neighborhood, which I believe we're doing that as we speak. Now here I am council president, so honored that my colleagues have elected me as council president. We are in the process of really setting an aggressive and very, very vibrant agenda for the next four years.

Raymond Tarasuck:

Well Council President, and I'm honored to call you that. I mean, we've known each other since when you're in the mayors cabinet.

Blaine Griffin:

Right.

Raymond Tarasuck:

It's been a long time. So I am very honored to call you that. Congratulations.

Raymond Tarasuck:

You talked a little bit about your neighborhood and where you live now. Describe for us a little bit about ward six, and tell us what the makeup is of ward six, and tell us about some of the exciting things that are happening at ward six,

Blaine Griffin:

Ward six is what I call a Dickensian model of a ward. It's as The Tale of Two Cities once said "It's the best of times and it's the worst of times". You have some very affluent parts of ward six, that are doing well. That are thriving areas that are seeing growth and seeing a population increase. We also represent 25% of Cleveland's economy; 50% in the downtown business district, in the central business district. Then 25% ward six, and then the rest of the 25% is spread across the city. So it's an area where a lot of innovation takes place. We have great institutions like The Cleveland Clinic, which is the largest employer in the state of Ohio and the city of Cleveland. We have University Hospitals, we have great companies like Nottingham Spirk, which is a leader in innovation across the world.

Blaine Griffin:

We then also have some challenging areas where we have tremendous amount of blight, we have a tremendous amount of crime. I love this area, because every day presents a new challenge. You have to be very creative. It's one of the larger districts in the area. So I tell people I have to put on a different hat every day in order to make sure that I'm engaged with everybody from the boardroom to the streets. That's what I really pride myself on, being able to shake hands and talk to people in the boardroom settings, and really help understand the goals and objectives of business and community leaders, like many of your clients.

Blaine Griffin:

Also really being able to articulate the needs and the suffering of the people that I serve and being able to relate to them and make sure that they understand, that they got somebody that's fighting for their needs and their concerns. To say to the least, we have Little Italy, we have Buckeye, we have Fairfax area where Cleveland clinic is. We have the Union Miles and East 93rd Street area, a piece of Mount pleasant, and we go all the way to Slavic Village. So when I tell you it's a large area, it's a very large area, but it's a fun area. It's a fun area to serve because every day presents a different challenge.

Raymond Tarasuck:

Michael.

Michael Bowen:

So Council President, I know you've been council president all of about a week now, but I'm going to ask you this question anyway. Looking forward into the future, what are some of your priorities that you would like to see Cleveland City Council address? I mean, as we all kind of know, we have a first time in 16 years, we have a new mayor elect. So that's going to, provide a whole, the different set of let's say priorities and agendas possibly coming out of 601 Lakeside. But from your perspective, what are some of your priorities that Cleveland City Council is going to be addressing?

Blaine Griffin:

I know that the easy thing that everybody wants to say first and foremost is to deal with crime and safety. If we don't have crime and safety, if we don't deal with crime and we don't have a good, strong public safety component. That's not just the police department, that's everything from the courts to the fire departments, to EMS. We have to have very strong public safety services in order to have a successful city. So of course, that's first and foremost.

Blaine Griffin:

Where we have to boost morale, we have to look at are there ways to increase the pay of the police officers? I recently got a message today where Columbus is doing lateral transfers and they're probably paying about 20,000 more than we are doing in the city of Cleveland. We have to address pay equity in the city, we have to make sure that we give a 21st century policing model. Where we better utilize some of the technology that's out here, like drones and other type of equipment and tools to really help us be better stewards of our city and have a safer city.

Blaine Griffin:

I will also tell you that eradicating poverty is very important. We have to really create a middle class in the city of Cleveland. We have to grow Cleveland from the middle out, not to hop down or the bottom up. Right now I believe we have two Clevelands. We have a very wealthy Cleveland, a very affluent Cleveland and a Cleveland that's doing pretty well. But we have too much poverty in another Cleveland, that's not doing well. So we really have The Tale of Two Cities, the middle class is diminished tremendously.

