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Changing Gears - Remaking the Manufacturing Belt - Leadership: Cleveland's Quiet Mayor
Normally when politicians go to groundbreaking events, the kind where they all put on hard hats and pretend to shovel, they usually make speeches about how great this new development will be for the city. That's not the case for Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.

When he took the podium last month at the kick-off for a new convention center and medical device showroom, he spoke for just 90 seconds.

"Even though it's not a panacea," he said at the event, "it is an essential part of what we plan to do for downtown Cleveland."

Mayor Jackson is not a man prone to hyperbole. One of his famous-or infamous-phrases is, "it is what it is." Some call him the quiet mayor. He doesn't crave the limelight. At that same event, new Ohio Governor John Kasich called Jackson "humble."

How often do you hear that of a politician?

"Some days you get the feeling this town doesn't even have a mayor," said Mike Roberts, a journalist in Cleveland since 1963. He says the mayor's personality is his downfall. When there's a crisis or event, the mayor is rarely out in front.

"It takes him a while to realize something has happened in the city," Roberts said.

You get the sense here that some Clevelanders are yearning for a big personality mayor, like Chicago's Richard Daley who can bulldoze his way to progress. Longtime Cleveland councilman Mike Polensek is in that group.

"You talk to folks in Chicago when I've been there, what do they talk about when they speak of Daley? 'Tough guy, his way or the highway.' But they'll also tell you great passion," Polensek said.

Mayor Jackson's answer: "Then they need to find another mayor," he said in an interview with Changing Gears.

The tall and lean 64 year old was first elected in 2005. We sat in his spacious office for over an hour as he dismissed critics who say he's not enough of a cheerleader for Cleveland.

"I could cheer all day long and talk about the great assets and not have a balanced budget and what difference does it make," he said. "It has no substantive impact for Cleveland."

Jackson sees himself as the antidote to those politicians who talk a good game and don't get anything done. He says he is getting a lot done. Construction has begun on over $1 billion worth of developments including that convention center and a casino. And, despite the punishing recession, his administration managed to balance Cleveland's budget with no layoffs, service cuts or tax hikes.

"Mayor Jackson has surprised everyone with his ability to manage in this incredibly challenging environment," said Chris Thompson of the Fund for Our Economic Future.

If Jackson's vision for the city is realized, he says investments today will make people want to live in Cleveland again. That would be quite an accomplishment. The city has been hemorrhaging population for decades. Some leave for the nearby suburbs; others leave the region altogether.

"At one time we were compared to Chicago," said Councilman Polensek. "It was New York, Chicago, and Cleveland. Those were the three players."

But that was before the Great Depression, and the decline of industry, and the rise of new modes of transportation. Now, Cleveland barely makes the top 50 most populous cities. Polensek says that's because of more than just happenstance.

"What happened? We had a lack of vision."

The history of Cleveland leadership is a story of diffuse power. There were leaders popular in the ethnic communities, or in the minority communities, or among union laborers. But there were few times when leaders spoke with one voice and one agenda.

There were high points like electing the nation's first big city black mayor: Carl Stokes in the late 1960s. And then a decade later, a low point when a young Dennis Kucinich was in charge when Cleveland fell into default.

George Voinovich and a series of mayors spent the next few decades getting the city's finances back in order.

But in the background, there was another undercurrent: