Mayor Annette Blackwell
It’s been more than 16 months since Annette Blackwell became the first African American and woman mayor in the history of Maple Heights, a suburb just south of Cleveland of roughly 23,000 residents.
Mayor Blackwell’s victory was shocking in that she had never held public office before and was facing insurmountable odds as an outsider candidate and being Black and female.
However, those odds not withstanding she won, not just to become mayor but also win the hearts and souls of its residents.
Among Maple Heights many challenges was the city’s fiscal emergency, declining economic base, closed businesses, foreclosed homes and a 2016 deficit of $2.7 million.
Mayor Blackwell closed the deficit to $1.2 million, brought in new businesses such as Foreman Mills, Bruder Manufacturing, a new grocery store and will soon open a state of the art renovated bowling alley that had been closed for two years.
It ‘s a city that she’s always called home, but a recent television report on 19 News detailing underwater mortgages painted a negative picture of her beloved city.
The report aired on May 30 by Cleveland News 19 stated “’Underwater’ mortgages land Maple Heights on wrong end of national list.
The station based its report on a study by analytics firm ATTOM Data Solutions revealed that Maple Heights had nearly 67 percent of property owners owe more on their homes than they were actually worth.
Cleveland 19 News Director Fred D'Ambrosi defended the report by Sara Gioldenberg which depicted an elderly African America grilling hamburgers on their outside grill.
“Cleveland 19 News stands by its story as both accurate and fair. We chose the story strictly based on newly released numbers provided by a reputable real estate data company. Stories about this same research also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Cleveland.com.”
Mayor Blackwell declined an opportunity to go on the air after the report, but provided the Call& Post with this statement:
“Vacancy peaked at 875 structures in third quarter of 2010. You have approximately 10,000 1-3 family residential structures in Maple Hts. So your residential structure vacancy had been almost 9%. As of the first quarter 2017 your vacancy had come down to 634 residential structures, so it has come from 9% to 6%. The blight that has been undermining the health of your housing market is significantly less.”
The statement continued:
“While your 2016 median arms-length home sale price was still only $37,000, that has come up $14,000 from the bottom of $23,000 in 2012. That's a 61% increase from where you were in 2012.
In my 2016 Housing Trends study, and in the recent updates I've been presenting at CSU and at the suburban Mayors meeting in May, I've consistently said there is good news - foreclosures are down, vacancy and blight are down, median home sale prices stopped their free-fall several years ago and are steadily (though slowly in some places) on the rise.
The remaining challenges are 1) increased residential tax delinquency, 2) lack of resources for home repair, 3) lack of bank financing for home purchase below $100,000, and 4) the blight from vacancy that still exists in predominantly African American communities.”
Lorain and Euclid also made the list our of the top 150 zip codes as well as zip codes in Akron and over a dozen in Cleveland, all communities had many more citizens than Maple Heights.
When I reached out to the station I expressed concerns the story was racially biased, “a charge we reject as without merit.” “The data showed Maple Heights’ zip code with the tenth-highest percentage of “seriously underwater” homes in the country, and the highest in our area. That was the sole reason the community was chosen,” according to the station.
“The story showed a black couple, the Mitchells, grilling burgers in their backyard.” I cited this as another example of stereotyping and racial bias. But News 19 countered, “Reporter Sara Goldenberg interviewed many Maple Heights residents that night, both black and white. Some were renters, which made them inappropriate for the story. Some were homeowners, but preferred not to go on camera. Of those who did talk on camera, Sara felt Alice Mitchell was the most articulate and compelling. She has lived in her home for 25 years, and spoke eloquently about her neighbors, their trials and tribulations, and the American Dream of home ownership. And yes, they happened to be cooking out, like many other folks on a beautiful late Spring night.”
When asked why the station had not spoken to the mayor of Maple Heights, the response was; “We made the editorial decision that the story was about showing the real people behind the statistics, so we did not reach out to the mayor that night. However, when the mayor called to complain about the story, we offered her three different opportunities to be live and unedited in one of our newscasts, or record an interview. She agreed to a live interview, and then withdrew at the last minute. We can’t present the views of people who decline to speak.”
Among the many dilemmas that confront African Americans are stations such as News 19 and many others; print publications as well are not sensitive to the plight of Blacks.
They received reports that chronicle information that may be negative in nature and run with the report. Negative news, crimes and murders regardless of the ethnic groups is what attracts viewers.
However, when your reporters or your researchers can not relate to African America subjects in many instances, the report comes off as biased and in clarifying or defending the story you appear to be even more insensitive to how we think, feel, react or live.