The Top 25
The Power 100 List
Greater Akron, Cuyahoga County, Lake County, Lorain County, Mahoning Valley
#2 Chris Connor
Chairman and CEO,
The Sherwin-Williams Co.
#3 Dr. Toby Cosgrove
President and CEO,
#5 Dan Gilbert
Majority owner, Cleveland Cavaliers; chairman, Quicken Loans Inc.; principal, Rock Gaming
#15 Sandra Pianalto
President and CEO,
Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland
#22 Roy Church
President, Lorain County
Chairman, president and CEO,
The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
Power Through the Years
Here’s a look back at who most shaped our region 40, 30 and nine years ago.
Last May, Frank Jackson sat in Ohio House Speaker Bill Batchelder’s office and sensed time running out.
“I can’t leave here without an agreement,” the mayor said.
For three months, Jackson had lobbied the legislature to pass his plan to reform the Cleveland schools. The district was running out of money, and the deadline to put a school levy on the fall ballot was nearing. Jackson felt voters would never approve the levy without a plan in hand to improve the schools.
He had spent months assembling a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, business leaders and labor. The final obstacle was Ohio’s powerful charter school lobby, which didn’t want to give Jackson oversight of charters in the city.
The two sides were on opposite banks of the Cuyahoga with no bridge in sight. So with the House’s Memorial Day recess looming, some people suggested pushing the decision off for a couple of weeks.
The mayor said no, no way. “I know that if I had left,” Jackson says, “with all the other stuff they were doing, this would have been pushed to the back burner.”
His resolve paid off. “We’ve got to do this,” the mayor recalls Batchelder saying. The parties agreed to a compromise on charter oversight.
Three weeks later, the reforms passed.
Jackson’s performance on the schools issue could be a master class for aspiring politicians and civic leaders on how to wield influence to maximum effect.
The mayor accomplished three tasks in 2012 that seemed politically impossible. He got the Cleveland Teachers Union to agree to a plan that ties raises and layoffs to performance rather than seniority. He broke through charter schools’ domination of the legislature and gained influence over state decisions to grant new charters in Cleveland. And, last and most impressive, he convinced city voters to pass a massive 15-mill levy, the city’s first new school tax in 11 years and its first new levy for operations in 16 years.
Across Northeast Ohio, people are re-evaluating Jackson in the wake of his victories.
“I think the mayor has always been terribly underestimated by people because by his nature he tends to be shy,” says Albert Ratner, co-chairman emeritus of Forest City Enterprises. “But he has an enormous strength and belief system.”
How did he do it? First, when Jackson formed a working group to draft the reforms in fall 2011, he strategically made his invites. He included representatives of the Cleveland Foundation, the Gund Foundation and the Greater Cleveland Partnership, as well as the Breakthrough Schools, the city’s best-performing charter schools. But he didn’t include the union, which had taken a go-slow approach to his past efforts to increase teacher accountability.
“I wanted a point of discussion, a starting point,” Jackson says, “as opposed to having a long protracted conversation of what the plan would be.” Instead, the mayor got allies in the legislature to introduce his plan as a bill, and then opened negotiations with the union. Jackson gives the union credit for compromising — “on the issue of tenure and seniority, it really was their approach that we adopted” — but the threat of a Republican legislature remaking Cleveland’s schools without union input surely helped him extract concessions.
Then, to convince voters to pass the levy, Jackson became its face in television ads. He hit the streets, knocked on doors and attended public meetings large and small. He visited the levy campaign headquarters “once a week at least, and mostly several times a week,” he says, studying the polling and tracking, figuring out where to campaign next.
The levy passed with 56 percent of the vote. “You have to stay on top of it in order for it to be successful,” he explains.
Jackson, 66, made two more decisions he feels were keys to the levy’s passage. He says he’d be retiring this year, not running for re-election in the fall, if not for the education plan. But he believes leaving in 2013 would have hurt his credibility in 2012.
“How can I go to the state legislators and to my partners to talk about making the drastic systemic changes that we made,” he asks, “and I say, ‘I’m asking you to do all this, but I’m retiring’? How could I go to the people in the city of Cleveland and say, ‘I’m asking you to support a levy that has never passed like this in the history of Ohio, and by the way, I’m retiring’?”
Jackson also chose not to campaign for November’s countywide port authority levy, nor for a city charter amendment that would’ve given him more control over appointments in the troubled fire department. County voters rejected the port levy, depriving the mayor of funding for a pedestrian bridge to connect the lakefront to the downtown Malls. The fire amendment went down too, by only 43 votes out of 120,000 cast.
Jackson has no regrets. Had he taken a lead on the port levy, he thinks, the school levy would have failed.
“When I’m talking about one thing, then it’s very clear when people hear my voice or see my face, they know what it’s about, and they are paying attention,” Jackson explains.
Power, the mayor says, means being selective in how to use one’s political capital. It also means putting in hard work to create substantive achievements. He’s heard critics lament that he isn’t a “cheerleader” for Cleveland. They’ll remain disappointed.
“I don’t cheer,” he says. “But I get what people want done.”