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Justin Bibb announces bid for Cleveland mayor

Nonprofit executive becomes first major contender to formally launch campaign.

CLEVELAND — More than a half-dozen people are considering a bid for Cleveland mayor this year, but only a few have the ability to raise money and rally key supporters and endorsements.

Among those who can is nonprofit executive Justin Bibb, who told 3News in an exclusive interview that he’s formally launching his campaign Tuesday afternoon. He’s raised nearly $200,000 for the race so far. 

Former Cleveland mayor Dennis Kucinich and Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley are also considering bids and would become the frontrunners if they run. They are also raising money and building a campaign network, but have not fully committed to getting in. Four-term Mayor Frank Jackson has not said whether he will seek another term.

RELATED: Dennis Kucinich files 'Re-Elect Mayor Kucinich' paperwork for potential 2021 mayoral bid

Bibb, a distant relative of 3News' Leon Bibb, grew up in his grandmother’s home in Cleveland's Mount Pleasant neighborhood. He is not well known among voters. But he says he knows the city well.

“This is where it all started for me,” he said, standing in front of the home where he lived with his mother and grandmother after his parents divorced. “Where my dreams were, what Cleveland can become started right here in this house, and my vision for why I think Cleveland could be a great city started with the values I learned here about leadership, about giving back and about leading with humility, because those are the values that my mom, my dad and my grandmother instilled in me throughout my entire life.”

Editor's Note: You can see Bibb's official announcement below:

He said he got his first taste of politics in the house.

“My grandma, who just turned 91 in August, still lives in this home,” he said. “And she was one of the first neighborhood watch-club leaders right here in Mount Pleasant. And I remember as a kid sitting in our living room, seeing her with the councilman and the commander and local ministers talking about how to make her neighborhood safe.”

His mother is a social worker and the first in the family to graduate from college. His father was one of the first black police officers and firefighters in in Cleveland Heights, Bibb said. 

The pandemic and the economic wreckage in its wake, rising violent crime and city departments full of mismanagement make 2021 the most consequential city year in decades. So the race this year could shape the region’s future, testing new ideas amid a pandemic and bring change of leadership at City Hall after 16 years.

Bibb said he’s running because of a lack of energy and big ideas among city leaders.

“Cleveland, to truly live up to its potential, we truly need to have a sense of urgency and bold, new, dynamic leadership to move our city forward,” he said.

The Cleveland mayoral race is non-partisan and doesn't follow the state's primary election calendar. In the city, the primary is in September, not May, and the top two finishers faceoff in November. 

He would not specifically talk about Jackson’s tenure.

“it's not about Frank Jackson, and I have a lot of respect and admiration for the mayor,” he said. “This election is not about the past. It's not about the present. It's about the future. My grandma can't keep fighting by herself. And she needs she needs a mayor. And the city is going to go to work for her every single day.”

Bibb earned a law degree and MBA and works for the Spokane, WA., based nonprofit Urbanova, which helps cities and others employ smart technology to be more efficient. He sits on local boards, including the Regional Transit Authority’s.

But he lacks the elected experience of Kelley and Kucinich and others seriously considering a bid for mayor. 

“I may be 33-years-old, but I've the problems that most folks in our city are going through,” he said. “You know, I lost my cousin Chris during my second-year graduate school and it took EMS over 40 minutes to show up. Many members of my family had been involved in the criminal justice system, and I know the pain they experience in order to get their lives back together. And as a black man in this city, I understand what it means to be racially profiled by police. But I've also had the professional experience, having advised big city mayors across the country on how to use data and technology to make cities smarter, safer and more innovative. And I've also known how to bring people together, having worked in business, government and the nonprofit sector.”

More from Mark Naymik:

Editor's Note: The below story aired on November 24, 2020