mayoral debate - beachwood

Beachwood Mayor Martin S. Horwitz, left, and Beachwood Councilman Justin Berns pose for a photo before Inside Politics: Beachwood 2021 Mayoral Debate Oct. 5 debate hosted by the Cleveland Jewish News in the Barry R. Chesler Board Room. 

First-term Beachwood Mayor Martin S. Horwitz and city councilman Justin Berns shared their visions for the future of the city in an hour-long debate hosted by the Cleveland Jewish News Oct. 5.

Moderated by CJN Managing Editor Bob Jacob, the two candidates spoke of their hopes and openly agreed – and disagreed – on certain points during Inside Politics: Beachwood 2021 Mayoral Debate held in the Barry R. Chesler Board Room at the CJN offices in Beachwood.

While Berns took a more aggressive stance, Horwitz defended and touted his record as mayor when talking about Beachwood Place, safety and security in the city, housing, recreation, streetlights, business, traffic congestion and more.

Beachwood Place, a major source of economic revenue for the city and the school district, was discussed with both candidates recognizing the property is owned by Brookfield Properties and calling it an important asset to the city. Berns said he hopes it remains a mall, while Horwitz said it would remain a mall but also could become a lifestyle community, with housing as well.

Berns said he would work with the owner of Beachwood Place to enhance security there and the mall would be his top priority if he becomes mayor.

Horwitz said he had already worked to enhance security by adding cameras, gun-sniffing dogs, license plate readers and a policy change for unaccompanied minors at the mall.

Both spoke glowingly of the impact of GE Current on the city, which is relocating to Commerce Park from East Cleveland.

While Berns spoke of a future in light manufacturing, Horwitz spoke of high tech and biotech as possible directions for Commerce Park.

Horwitz touted his record running the city during COVID-19, which he called his greatest accomplishment.

“I kept the city safe and strong during COVID, earning national recognition,” he said. “Everything we did for a year-and-a-half was geared towards the protection and safety of our residents and businesses.”

Both candidates were offered and used rebuttals throughout the debate.

As incumbent, Horwitz was offered and opted to go first with opening statements and also said he built a dog park, community gardens and a block party program, and had enhanced security and safety in the city.

In his opening statement, Berns said, “The reality is that we have a crisis of leadership as the current mayor’s actions have hurt the reputation and brand of the city. The current administration is responsible for issues related to money, credibility and embarrassment to the city, which we all care so much about. You have all heard about issues of sexual harassment, disrespect of employees, misallocation of funds, process of obtaining proper bids. … I interact with city employees regularly. And I can assure you, morale has never been lower. I take no joy in discussing the problem because I want to protect and rebuild the reputation of Beachwood.”

The candidates were asked about the lawsuits and settlements the city has defended itself against over the last four years as well its decision to leave the Northern Ohio Risk Management Association insurance pool.

“Mr. Horwitz, some of these have centered around your behavior in the workforce and the Rendon report that was made public at the beginning of your term,” Jacob said. “The CJN reported the cost of having the city defend itself in these lawsuits and settlements with alleged victims as more than $130,000. ... How do you respond to residents when justifying more than a $130,000 expense? ”

“You have to talk to council and you have to talk to our law director because most of that was not attributable to decisions that I made,” Horwitz said.

“I’ve been an attorney for 40 years and an elected official for 26. I’ve never had a complaint, an allegation or a word said about my behavior. That changed in 2019 with a law department under the council president decided that they were going to conduct this irregular and financially wasteful process. Here’s the facts: Seven council members, including councilman Berns, voted not to move forward on these allegations. There was nothing there. Hundreds of residents supported me. Every department in city hall except law signed letters supporting me, which is on my website, and three community groups devoted to fighting harassment have endorsed me.”

City council voted unanimously to close the investigation Oct. 30, 2019, as Horwitz apologized and promised to apologize to employees and attend executive level training on workplace communication.

Beachwood Mayor Martin S. Horwitz 'forgiven' unanimously by council

Berns focused his answer to the two-pronged question on the decision to leave NORMA, calling it a case of mismanagement. He said council was told that Beachwood was going to shop insurance rates “for whatever reason.”

“We then got a quote back on Sept. 13. At that point, we already were essentially booted out of NORMA,” said Berns, quoting from NORMA’s June 24 minutes, which said Beachwood had serious internal and legal problems.

He said he didn’t know if Beachwood’s new insurance policy with USI Insurance Services is the best policy.

Beachwood is the first city to leave NORMA in the 34-year history of the insurance pool.

Regarding recreation, Horwitz said he favors building an amphitheater at a $4 million to $6 million cost and pickleball courts.

Beachwood to leave NORMA, switch insurance providers

“It builds a sense of community, which is something I’m very strong on,” he said.

Before taking action, Horwitz said he would like to survey residents on their recreational needs.

Berns said the city needs to “sit down with the schools and collaborate with them” as the school district owns the lands on which youth sports are played in the city. He also said the city needs to determine a source of funding for recreation sports.

“The amphitheater, frankly, I’m sorry but this came up because this is an election season,” Berns said. “We cannot be everything to all people.”

Both agreed that there’s a need for additional streetlights and additional housing. Both also agreed that the congestion at the Interstate 271 interchange-Chagrin Boulevard and Richmond Road area needs solutions.

Regarding a Mercantile Road and Harvard Road connector, Horwitz said, “I’m going to go out on a limb and say that within four to five months, we will probably hear some news that will be probably the biggest development we’ve had so far in the city, and it will include a future connector.”

Berns advocated buying property from the city of Cleveland to build a connector road.

When asked about transparency in city government, both agreed there is currently transparency.

Kevin S. Adelstein, Publisher and CEO of the CJN and President of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, introduced the candidates and the moderator, and said more than 500 people registered to watch the debate. The candidates and the moderator were socially distanced throughout the debate.

The Cleveland Jewish News will host a Beachwood mayoral debate between incumbent Mayor Martin S. Horwitz and challenger Justin Berns, moderated by CJN managing editor Bob Jacob. The debate will be streamed live from the Barry R. Chesler Board Room of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company on October 5, 2021 at 7 p.m.

Early in-person voting for the Nov. 2 general election began in Cuyahoga County Oct. 5.

Early voting hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Oct. 8, and continue at the same time every weekday from Oct. 12 to Oct. 22. From Oct. 25 to Oct. 29, these hours will be extended to 7 p.m. Voting can also be done from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 30, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 31 and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 1.

Ballots can be requested from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, 2925 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, OH 44115 or at bit.ly/2XI9pnX. Applications must be received by the board of elections by noon Oct. 30. The ballot must be received by the board of elections by 7:30 p.m. Election Day, Nov. 2, if delivered in person by the voter or a close family member.

If sent by U.S. mail, it must be postmarked by the post office by the day before Election Day, Nov. 1, and received by the board of elections no later than 10 days after the election.

For more information on voting in the state of Ohio, visit ohiosos.gov/elections/voters.

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