Door To Door: On mayors, media and mounds of snow

A city road grader clears snow from Euclid Avenue in Downtown Cleveland.
A city road grader clears snow from Euclid Avenue in Downtown Cleveland. Mayor Justin Bibb faced the first big, snowy test of his new administration. [City of Cleveland]

Analysis

Mayor Justin Bibb could have used Norman Krumholz this weekend, when Clevelanders awoke to snowy, impassable roads that stranded cars and RTA buses alike.

Krumholz, the late city planner who died in 2019 at the age of 92, served every mayor from Carl Stokes to Dennis Kucinich. Half a century ago, by Krumholz’s own account, he won favor with Mayor Ralph Perk by drawing up a snowplow strategy after the Republican’s election in 1971.

“Snow removal is an important and annually recurring issue in Cleveland politics,” Krumholz wrote in his 1990 book, “Making Equity Planning Work.” “Mayors are frequently chastised for their lack of response to major snowfalls.”

Krumholz understood that public perception is a key part of planning. The scheme he worked up for Perk included big, simple graphics that were made for the cameras, he wrote.

“Mayor Perk, well briefed, called his press conference and outlined the procedures in his snow-removal plan,” Krumholz wrote. “The media were impressed. Perk had identified himself as a leader who was on top of the issues of the day and able to respond rapidly.”

(The Plain Dealer, writing in December 1971, sourced the snow removal plan to Perk aide Ray Kudukis.) 

Fifty years later, a new mayor faced his first snowstorm.

Around 10 a.m. Monday, as the blizzard finally relented and the snowfall dwindled, the city sent out a press release announcing that all snowplows had been deployed. A robocall followed at noon.

At six, the mayor himself reassured residents via robocall. The calls won Bibb some plaudits on social media, although the messy city streets Monday did not.

“Our crews are working nonstop to clear the main roads as well as the residential streets,” Bibb said. “Please be patient, as they are moving as quickly as they can.”

He later did an interview with WEWS-TV.

But the new mayor had missed an earlier opportunity. He could have gotten out sooner, before the snow hit the asphalt, to let everyone know the city had a plan.

To Bibb’s credit, his still-thinly-staffed communications wing has generally been open with the media. Last week, the city eagerly offered up Cleveland’s recycling coordinator for an interview.

Compare that to last year, when my efforts to reach a neighborhood development staffer in Mayor Frank Jackson’s City Hall went nowhere. 

But Bibb could put himself in front of reporters and their questions more often. After all, if the mayor of Cleveland doesn’t drive the conversation, then events, or other people, will.

Events like snowstorms. And people like Jeff Follmer, the head of the police union who knows how to give the higher-ups a headache in the press. Or Blaine Griffin, the gregarious new council president whose past (and possibly future) mayoral ambitions are no secret.

There’s something to be said for keeping one’s head down and learning the ropes. Bibb is making the rounds meeting with frontline city workers, for instance.

But when the snow starts falling, it’s good for a mayor to be seen, too, and with a plan.

And it’s even better if that plan results in clear, passable streets.

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