Blaine Griffin:

Which has hurt neighborhood stability, which leads us to housing instability, to some of the other social determinants of health and health disparities that we're seeing. We really want to build the middle class so that we can have more stable neighborhoods so that we can focus on housing security and making sure that people will have good affordable market rate housing. Also, make sure that we're doing everything to create a Cradle to Workforce Pipeline that is seamless. We can't start in kindergarten. We can't say, well, what are you going to do after college? We need to start planning from when people are babies, when these young children are babies all the way through until they get a career.

Blaine Griffin:

That takes a focused effort in order to be able to do that. Because within that spectrum, we could deal and eradicate infant mortality. High infant mortality rates, which we are experiencing in the city of Cleveland. We can deal with the horrible crisis of lead exposure, with too many children being exposed to lead. It also deals with educational attainment, stability, making sure that we really focus on having a healthy Cleveland. So we're going to look at all of those different areas, but then we also have to think big and we have to make big bets. We have to make big bets around broadband, which is very important to make sure that this community is well connected. We've seen that COVID 19 has exacerbated some of the inequities that we see, because only approximately 30% of our community are wired the way that they need to be.

Blaine Griffin:

We got to make big bets on things like broadband; and not just getting wired, but also making sure that households have the equipment, and actually creating a workforce of people that can actually install that equipment and repair that equipment. But we also need to make sure that we have digital literacy, no use in having equipment and people can't utilize it. We want to make sure that we have all of that done. I think another big bet that I'm really going to urge my colleagues to really embrace is water policy. We have our oil is our water and we have to do a better job of really being innovative in how we treat that water source, how we protect it, also how we utilize it in order to try to help our economy. Really do some very creative things. Milwaukee and Wisconsin, and those areas are doing some very creative things around water policy.

Blaine Griffin:

I would also like to really work with, and I've already floated this with Mayor Elect Bibb, as well as other County Council members like County Council President Pernell Jones. Is that we need some regional policies to deal with things like car chases. Where too many, innocent citizens are getting hit by cars because we don't have a comprehensive policy of how we do car chases throughout the region. I think that could lead to how we have a better public safety model to deal with policing and safety, if we can have regional collaboration on those kind of issues.

Blaine Griffin:

Regional collaboration is important. Cleveland doesn't live in a bubble or in a silo. So we have to work well with our suburban partners. Last but not least, we have to deal with black suffering. We have, as city council, raised the issue of racism, declared it as a public health crisis. We have to deal with black suffering in a meaningful way, in a way that we really change the narrative and the trajectory of the black people that are suffering in this city. Not that I want to exclude any other group, but the majority of the people that are in poverty, experiencing health disparities, that have low educational attainment, that are the victims and perpetrators of crime, are African American males and African American women.

Blaine Griffin:

African American women actually have lost babies eight times, compare eight times more, than their white counterparts. So we have to do something around those kind of issues in order for all of us to be successful, because if one group is unsuccessful, then we'll all fail as the city of Cleveland because we're all inextricably tied.

Raymond Tarasuck:

Yeah. There's certainly a lot of challenges that you mentioned Council President, there's a lot of opportunities as well, going forward. To follow up on Mike's question, can we talk a little bit about some of your initiatives that some of the people in our business community can look forward to under your leadership as council president going forward?

Blaine Griffin:

Well, the business community really, really wants to make sure that they have strong support and an efficient City Hall. Let's start there. You shouldn't have to wait as long as you are right now for a permit to be able to get things done. We have to make City Hall more efficient. We have to make it put the technological upgrades in place. So that City Hall is open for business. City Hall has to be welcoming to business, so business is nimble. Business community moves very efficient, and we have to have a City Hall that meets that challenge of being more efficient and more nimble in order to meet the needs of the business community. We have to make sure that we have an environment that the business community feels is stable in order for them to invest. If the business community sees an environment where there's a lot of instability, then they're going to be less likely to invest.

