The MAYORAL ADMINISTRATION OF MAYOR JANE L. CAMPBELL (2002-2005) was set against a backdrop of persistent economic recession locally that complicated and narrowed the city's options on most issues during her four years in office and that led eventually to layoffs in several key departments. It was a challenging time for political leaders. The September 11, 2001 attacks occurred less than two months before Campbell's election, and, like many public and private institutions in the ensuing years, the city government under her leadership seemed destined to struggle in the uncertain and darkening mood. Overall, her successes in fixing the city's financial management structure and making the future of the lakefront her signature issue were offset by ongoing political troubles and steady private-sector job loss.

The intractability of the city's fundamental problems stood in some contrast with Campbell's initial promise. She arrived at CLEVELAND CITY HALL with a reformer image, in part resulting from her years of association with grassroots and neighborhood causes. But she was also a veteran officeholder, having spent twelve years moving up the legislative ladder in the Ohio House of Representatives and then five years as a Cuyahoga County commissioner (see CUYAHOGA COUNTY GOVERNMENT). The daughter of Joan Brown Campbell, a prominent Cleveland clergywoman, Jane Campbell was elected the city's first female mayor in November 2001, defeating Raymond C. Pierce, a lawyer and an official in the U.S. Department of Education under President Clinton.

In office, Campbell inherited a $60 million budget deficit and a city government (see CLEVELAND CITY GOVERNMENT) in considerable financial and administrative disarray. She made notable headway against the chaos, streamlining the city's departments of finance, building and housing, and law. But the success she had in creating workable in-house systems and a stable city budget was to come at a steep political cost. In particular, her 2003 decision to lay off firefighters and police officers—necessitated by the belt-tightening—led to a loss of support for Campbell in many of the city's working-class neighborhoods, especially on the West Side. It also severely aggravated her relations with the city's safety forces unions. Overall, Campbell's budget regimen eventually forced the layoff of up to 700 city employees and cutbacks in services such as trash collection.

Meanwhile, Campbell had other accomplishments, most notably in raising the profile of the issue of lakefront planning—until she made it a priority the issue had been mostly dormant politically for decades. She also made gains in community revitalization, especially new home development. Mayor Campbell was active as well in a number of major development projects such as: the Euclid Avenue Corridor (see EUCLID AVE.), linking downtown and UNIVERSITY CIRCLE; the Steelyard Commons shopping center built on a former LTV STEEL site; and the Wolstein Flats project on the east bank of the CUYAHOGA RIVER. Campbell also made progress in diversity of hiring, which was reflected in an ethnically and racially inclusive cabinet "that looks like Cleveland" and in her appointment of the city's first African-American fire chief. Campbell was widely praised for her empathetic and hands-on response when confronted with two separate crises in 2003—a region-wide power blackout and a fatal shooting at CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY. She also made strides in modernizing city government, as in her program to expand the use of email and mobile data computers by city workers.

Along with the accomplishments came notable setbacks and conflicts. For instance, in 2003 she withdrew her support for building a new convention center, infuriating many in the city's business community. Also, her initial backing for casino gambling, which she had touted as a job magnet, was later compromised when she abandoned a plan for a ballot issue allowing gambling. Another controversial decision, in favor of a Wal-Mart store at Steelyard Commons, alienated some of her former supporters among the unions, consumer groups and community activists. Complicating matters for Campbell was her increasingly strained relationship with Council President Frank Jackson (see CLEVELAND CITY COUNCIL), a onetime ally who eventually challenged and defeated her when she ran for re-election in 2005.

Campbell's leadership ability was most severely tested by the slumping economy in Northeast Ohio during her tenure, and by the daunting tax and budgetary pressures that were its indirect by-products. The discouraging conditions were underscored in 2004 when the U.S. Census Bureau ranked Cleveland the nation's poorest major city, with a poverty rate of over thirty percent and an unemployment rate of over twelve percent—well above twice the national average in both categories. Partly due to woeful long-term trends, such as the ongoing loss of steel and other high-paying manufacturing jobs, Cleveland's tax base continued to shrink during Campbell's tenure. As the public face—at least the local version—during tough times, Campbell saw her popularity get caught in a generalized downdraft of pessimism and civic frustration.

The economic deterioration was perhaps most telling in the issue of education. In November 2004 and again in August 2005, voters rejected an increase in the schools (see CLEVELAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS) levy, despite heavy campaigning by Campbell in its favor. The defeats prompted widespread layoffs of teachers, deep cuts in education programs, and the departure of schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in the summer of 2005. A school district that only a few years earlier had been recognized for its improvement was once again seen as imperiled. The setbacks, coming as Campbell was seeking re-election, only underscored the difficulties she had faced throughout her four-year term.

Benjamin Sperry

Jane Campbell Papers, WRHS.

Article Categories