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Cleveland’s longest serving councilmember offers advice to Mayor-Elect Justin Bibb

Mike Polensek says listen to the rank and file and the man who walks behind garbage truck, not just bosses

CLEVELAND — Kicking off his campaign nearly a year ago from his grandmother’s house where he was raised, Justin Bibb bested six candidates in the primary and clobbered City Council President Kevin Kelley in November to become the city’s 57th mayor.

“Throughout this campaign, I’ve said that now was a time for bold leadership and the voters of Cleveland said we have a mandate for change across the city,” Bibb declared during his victory speech.

Bibb and his cabinet members will take the oath of office in a private ceremony just after midnight Monday at a library on the city’s East Side. He’ll live-stream a public ceremony next Saturday.

“When I take the oath in January, I’m not taking that oath myself,” he also said during his victory speech. “We – we the people are taking that oath.”

But it’s Bibb, not the people, who wears the mantle of expectation and responsibility.

He takes over a city with a budget surplus -- but one trapped in a pandemic and stricken by high poverty and rising violent crime.

He inherits an understaffed police force and several mismanaged departments.

Mike Polensek, the city’s longest-serving councilman, has seen five mayors pass through 601 Lakeside Avenue during his tenure. He recently offered the 34-year-old Bibb advice.

“I’ve told Justin, who called me right after the election, take your time – don’t come in a great haste or hurry,” Polensek, now starting his 44th year in office, told 3News. “Figure out what’s not working at City Hall because it can become a pit of quicksand – before you know it, you are up to ears in quicksand.”

Polensek, who pledged to work with Bibb and in-coming Council President Blaine Griffin, urges Bibb to work with council and listen to city workers.

“Get out and listen to the rank and file,” he said. “The person walking behind the garbage truck, the officer driving the zone car, the guy trimming the tree. Find out what they need and what they think should be addressed. And if he does that, then he will be fine. If he gets into a rut of not listening to them, then he will run into a problem like other mayors have.”

Councilmembers – including five new members – will be sworn in before their meeting Monday.

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