CLEVELAND — The race for Cleveland's next mayor appears to have a clear front-runner, at least for now.
According to a new poll conducted by Baldwin Wallace University's Community Research Institute, Justin Bibb holds a nine-percentage-point advantage over Kevin Kelley with just three weeks to go before election day. The business and nonprofit executive was the top choice of 34.5% of respondents, compared to 24.9% for the current city council president. However, 40% of residents said they were still undecided.
The results of the survey represent a slight bump for Bibb, who won last month's primary election with 27% of the vote, eight points ahead of second-place finisher Kelley. The 34-year-old also holds a 16-point lead among the city's Black voters (34%-18%) as well as a 10-point margin among other minorities such as Hispanic and Asian Americans (34%-24%). He and Kelley are virtually neck-and-neck (35%-32%) among the city's white voters.
"In our snapshot of voter preference, Justin Bibb continues the strong lead he held coming out of the primary, but there is a large group of undecided voters," Tom Sutton, director of BW CRI, said. "It's likely that the 40% who are undecided includes a mix of primary voters who chose a candidate other than Bibb or Kelley. Each candidate has received endorsements from East Side primary opponents (Zach Reed for Bibb, and Basheer Jones for Kelley)."
The poll was released less than a day after Bibb and Kelley squared off in a debate hosted by the City Club of Cleveland, where crime and police reform were among the top issues discussed. Specifically, the two candidates disagreed on Issue 24 – which would shift oversight of the police department to a civilian-led board and commission – with Bibb supporting the ballot measure and Kelley against it.
When asked about the issues that mean most to them (allowed to pick up to three), respondents to BW's poll chose "safety in my neighborhood" as No. 1 at 46%, while response time of police and how police treat residents were lower at 24% and 21%, respectively. "The quality of the Cleveland public schools" was second at 40%.
Bibb and Kelley will face each other in the general election on Nov. 2, with the winner taking office as Cleveland's 58th mayor in January. Whoever that is will replace current Mayor Frank G. Jackson, who is retiring after serving four terms and 16 years in the position.