Blaine Griffin:

We have to show that there's stability, that our budget is going to be in a good place. One of the things that I think a lot of people don't give mayor Frank Jackson, enough credit for is that our bond rating has been great. We need to continue to make sure that we do the blocking and tackling necessary in order to make sure that our bond rating stays high so that we can be able to borrow and do some of these big bets that we're talking about, and some of these things that will help our business community be successful.

Blaine Griffin:

I'm going to constantly let listen to the business community. Every time I listen to the corporate community, I learn something different. The only way Cleveland is going to be successful is if we have a strong public, private, and philanthropic partnership. In the 1990s, Harvard actually did a study and they lifted up Cleveland as a model of how you do a strong public, private, and philanthropic partnership. So we have to educate our community, to help them understand that, that partnership, the three PS are important. Definitely I value that, and hopefully the corporate community will lockstep with myself and my colleagues and Mayor Elect Bibb in order make sure that we have that strong partnership.

Michael Bowen:

That's great. Well, thanks Council President. Once again, thank you for joining us on Calfee Now. We kind of like to lead this ending to kind of let you kind of freestyle here a little bit and speak to our clients and our audience. Say kind of anything you want to say that you don't think maybe we addressed, or something you want people to know. Cause this is going to be kind of sent out all across the city and really all across the county.

Blaine Griffin:

Well, I would tell you, and all of your stakeholders with Calfee, is that change was a mandate a couple of weeks ago in that election. People want to see, touch, and feel, and know the change that they're having. They don't want an academic exercise. They don't want incremental change. People want change that they can touch, feel, and see. We are going to do everything we can to deliver. We are at a very pivotal point in our city's history, where I think that we are in the process of really being able to do some great things, to make Cleveland a great city that it needs to be. But I want everybody to understand this about change. Change is not an event, it's a process, and we need everybody to be a part of that process.

Blaine Griffin:

Just because we've elected new people, does not mean we're necessarily going to get change. Just because people want to see change, doesn't mean that there's going to be change. Change is going to take all of us. It's going to take every sector of this city to really look at things different and think out of the box; and make some, take some risk, and do some things that might be unpopular. But, that people may thank us for 10 to 15 years down from now. I'm not just looking for how we're going to impact now. I'm looking for what kind of decisions we have to make in order to make sure that the city of Cleveland is secure are in its future. So once again, I don't have all of the answers, but the beauty of being a council person is that you have to know a little bit about everything, but not being an expert at one thing. So there may be times when I come to you Calfee and your clients, to really understand some of the dynamics of this city.

Blaine Griffin:

I am not a person that believes that I have all of the answers, but I do know that working and putting together a collaborative leadership model that we can accomplish great things in this city. So I really appreciate Calfee and all of you all for taking the time. I appreciate my friends, Mike Bowen and Ray Tarasuck, who both have been great friends and helped me throughout my journey, even before I became council president. So hopefully we can continue to work with all of you guys in order to have a successful city. I end, every conversation that I say, and every time I'm on social media, that I love CLE, I love ward six. I know you guys do too, so let's get to work.

Michael Bowen:

Appreciate it, Council President. Thanks everybody again for joining us for another now Calfee Now.

Calfee Connections blogs, vlogs and other educational content are intended to inform and educate readers about legal developments and are not intended as legal advice for any specific individual or specific situation. Please consult with your attorney regarding any legal questions you may have. With regard to all content including case studies or descriptions, past outcomes do not predict future results. The opinions expressed may not necessarily reflect the view points of all attorneys and professionals of Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP or its subsidiary. Updates related to all COVID-19 government assistance programs are provided with the most current information made available to Calfee at the time of publication. Clarifications and further guidance are being disseminated from government authorities on an ongoing basis. All information should be reaffirmed prior to the submission of any application and/or program participation.

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