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Cleveland Heights electing first mayor in 100-year history

Three candidates are vying for the job. Two will move on from Tuesday's primary to November's election.

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — Cleveland isn’t the only city voting in a mayoral primary on Tuesday. Cleveland Heights residents also voted to select finalists to be its first mayor.

“The city is 100 years old and we’ve never directly elected our mayor,” said Deanna Bremer Fisher. Residents voted in 2019 to change the city’s charter, from its current appointed city manager run system.

Bremer Fisher is the Executive Director of FutureHeights, a nonprofit community development corporation. Its monthly published Heights Observer worked with the League of Women Voters to get out the vote.

“People wanted more accountability,” she said. “They wanted greater leadership, they wanted someone who could really focus full time on running the city, and be the representative of the city that could stand head and shoulders with the other directly elected mayors in Northeast Ohio.”

Three candidates are vying for the job. New to politics is attorney and executive Barbara Danforth, the former CEO of the YWCA of Greater Cleveland. Two others are current council members. Retired finance executive Melody Joy Hart is in her first term. Kahlil Seren is the current council vice president, first elected in 2015. The top two finishers in the primary will face off in November.

The new mayor will serve a four-year term.

“I like it here, I haven’t experienced any crime issues, or really anything I think a mayor would have done better at,” resident Shaun Peterman told 3News of the race. 

“I’m not sure it was the right move to go to a mayor, but we have,” said resident Dottie Klemm. “So I’m excited about that, and I’m excited to see who the two finalists are today.”

Among Cleveland Heights’ challenges for a new administration are spurring investment and economic development, in neighborhood districts and the nearly empty Severance Town Center.

“It’s one of our biggest challenges, but also one of our biggest opportunities for redevelopment is at Severance Town Center,” said Bremer Fisher.

No matter who wins, a lot of change is coming. “We’ll actually have, potentially, six new people on a seven-member [city] council, plus a new mayor, plus a new city administrator,” she said. “People have been anticipating this, and there will be a lot more change to come in November.”

A voters guide came out in August, and they'll put another guide out in October before the general election with all the local races.

There’s a virtual forum planned for the mayor and council positions on September 23 at 7 p.m. You can find more information here. 

More Primary Election Coverage: