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Packed Race for new Ward 14 City Council Seat

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent

Six candidates are competing against incumbent Cleveland Councilman Joe Santiago for his Ward 14 seat in the Sept. 8, 2009 primary election.

Nelson Cintrón, Brian Cummins, James D’Amico, Rick Nagin, and Moises Torres.

The largest Cleveland Latino neighborhood inspired politicians to polish their Spanish skills as they discussed their plans for the Ward, flaunted their qualifications and list of endorsements at the City Club of Cleveland on Aug. 27, 2009.

Tickets were reduced to $10 for the special forum to encourage residents to attend and, but most of the 65 attendees were guests at tables paid for by the candidates.  Councilman Santiago and Gary Horvath, 62, did not attend the City Club debate, leaving the five hopefuls plenty of room to discuss the failures in Ward 14, such as lack of community services, failing education, increase in crime, and foreclosures.

Rick Nagin – Spanish at heart

Introducing himself in Spanish, Rick Nagin, 67, portrayed himself as a friend and ally of the Latino community. “I will hold the interest of the Hispanic community close to my heart,” he said. Nagin said Spanish culture is an asset and the Ward has the potential to become the go-to destination for Clevelanders looking to immerse themselves in Spanish food, dances, and culture.

He said if elected he’d like to rectify a ‘hurt’ and bring the annual Puerto Rican parade out of the shadows of Muni Parking Lots and into the heart of the greater community. “I was the only non-Hispanic candidate in this race to attend the parade this year,” Nagin said.

He favored development of more Spanish media and said it is important to foster partnerships between city schools, business, and the residents. He wants to create block clubs, and revitalize commerce and create youth health programs that utilize resources like Metro Health. Nagin stressed any candidate who doesn’t have the support of the Latino community should not represent this Ward.

Moises Torres –Fresh slate

For Puerto Rican candidate Moises Torres, 43, the election is about looking after his home. A self described non-career politician, Torres believes the Ward needs to be run by people who live, breathe, and care for the neighborhood and its people—someone like him: “I scrapped my knees here, my family still lives here…  I kissed my first girl here,” he said, his voice rising with passion.

Taking a jab at Nagin’s Harvard education, Torres said the Ward needs to be run by people who understand the wants and needs of its citizens and not those using it as a step to advance political aspirations. “Ward 14 needs change, someone whose not part of the past or current problems,” he said.

Moises Torres

Torres said he is the ‘fresh slate’ the district needs and as Councilman revitalize the economy by seeking out investors from solar and wind turbine industries to create manufacturing jobs. “We are in crisis mode, if you think the Federal governments will step in and wave its magic wand and fix everything you can forget about it,” he said.

Torres also favored seizing abandoned properties via imminent domain and refurbishing them to make the neighborhood visually appealing for entrepreneurs and new businesses. He said the city is involved in major reconstruction projects like the shore-way and he will make sure local businesses have a bid in rebuilding the city—from providing labor, to cement. 

His motto is to keep eyes on opportunities but set realistic and attainable goals. “We need to fight winnable battles,” he said.

Nelson Cintrón – Ready to lead… again

Nelson Cintrón Jr., 43, is a familiar name and face for Ward 14 residents. He served as councilman for two terms between 1997 and 2005 before being ousted by Joe Santiago. Citing his past accomplishments as councilman, Cintrón said he is ready to lead again.

Nelson Cintrón Jr. and Brian Cummins

He said the city budget should be of huge concern for citizens and with $1.4 billion at stake; “Who will you trust with the budget, take care of crime, high dropout rate in high school? I am that candidate,” he said, adding he stands behind his track record and it speaks to his abilities of being able to unite the diverse voices of Ward 14, rally support around causes and building teams that get work done.

As former councilman, Cintron said while he can’t take full credit he was instrumental in the Tremont reconstruction efforts, and carried the torch for the W. 25th Corridor project. His greatest achievement though, he said, was being accessible to the youth by speaking at the school, providing them with recommendations for college or jobs.

A graduate of Lincoln West High School, he said he’s a proud product of the Cleveland Public School systems and wants to seek grants to employee youth with criminal records. He said as jobs become available crime will go down and he wants to encourage Cleveland to flaunt its ports to foreign investors.

He said the United States needs to change its laws and make it easier for other countries to bring their money in. Acknowledging the borders of the Ward have changed, Cintron welcomed residents of the old Ward 15, stating, “your needs are no different than the people of Ward 14.”

Brian Cummins – Global experience, local solutions

Brian Cummins, 49, serves as Councilman for the current Ward 15 and he wants to bring accountability back to council politics. His Peace Corp experience in the Dominican Republic gives him a good understanding of Latino culture and command of Spanish, and he said it gives him a very hands-on approach to leadership and community organizing.

His vision for the new Ward 14 focuses on involving citizens in issue-focused watch clubs, who will rally around important causes like crime, jobs, education, and take ownership of their own neighborhood. This model, Cummins said, worked in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood, which he lead under Ward 15, and will be effective in Ward 14 as well. The key, Cummins said, is to provide good quality of life which can only come from bringing in good employers and investing in the development of a workforce.

His staff is taking a hands-on approach by trying to meet with registered voters and passing out literature. “It’s important for the residents to get to know the candidates, especially in a race with this many candidates,” he said after the debate and added he is trying to facilitate another public form within the Ward so residents can access what the candidates bring to the table and make informed decisions.

James D’Amico – Bringing the people back to politics

James D’Amico, 54, is concerned about the low voter turnout and said the leadership needs to reflect all of the residents, not just the chosen few. The soft spoken former Cleveland Municipal Court deputy bailiff said though he is not a well-known candidate he won’t be an embarrassment for the people of Ward 14.

His vision for the Ward is to make a safe place again, work with the fire and police departments to keep them open 24 hours a day, and take care of the senior citizens needs. He said the current problems are the results of poor communication between Ward Council and the Mayor’s office. “We need to stick together to improve Cleveland,” said D’Amico.

He said, if elected, he will allocate funding for the construction of a new recreational facility where the youth can go to let loose, engage in sports and most importantly stay off the streets and out of trouble.

Incumbent Joe Santiago – Defending his record

Incumbent Joe Santiago, 45, informed this reporter via telephone that he took control of a neglected Ward from Mr. Cintrón, which the previous leadership had left in shambles, leaving him only: “two paperclips and a desk to work with.” Santiago said residents realize big changes don’t happen overnight and he has made steady progress in his first term.

His focus has been to bring unity to the Ward and its neighbors and help revitalize business and housing in the Ward. “You have to look at situations differently every time you approach them and I believe I have done that,” said Santiago.

He said Clark Avenue a is prime example of improvement—a street that is alive with business and safe for pedestrians again. He acknowledges community involvement is lacking but argues it does exists and if reelected he would like to work with revitalization projects currently underway—such as a housing facility for senior citizens, which will break ground on Sept. 17.

“People would have you believe there are no block clubs at all; in fact, there are 10 active block clubs,” said Santiago. In addition, his office is working with the city to bring in consultants to invigorate Community Development Corporations.

Santiago said the Ward has 9 schools, with 4 more under construction. His goal is to remove the stigma of ‘drop-outs’ from the growing young population and is engaging the young first-time voters by reaching out to them during his door-to-door campaign.

He said the neighborhood needs be branded with a distinct identity, and work is underway to define it as the International Village of Cleveland. “We have 29 languages spoken in the Ward,” said Santiago; he said his goal is to encourage ethnic business to make the Ward their home, and to invest, live, and thrive.

He said the future of the Ward is bright, and he would like to continue to oversee many of the projects underway. Depending on the economy, capital budget, and tax revenue, Santiago projected $7 million will be invested in the Ward between now and 2013, part of which will be allocated for reconstruction projects of Fulton Road and development of the International Village.

Santiago said his office has identified nearly 800 properties that have been abandoned for foreclosures; and negotiations are underway for the city to reclaim them, refurbish them, assist low-income families to buy or, “if we have to, tear them down.”

Looking back at his first term, he said supporting La Copa’s liquor license was a mistake that he would not repeat. He said the decision was made in an environment where business were closing or leaving the area. “I want to make it clear, our office nor the city have any power over issuing liquor licenses,” he said.

Horvath could not be reached for comments.


Editor’s Note: There are several non-partisan primaries for city council in Cleveland. Ward 14, which is almost 48 percent Latino, is the focus of one race. The office of the mayor of Cleveland is also contested. The primary is Sept. 8, 2009 [Toledo holds its primary on September 15, 2009.] 

Candidates and Issues for Cuyahoga County  pdf file






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