By: Maggie Phillips
2021 is a crucial year for Cleveland politics. The city’s current and longest-serving mayor, Frank Jackson, is finishing his 4th term and 14th year as the city’s mayor. His mayoral seat is up for grabs this November, along with the city municipal court judge and entire city council. Voter turnout is typically lower in years where there are no major federal elections; however, local government elections are crucial because politics at the municipal level has a greater direct impact on the lives of the people it serves.
This year’s election is a major opportunity to bring new voices and ideas into our city. Ward 11 city council candidate Stefan Knaack is hoping to do just that, promising to bring about needed reform within our city.
At only 23 years old, Knaack recently graduated from Cleveland State University with degrees in political science and sociology. Living in various parts of the Cleveland area throughout his life, he officially moved into Ward 11 a few years ago.
Ward 11 is on the west side of Cleveland and includes parts of the Cudell, Edgewater, West Boulevard, Jefferson, and Bellaire-Puritas neighborhoods. In the short time Knaack has lived in the ward, he has felt overlooked by his local government officials. A feeling he believes many others in his ward share. Recognizing the shortcomings of the current city government, Knaack saw an opportunity to challenge the political status quo to better serve the residents of his community.
“Ward 11 is one of the poorer wards in Cleveland; around ⅓ of the residents live under the poverty line, and it receives a disproportionate share of city services,” he said. “There are a lot of people who have been left behind by this government, whether it be people of color, the poor, working-class people. If you aren’t someone who has money or influence, this government does not work for you, and I want to change that.”
Envisioning city services that better help the public, Knaack’s major focus for his campaign is creating a government that is more democratic and accessible. The ward’s current councilman is Brian Mooney, who was appointed to the position by Dona Brady before her resignation in early 2020. Mooney’s position as councilman exists counter to Knaack’s prevailing democratic ideology, as Mooney maintains what Knaack describes as the “dynastic, machine-style politics” that runs rampant throughout the city of Cleveland.
Part of Knaack’s plan to combat this system is to make city council meetings more accessible to the public, allow for public comment, and change the way public seats are filled when there is a vacancy. Despite the resistance he will face as a young candidate challenging, he feels he is better equipped to fight for Clevelanders by creating a better government.
“Our current system robs people of having effective representation…Being someone who does not have a vested interest in keeping the public out of city hall puts me in a position to fight for those policies in a way that the current councilman does not have the ability to do.”
Knaack’s other policies also reflect his vested interest in helping those who are often overlooked throughout the Cleveland community. His platform addresses housing for all, improving public health infrastructure, combating police violence, and more, with further details on his official campaign website.
Knaack may seem like an outsider in the race, but unlike other politicians he shares many of the frustrations the majority of Clevelanders have towards politics in the city. Further, Knaack has no intentions of leaving the city he grew up in and is not simply using his run for city council to boost his resume for future political endeavors.
“I don’t envision being a politician for the rest of my life and I don’t ever think I would use it as a career stepping stone for some higher office. But, if I do end up winning I would like to continue to serve the residents of ward 11.”
Knaack has begun organizing volunteers to conduct voter outreach and raise funds for his campaign. More information about getting involved with his campaign can be found here.