Euclid divided over voting rights

Anna Riggenbach

Bill Cervenik has faced challenges in his past three years as mayor of Euclid; one of the latest is that the Justice Department has recently come down on the city for failing to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Act prohibits voting discrimination on the basis of race, color or membership in a language minority group, according to the United States Department of Justice’s Web site.

“It’s very difficult to manage a city such as Euclid,” Cervenik said. “It’s a very tough situation we have.”

The city of Euclid is 30 percent African-American but has never had a black mayor or councilperson, Cervenik said.

“The people of Euclid do not vote solely on race,” he said. “They vote on candidacy.”

While there has never been a black man or woman elected to a leading government position in Euclid, the Justice Department did not see a problem until the Providence Baptist Church, a predominantly black congregation, tried to buy land to make housing available for church members and the general public.

In order for the purchase to be made, the church petitioned for zoning ordinances to be changed. The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections had to submit the ordinances for the next ballot, but the ordinances did not become effective and the church was unable to use its property for the planned development.

The Justice Department believed there was racial tension, resulting in the Baptist Church losing its ordinances and no blacks being elected. The department now wants to split the city into more wards to allow blacks to be elected.

“There is definitely some racial undertones in the community,” Cervenik said. “It’s important the city resolves its problem.”

While Cervenik understands the problem being presented by the Justice Department, he thinks it is something the city can solve itself.

He said the city needs to be better educated on the problem, register citizens to vote and get the community involved. He also wants to examine the concerns of the Justice Department and make recommendations.

“My biggest concern is that young African-Americans think that our community is not an open community,” he said. “One of the most important parts of my job is to let people know we are a good community.”

“If each of us does our part, we can make a difference. I firmly believe it.”

The city is currently reviewing its options for increasing voter turnout and making the Euclid government better representative of its community members.

Tim Jacobs, junior political science and print journalism major, said he understands the lawsuit by the Baptist Church but does not think the Justice Department needs to step in.

“They have much bigger issues to tackle,” he said. “If it is an actual problem, the city will step in and take care of it.”

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Anna Riggenbach at [email protected].