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In Council Reduction Fight, Both Sides Claim Name 'Clevelanders First'

The campaign to cut Cleveland City Council’s pay and membership calls itself “Clevelanders First.” But those leading the effort failed to register a political action committee by that name with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.

So Council President Kevin Kelley and an aide swooped in to take the name for their own.

On Jan. 7, Kelley reserved the names “Clevelanders 1st" and “Clevelanders First” with the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office. The same day, Kelley’s special assistant, Steven Rys, filed paperwork with the county board of elections to create PACs by those names.

“We looked, and there was no PAC called Cleveland First, there was nothing registered in the secretary of state’s office called Clevelanders First,” Kelley said, “so I thought, well, it’s a nice name, I’d like it for our campaign.”

Kelley said he might send the opposing campaign a cease-and-desist letter over their use of the name. He also said he would refuse any contributions given to the PAC in error by supporters of cutting council’s pay and numbers.

The campaign that originally called itself Clevelanders First is crying foul. 

“It’s a political move to confuse the voters,” John Kandah, a representative for the council reduction campaign told ideastream. The name Clevelanders First has been used for a charitable church group that dates back to the early 1990s, according to Kandah.

Issues 3 and 4 on the March 17 primary ballot would shrink council from 17 members to nine and slash pay from about $83,000 to $58,000 per year.

Proponents have accused council of acting as a “rubber stamp” for Mayor Frank Jackson. They argue that shrinking council would streamline government.

Kelley has argued council would be less responsive to constituent needs if there were fewer members with bigger wards.

Earlier this month, Cleveland City Council Clerk Patricia Britt asked the city prosecutor to look into inconsistencies with the original Clevelanders First campaign’s paperwork. The campaign’s name reservation had expired with the secretary of state’s office, and its financial disclosures with council didn’t state how much it received in contributions.

Tony George, a Westlake restauranteur and political donor, bankrolled the petition drive, according to the disclosure. In 2006, George pushed to reduce the then-21-member council, reaching a compromise with then-President Martin Sweeney to tie the body’s size to Cleveland’s population.

Kelley and Kandah are scheduled face off on the ballot issues at the City Club of Cleveland Feb. 12.

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