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Santiago faces recall in December
Council gives him their complete support as petitions are challenged
Cleveland--Ward 14 voters will decide whether or not to recall Councilor Joe Santiago on December 18.
A group fronted by former councilor Nelson Cintron Jr. turned in petitions with 808 names on October 26. They needed 598 valid signatures of Ward 14 residents who voted in the 2005 city council election, and 703 signatures were validated.
However, accusations of fraud among signature gatherers are already coming in, with Cuyahoga County Board of Elections executive director Jane Platten being presented on November 2 with a complaint that people were misled as to the nature of the petition.
Santiago supporters presented Platten with nine affidavits from residents who claim they were tricked into signing the petitions, along with a letter requesting an investigation.
Platten took the issue up with the Board of Elections on November 5, and they scheduled a protest hearing for 10 am on Saturday, November 10, according to Laura Black, Platten’s executive assistant. She said that they have received other protests over the petition drive, and that protesters and the group behind the petition will have a chance to be heard at the meeting. It will be in the board room of the Board of Elections’ offices, at the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 30th Street.
Black was unsure, however, if the board had the power to cancel the upcoming recall if the allegations against the petitions are proven.
Recall supporters claim that Santiago is not responsive to his constituents, supported zoning variances for two businesses that residents opposed--a dog day-care center and a bar--removed funding for the Clark Metro Development Corporation, and doesn’t live in the ward.
The city charter does not require council members to live in the wards they represent. Santiago lives in the house he grew up in, a few hundred feet from the new border of Ward 14. The boundaries were redrawn in 2002, when Cintron was in office. Historically, Santiago’s house has been inside Ward 14.
City council, meanwhile, has come out foursquare behind Santiago, Cleveland’s first openly gay councilor, unanimously denouncing the recall attempt led by the city’s first Hispanic one.
“I think people look to council as credible individuals, and most of us have served now for two years with Joe, and most of us served with Nelson, and we see the passion and work ethic with Joe to improve his community, which has helped galvanize our membership to make sure this recall attempt isn’t successful,” said Ward 17 councilor Matt Zone. “We as a body take this personally, because when somebody tried to recall any council member, it’s an equal attempt challenging any of us individually, and for what is being alleged, Councilman Santiago’s shortcomings, it’s just ridiculous.”
Zone continued, “If he had been convicted of embezzling or something, but he hasn’t been accused of any of that. I would think the residents of that ward would be happy to have somebody who is that caring about dealing with fiscal matters, and I think that’s been Joe’s biggest criticism.”
One of the accusations against Santiago is that he withheld federal funds that could have gone to the Clark Metro Development Corporation. Such funding is at the discretion of the council member for the ward, and Santiago said that the organization was underperforming.
However, when Cintron was the council member of Ward 14, he suggested merging Clark Metro with another development corporation because of their performance.
Now, however, Cintron sits on the board of Clark Metro, leading the charge to recall a council member for having similar criticisms of the agency.
“Nelson never was supportive of Clark Metro, mainly because he wasn’t supportive of their old executive director, Steve Kruger,” Zone said. “When he got into a competitive council race against Joe Santiago, he essentially made book with the old director to get support. It was more about votes than it was about the government.”
Clark Metro is now led by executive director Maria Davila, who was appointed on July 30.
Zone said that, regardless of the outcome of the recall, there may be changes to the mechanism for such elections.
“Based on the way our charter is written, it’s a very arbitrary process for removal of a council member. I think there are citizens of our city who want to ensure that if you’re going to require taxpayers to pay money for the elections, there is merit behind the request of the recall,” he said. “The argument that the proponents of the recall are making, that this is about good government . . . this is not about good government, it’s about a flaw in our charter that allows anybody to be recalled for what could be perceived as any frivolous matter that a council person does.”
Zone then obliquely mentioned Cintron’s own scandals, which included allegations of domestic abuse, illegal possession of a firearm, and owning a “problem” bar in his ward.
“If you would look at the acts of what Santiago’s predecessor did while he was in office, it’s puzzling to some why this didn’t happen in the past for that individual,” he said.
Santiago is taking the recall effort in stride. He refuses to step down, and has pledged to fight, although he said he will not run to fill the vacancy if he is recalled, even though the city charter allows it.
“I support citizens’ right to vote and am saddened that Cintron has not chosen to respect the 2005 decision of the voters,” he said in a November 1 speech to Cleveland City Council. “I have a grave concern that this lack of respect for citizens through this recall effort is a waste of taxpayer money, since the taxpayers are the one that foot the bill.”
“For eight years, the Ward 14 community was neglected under former leadership, causing it to fall into a state of decay,” he continued. “I understand that people are restless, but change doesn’t happen overnight. I support a continual effort to better ourselves and realize that change requires patience.”