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Cleveland mayoral candidates talk about crime, violence at West Park Fourth of July celebration

Dennis Kucinich over the weekend defended his controversial depiction of the Cleveland script sign. Kevin Kelley used the holiday to fire back at opponents.

CLEVELAND — Politics and parades have long gone hand in hand. This Fourth of July weekend gave candidates a chance to finally be seen in person at parades and festivals across the region.

Cleveland mayoral contenders stepped out throughout the weekend at the city’s popular West Park parade, where they talked about plans to combat Cleveland's crime problem.

In the West Park neighborhood, Dennis Kucinich, who served as grand marshal of the Fourth of July parade and rode in a red convertible, stood by his controversial campaign literature released Friday-- a flyer sent out depicting a bullet-ridden Cleveland script sign that he said was meant to draw attention to the city’s gun violence.

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“I want to say the public response to our focusing on crime has been sensational,” Kucinich told 3News. “They know they can trust me to address crime and at the same time protect civil liberties.”

Council President Kevin Kelley, also among the seven candidates on this year’s mayoral ballot, said gimmicks and false promises won’t reduce crime. During the West Park Independence Day celebration, Kelley also dismissed Kucinich’s earlier proposal to hire 400 police officers.

“That is an irresponsible political statement. And first off, you just can’t hire; It’s hard to hire 400 police officers. You have to keep up with attrition," Kelley said. "This is the same candidate who, in 1977, said he’d hire 200 police officers and ended with a net loss of 138. It is not as easy as just throwing a number out.”

Kelley said boosting the numbers is a priority but will take time. He also said he plans to add small police stations in Cleveland's various neighborhoods.

RELATED: 'The image is disturbing.' Dennis Kucinich's mayoral campaign creates mailer with bloody Cleveland script sign

Justin Bibb argued he’s got the answers, including expanding 911 services to include special responses for incidents involving mental health issues.

“I’m the only candidate in this race that endorsed the Safer Cleveland ballot initiative so we can truly have an independent civilian oversight to root out the racism and bias that exists in the police department," Bibb told Naymik. "And we've got to better train our law enforcement and police officers to truly serve the needs of our residents. As a son of police officer, I get both sides of that equation.”

Former Councilman Zack Reed earned a spot in the mayoral runoff four years ago with a message of improving safety in the neighborhoods. Now, he's picking up where he left off after losing to incumbent Mayor Frank Jackson in 2017. 

“I’m just happy that the city and the candidates that are running this time are looking at the number one, number two and number three issue – which is violence in the city of Cleveland,” he said. "It's crime. If you don’t do something about the crime in the city of Cleveland, all the other things fall to the wayside.”

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Parades this weekend, including Monday's in West Park, also drew candidates running in the very contested Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.

And Chris Ronayne, president of University Circle Inc., showed up to several parades this weekend with supporters to launch his bid for Cuyahoga County executive, an election that doesn’t take place until next year.

But in the short term, parades and politics are going to be heavily focused on Cleveland’s mayoral primary on September 14,  which will bring us one step closer to change at City Hall after 16 years.

And the candidates will keep talking about violence in the city, which saw nearly a dozen shooting in less than 24 hours over the Fourth of July weekend. 

RELATED: Cleveland reports 9 separate shootings during Fourth of July holiday