Jeff Johnson, a former Cleveland city councilman and Ohio state senator, is running for Congress in District 11. President Joseph Biden named U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Warrensville Heights, to serve as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development in his administration. If the Senate confirms Rep. Fudge, her District 11 seat will be filled with a special election.
Mr. Johnson, 62, of Cleveland served on Cleveland City Council for 14 years and served as a state senator for eight years. He now is the court administrator for the Cleveland Housing Court. Mr. Johnson, a Democrat, said that he is running for Congress to strengthen the economics in District 11, such as closing the income gap and fighting poverty.
“[There are] parts of the district that need to continue to be supported and stabilized to be sustained, with economics, vocational and education training,” Mr. Johnson said. “That’s the primary reason I’m [running], is to be part of the solutions relative to the economic infrastructure of the district that needs to be strengthened.”
District 11 is comprised of parts of Summit and Cuyahoga counties, including Glenwillow, Orange Village, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Shontel Brown, former state Rep. John Barnes, Jr., and former state Sens. Shirley Smith and Nina Turner are also running for the seat.
Mr. Johnson said that he plans to address the economic needs of the district, which “ranges from poverty to prosperity.” There are other problems that he would work to resolve, Mr. Johnson said, including healthcare, climate change, decreasing violent crime and supporting small businesses.
“I’m a big fan of supporting local governments,” he said. “There are 32 municipalities in the 11th Congressional District. Each one deserves to be supported with a federal partnership that I think has been lacking in the last four years.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Mr. Johnson said vaccines distribution to local governments should be a priority. Mr. Johnson said that schools need resources, such as federal grants, to retrofit their buildings to reopen safely during the pandemic. Some school districts may need to use temporary facilities so students can be physically spread out according to health guidelines.
“We need to get the children into the schools and we need to prepare the schools properly and protect those who are teaching and those who are providing support services,” he said.
The world, he said, will be impacted long after the infection and mortality issues with COVID-19 have been resolved. The pandemic forced the use of technology more than ever, Mr. Johnson said, and members of the public will need training to adjust to a virtual lifestyle.
Mr. Johnson pointed to his experience as a key qualification for the Congressional seat. He has been an attorney since 1985 and has a clear understanding of policy making, he said. In addition, he was born and raised in Cleveland, allowing him to have a deep understanding of the community and its constituents.
Mr. Johnson was convicted of extortion in 1998 and served a 15-month prison sentence. He was accused of accepting $17,000 in campaign contributions to use his influence to get state licenses for grocers between 1994 and 1996. Mr. Johnson said that he rebuilt his life and career after taking a job as a special assistant to former Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell in 2001. He said that the Ohio Supreme Court gave him his law license back and his record was sealed.
“So, what I learned of course is that public service is such an important task, and you have to always be vigilant of the other people you interact with and don’t take it for granted who you interact with,” he said. “And be very protective of that privilege of being in public service.”
Mr. Johnson said that he was in favor of criminal justice reform before he was charged with extortion and continues to support reform efforts.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in telecommunications from Kent State University and his master’s degree in political science and juris doctor from Case Western Reserve University.