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"Morning Conversation" with Mayor Gary Norton and Democratic Party: U.S. Senate Nomination Debate

We began our day on Monday, February 22nd, with a Greater Cleveland Partnership "Morning Conversation" with Mayor Gary Norton of East Cleveland. Mayor Norton spoke about the history of East Cleveland and was, we thought, refreshingly candid when he discussed the serious challenges now facing his city which was the first suburb of Cleveland established in 1911.

One of the statistics that Mayor Norton shared with all of us was that in 1970, 40,000 people lived in East Cleveland and now there were only 17,000. In order to bolster the population, we asked the mayor if he would support more immigrants settling there and he replied that he would love it because he realized that immigrants tend to be very industrious and hard-working. "The wealth of a community is its people," said Mayor Norton.

Unfortunately the population of the entire region is shrinking, thus if all of the immigrants arriving in Cuyahoga County would settle in East Cleveland it still wouldn't be enough to bring the population up to where it should be. Mayor Norton did say, though, that he was willing to explore this issue some more, possibly with some input by someone like Ms. Margaret W. Wong.

After we left the Greater Cleveland Partnership, we didn't have too far travel for our next event which was a debate at the City Club between two of the three candidates competing for the democratic party nomination for U.S. Senate in order to run against U.S. Senator Rob Portman in the fall. The two candidates present were Ms. Kelli Prather from Cincinnati, who holds an MA in occupational therapy and owns a home healthcare business, and Mr. P.G. Sittenfeld who is also from Cincinnati where he has served on the city council since 2011.

The third candidate, former Ohio governor Ted Strickland declined to participate, a fact thatIMG_8246 not surprisingly was brought up a few times during the course of the debate with much regret and indignation.

When we arrived we talked to Ms. Bishara Addison who was instrumental in organizing the format of this debate. We learned that it was decided that the format needed to be revitalized due to complaints that during the Q and A, the inquirers tended to ask easy questions of the candidate that they favored while putting his/her opponent on the spot. So it was decided to try something new so this time it was asked that questions be submitted in advance. These questions were then reviewed and several of them were selected for both candidates to answer. If there was time, other audience members could submit questions on note cards and people not present could twitter in their questions.

We are glad to say that our question, "what specifically would you like to see happen regarding immigration reform?" was chosen and we got to stand up and ask it. Other questions that were selected were generated by our friend Mr. Grant Goodrich was asked about the ability and the willingness of Mr. Sittenfeld and Ms. Prather to work with the republican party in order that the current standoff between the legislature and the President would not be continued and by the Reverend Christine Eggert who IMG_8252asked about gun violence.

During the course of the debate, Mr. Sittenfeld and Ms. Prather discussed the Affordable Care Act, gun violence, Planned Parenthood funding, the Supreme Court, overseas job flight, trade agreements, societal racism, and Isis. Mr. Sittenfeld articulated his views quite well which indicated to us that we will be hearing a lot from him in the future and Ms. Prather effectively drew from her own experience as an activist, a survivor of gun violence, and a user of the resources of Planned Parenthood when she was younger. In short, both were excellent.

The subject of immigration came up even before we asked our question when she said, while discussing Isis and Syria, that she would welcome Syrian refugees into the United States. She went on to say that as a businessperson, she respected immigrants who start their own businesses and work to better their lives. Ms. Prather said that she would like to explore ways that those of us already living in the U.S. could learn from the experiences of immigrants who, in turn, could learn us. Ultimately, she wanted to build an international community.

Later, in response to our question, Ms. Prather said that she knew of a young person who was brought to the United States at an early age by her parents who were undocumented and is now struggling to obtain an education. She went on to say that constructive immigration reform would help everyone, overall, because it would encourage accountability.

IMG_8253Mr. Sittenfeld said that it was remarkable that two years ago an immigration reform bill could pass the U.S. Senate with the overwhelming bipartisan support only to be, in effect, terminated by the House.  He then praised that bill because it provided for both border security and a pathway to citizenship. As for Syrian refugees, he expressed his disappointment over Governor Strickland's calling for a halt. However, Mr. Sittenfeld did say that he believed that the Visa Waiver Program needed to be reformed because it allowed for people to come into the U.S. with very little attention to security.

The debate was moderated by Mr. William Tarter, Jr., City Club member and Cleveland Young Professional Senate co-founder, and we thought that he did a fine job and the experimental format was a terrific success. Prior to the start of the program, Mr. Dan Moulthrop, City Club CEO, said that at least 25 city club members offered to volunteer their time to come up with ways to ensure that these debates will be properly conducted. Unfortunately we cannot make the other debates this week which will concern the democratic primary for Cuyahoga County Prosecutor and the republican primary for Ohio Senate District 24.

Let it be said that we, ourselves, admire former Governor Ted Strickland very much but we have to agree that he missed a good opportunity, and we missed having him at the City Club on this particular day.

Written by: Michael Patterson Community Liaison, Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC.