Crain’s Cleveland Look Back: The 2000s brought challenges and changes to city, region

by | Jun 28, 2020

By: Elizabeth McIntyre, Crain’s Cleveland Business

The dawn of the new century arrived with a collective sigh of relief in Northeast Ohio and around the globe — planes did not fall from the sky, ATMs still churned out cash and electrical grids did not fail.

Little did we know that by decade’s end, we would be struggling to emerge from the most devastating economic downturn since the Great Depression. The decade was marked by challenges, but also saw the emergence of new leadership and a change in the structure of Cuyahoga County government, brought on by a corruption scandal.

The history

After the giddy optimism of the 1990s, when Cleveland was declared a comeback city, Albert Ratner, then co-chairman of Forest City Enterprises, joined a growing chorus in the early 2000s saying the city’s return to glory was losing steam. In 2001, census figures seemed to confirm that as Cleveland’s population dipped below 500,000, a critical threshold to receive certain federal grants and an indicator that city and Cuyahoga County residents were continuing to spread — or leave — the core city and county.

Cleveland Mayor Mike White, who played a critical leadership role in the 1990s, announced he was stepping away from political life to raise alpacas 90 miles south of Cleveland. The city’s voters elected Jane Campbell as Cleveland’s first female mayor in 2001. She served a single term before being defeated by Cleveland City Council president Frank Jackson in 2005. Jackson has led the city since.

By 2006, housing prices in Northeast Ohio and nationwide were at an all-time high. The bubble soon burst, though, bringing a subprime mortgage meltdown in 2007. Waves of foreclosures, from Cleveland to Westlake, roiled the region. Media accounts labeled Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis. As the world financial system wobbled, once-venerable National City Corp. was bought in a fire sale by PNC Financial Services Group Inc. of Pittsburgh in 2008.

Also in 2008, federal investigators swarmed Cuyahoga County offices and officials’ homes in a massive corruption probe that ensnared Cuyahoga County commissioner Jimmy Dimora and county auditor Frank Russo. Ultimately, both men ended up behind bars.

Why it matters today

Look around at the current Northeast Ohio leadership positions that have been filled, will be filled or potentially will come open in the next few years. Notice they have something in common? Many of those leaders were crowned in the early 2000s. Our region stands on the cusp of a leadership sea change.

Brad Whitehead of the Fund for Our Economic Future announced last fall he was stepping down as head of the funder alliance that he’d helmed for 16 years to “lead by example” for next generational leadership. The Fund named Bethia Burke as its new president.

Continue to the full story here.