CLEVELAND - Mayor Frank Jackson is seeking re-election on a platform boasting of Cleveland improvements and faces a wealthy businessman who is highlighting crime and job concerns and a troubled police department.
Jackson, 67, seeking a third four-year term, and Ken Lanci, 63, a printing-house mogul, will face each other in Tuesday's nonpartisan election to head one of the nation's poorest cities. Both are Democrats. No independent polls have emerged.
Jackson, first elected to the city council in heavily Democratic Cleveland in 1989, should benefit from strong name recognition and ties to the party's rank-and-file. Still, he has met a vigorous and sometimes quirky challenge from Lanci, who has pumped more than $400,000 into his campaign.
Lanci won 12 percent of the vote in a four-way 2010 campaign for the new Cuyahoga County executive job when the county dumped its corruption-tainted commission government. Democrat Ed FitzGerald, now a candidate for governor, won that race.
Jackson was the low-key city council president when he ousted incumbent Democratic Mayor Jane Campbell in 2005 with 55 percent of the vote. He won re-election in 2009 with 77 percent.
The poverty level -- about one in three people -- is unchanged from 2005, while the population has dropped 16 percent to about 390,000. Employment in the city has declined from 175,400 to 149,200 since 2005.
At the same time, downtown residential units are surging, there's a new convention center and medical technology exhibit hall and reviving neighborhoods like Tremont and Ohio City are getting a lot of buzz.
Jackson has crafted his campaign on the theme of having created a "pathway" for future growth based on stable city services and taxes, bringing back hard-pressed neighborhoods and guiding downtown development.
"Over the past eight years as your mayor, I've positioned Cleveland along with the help of many of you here to be successful in that effort," he said in a City Club of Cleveland debate before a business-heavy audience.
Jackson said his stewardship helped the city come through the recession on a positive note. He struck an alliance with GOP Gov. John Kasich and Republican state lawmakers to overhaul the mayor-controlled city schools, providing flexibility on teacher hiring and assignments and charter schools.
The district, with a high dropout rate and declining enrollment, was still interviewing teacher applicants days before the election. And Jackson has been nagged by a community uproar over a 2012 police chase involving more than 100 officers and ending in the shooting deaths of two apparently unarmed people. With the two dead, both black, and the 13 officers who fired their weapons white or Hispanic, some claimed it was a racially motivated shooting. County and federal prosecutors are investigating.
Jackson, who is black, has defended the white police chief, providing a political opening for Lanci. Lanci landed the police union endorsement, promised to fire the chief if elected and made anti-crime vigils a staple of his campaign.
"We will improve schools, we will improve safety, and I will definitely create jobs as I have always done in my entire life," he told The Associated Press.
Lanci also hits on a recurring political sore point: the suggestion that city hall favors downtown business interests over its working-class, ethnic neighborhoods.
"If you are a business person or a person of means that lives in the county (suburbs), you want Frank Jackson," Lanci said. "If you are a resident that lives in the city, you are suffering at the hands of Frank Jackson."
Lanci, whose white hair and year-round tan are a smiling presence in campaign advertising on buses, has spiced up his campaign with cash-mob scenes to patronize small businesses and an appearance in a stunt that claimed a world record for the most people set ablaze in fire-resistant outfits.