Tuesday, September 28

Kerry McCormack, Cleveland’s Only Out City Council Member, Has Big Plans for Second Term

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Kerry McCormack wants to keep building “a more vibrant Cleveland.”

“That’s really been the overarching theme of the past five years,” he says.

Seeking reelection, McCormack, the only currently sitting out gay man to serve on Cleveland City Council – where he represents Ward 3 – plans to focus on continuing the work of his first term in his second, seeing through a range of in-the-works projects, from multimillion-dollar public greenspaces, to luxury condo high-rises, to permanent supportive housing for unhoused residents.

He says he will also keep working to turn economic and racial justice into legislative reality, with fair housing, police reform, and green infrastructure among his top policy priorities.

Encompassing some of Cleveland’s most diverse neighborhoods – including Downtown, Ohio City, and Tremont – Ward 3 is one of the city’s most progressive, and one of its fastest growing, having received billions of dollars in private investment in new housing and small business development in recent years, thanks in large part to incentives passed by McCormack and others on council.

It is also one of the city’s poorest, with related issues like food and housing insecurity and homelessness affecting many residents.

McCormack says the city has a duty to balance desire for new development with the needs of existing communities.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that if we don’t create a more economically equitable city, and we don’t meaningfully take action to create economic opportunity, especially in areas that have been, frankly, screwed over the years, then the city is not going to survive.”

McCormack will face two challengers in a September primary (early voting begins August 17), and the top two finishers will advance to the November general election. The Buckeye Flame spoke with the Democratic incumbent about his start in local politics, his hopes for his next term, and his advice for LGBTQ+ people interested in running for office.

How’d you get your start into local politics?
KM: I moved home to Cleveland in 2012, after graduating from college and teaching English in Spain for two years, and started working for a US Senate campaign. I was at a bit of a crossroads, deciding whether to stay in Cleveland or take a job on the hill in D.C., when I received an offer here to be the Director of Community Affairs at Ohio City Incorporated, a neighborhood development corporation, making a much bigger impact on the city I love. The decision was a no-brainer.

For three years, I ran all of the organization’s external relations and community-based programs – recreation leagues, government relations, safety programs. That led to my appointment by council [in 2016], after the former councilperson for Ward 3 resigned. In 2017, I ran for election and won.

What are your proudest accomplishments since taking office?
From an LGBTQ+ perspective, I work hard to get the city in line to where it needed to be on these issues. One of my first votes was 1446-13, which expanded anti-discrimination protections for the trans community. In addition, we worked with the Human Rights Campaign to advise the city on how we could become a more LGBTQ+ supportive and affirming and friendly city, taking our HRC Municipal Equality Index rating to 100%, which we’ve maintained for the past three years in a row.

We’ve also passed some important social justice legislation, as well as a number of public health policies, including a law overhauling our policies around childhood lead paint poisoning. We also passed a big overhaul and funded measures to fight back against infant mortality in the city.

Another of my passions is high quality public space and multimodal connections. We’ve invested millions invested in trails and parks in our community, which has made the city more vibrant.

We’ve also worked hard to increase local small business and housing options, with billions in investment flowing into downtown and the Ohio City, Tremont, and Clark-Fulton neighborhoods. What’s exciting about that is it ranges everything from a brand new luxury housing tower downtown to permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness. We’ve seen the whole gamut of housing options open up for people in our community to create a more vibrant place to live, and we’ve helped tons of new small businesses open their doors.

What will be the main priorities of your next term?
I’ve introduced environmental justice and transportation equity legislation that I want to achieve in the next year. It would overhaul how we design our roads in Cleveland to be more pedestrian and cyclist friendly. I’ve also introduced legislation to bring back the Cleveland Tree Commission, which will help provide advocacy and oversight for out our tree canopy. We’ve already invested millions in our trails and parks, which has made the city more vibrant and helped support small business, but I want to see dramatic investment in multimodal transportation. Companies want to locate to cities with these amenities, and so do people.

Housing justice is another priority. We still see redlining in our community, where folks in black and brown neighborhoods are less likely – even if they have the income to qualify – to get loans and mortgages. It’s a huge problem, and nuanced, but one of the solutions is to hold financial institutions accountable to provide options and tools for housing and wealth building in our neighborhoods that have been redlined.

We also need to think about public safety reforms. Right now, whether it’s addiction or a mental health issue, we throw a cop at it. I don’t blame the people who call, because what’s the alternative? That’s why I want to launch an expansion of our emergency medical services that would include a general unit that responds to issues related to trauma, drug abuse, and some domestic incidents. Instead of an armed police officer, we’d send someone clinically trained to understand what’s going on and help that person get into a support system, and 9-1-1 dispatchers would be trained to know when to deploy this unit.

What does it meant to you to be one of the few out elected officials in the state, and currently the only one on Cleveland City Council?
I speak in schools all the time, and a question I’m always asked is whether I’m married. Each and every time I say yes and I talk about my husband. I don’t make a deal of it. I just say, “My husband and I live in Ohio City and we have two rescue pups…” I think it’s important for kids to be exposed to the normalization or mainstream acceptability of LGBTQ+ people. There’s no doubt in my mind – because I was that kid – there are kids in the crowd who are queer, whether or not they know it yet, and they need to see they can achieve what they want to achieve.

What would you say to a young LGBTQ+ person who’s interested in running for office, but not quite sure how to get started?
Understand why you want to do it, and do the work to build trust in the community. Go to your block club meetings, get to know your neighbors, go to precinct meetings and forums, and introduce yourself. Doing that grassroots ground game will serve you down the road, not only because voters will know who you are, but because people will go to bat for you. When people post something homophobic about me online, for example, I don’t even need to respond, because my residents were already eating them alive in the comments.

My advice to young LGBTQ+ folks looking to get into office would also be to find someone from the community who is in elected office. Reach out to them and have a coffee; seek their advice, and build a relationship with them. Because when you’re in a ditch or don’t know where to go, reaching out to that person who probably has more experience than you is going to be extremely helpful. For me, that’s been [out state senator]Nikki Antonio. Having her to look to as a sounding board and a support system through this journey of elected office has meant the world to me. 🔥

Ignite Action:

  • Learn more about Kerry McCormack and his bid for Cleveland City Council by visiting his website or Facebook page.
  • Check ohvotes.org to make sure you are registered to vote and update your voter registration address.  
  • After checking your voter registration, check out Cleveland VOTES’ 2021 #Commit2CLE Toolkit to learn HOW to ACTivate. There you will find a series of programs, resources, and tools partners use to ACTivate their constituents and help get others to vote. 
  • For nonprofit organizations servicing the Greater Cleveland area, check out the Equitable Civic Engagement Fund, a grant opportunity to help educate, connect and empower voting age residents in the Greater Cleveland area.

About Author

Peter Kusnic is a writer and editor based in Cleveland, OH.

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