City Leaders Face Off in Mayoral Race


Beachwood voters will choose between the incumbent Mayor, School Board President or City Council President. Photos by Nakita Reidenbach and Amelia Port

Along with 72 other municipalities in the Cleveland area, the City of Beachwood will hold mayoral elections on Nov. 7.

The three candidates are current Beachwood Mayor Merle Gorden, City Council President Martin S. Horwitz and Beachwood School Board President Mitchel Luxenburg.

Incumbent Merle Gorden, who has served as Mayor since 1995, is proud of the city’s economic growth.

“The community and our record is what inspires me,” he said. “No matter who wins this election, I am comfortable in the knowledge that Beachwood will pass to good hands.”

For Gorden, providing quality services for Beachwood is top priority, both for residents and other stakeholders.

“I want to provide great, quality services,” he said.

Gorden is also proud of his long history of service to the community, since his days as a volunteer firefighter.

Since then, the city’s services and reputation have expanded tremendously. Gorden is especially proud of the city’s audit results. Every other year, Ohio’s state auditor conducts a mandatory review of the city’s finances.

“We have nice, clean audits every year,” Gorden said, pointing out that Beachwood is one of the few municipalities statewide that calls in the auditor on off years as well.

Gorden is confident with the management approach he has taken. He views the city as a business where residents are like shareholders.

“I am responsible for running a very large business, with budgets that are in the $40 million plus range,” he said.

I am responsible for running a very large business, with budgets that are in the $40 million plus range.

— Incumbent Mayor Merle Gorden

School Board President Mitch Luxenburg feels ready to assume a greater leadership role in the city.

“I never had political aspirations,” Luxenburg wrote in an email. “However, after serving the past eight years on the School Board I found myself uniquely positioned and qualified to carry the city forward.”

Luxenburg is pleased with Beachwood’s success, but he is concerned with effective planning for its future.

“Our community is the best,” Luxenburg wrote. “… [However,] with an aging housing stock and an aging commercial property stock, along with increased competition for families and businesses from our surrounding communities, it is imperative that we have a master plan that addresses our wants and needs and prioritizes how we pay for them.”

Luxenburg feels that such a master plan would also help improve the city’s efficiency.

“I have ideas on how we can provide the same level of services, or better, with a more cost-effective approach, but this is the easy part,” he wrote. “The harder work comes with taking the wants and needs that will be outlined in a master plan and making sure we can meet the objectives of the master plan within the budget.”

By increasing the city’s efficiency, Luxenburg also hopes to combat deficit spending.

“While the city does release estimated budgets routinely, those budgets … show us deficit spending as much as $19 million over the next two years,” Luxenburg wrote. “I acknowledge that these are only estimates and that the city leadership can adjust spending in any given year, but the estimates prove there hasn’t been planning on the level we need for the future, only as we go.”

“Our community is at a crossroads,” Luxenburg concluded. “We have to decide which path we want for our future. Do not vote for me because you want me to be the mayor of Beachwood in 2018. Vote for me because of the community you want in 2028 and beyond.”

Our community is the best. [However,] with an aging housing stock and an aging commercial property stock, along with increased competition for families and businesses from our surrounding communities, it is imperative that we have a master plan that addresses our wants and needs and prioritizes how we pay for them.

— School Board President Mitch Luxenburg

City Council President Martin Horwitz emphasized his extensive experience in city government.

“I served 16 years on the Board of Education, four as President, and now six years on City Council,” Horwitz wrote in an email. “For the past two years, I have been President of City Council. I see great potential for our city [if we work together]  as a team.”

“We are not bound by past practices and can work towards a city that reflects our changing lifestyles, diversity and values,” he added.

Horwitz feels that his experience on City Council and School Board has put him in a good position to lead the city.

My approach on the Board of Education was to be innovative and collaborative,” he said. “My work brought about the wireless Middle School, one-to-one laptop program and student email 20 years before most schools had such programs.”

“In general, I want to maintain the strong relationship between the city and schools and work towards providing more services for each other at reduced expense,” he added.

Horwitz has also been endorsed by The Plain Dealer, who called him “the best choice for Beachwood Mayor” with “experience and temperament to move Beachwood forward.”

He has also been endorsed by the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, Beachwood Democratic Ward Club, Black Women’s Political Action Committee, Democratic Women’s Caucus and the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats.

Horwitz references his strengths as innovation, honesty and experience.

“We live in a great city,” Horwitz said. “But we need to recognize that there are always ways to improve, and right now, we are in a period of change on so many levels,” he wrote. “Many of the programs I started with Council this year have been in place in other cities for 15 or 20 years. We are playing catch-up and we can do better.”

“With my knowledge of City programs and strong relationships with directors and staff, I am ready on day one to assume the responsibility of Mayor,” Horwitz concluded.

With my knowledge of City programs and strong relationships with directors and staff, I am ready on day one to assume the responsibility of Mayor.

— City Council President Martin Horwitz

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On Sep. 25, the three candidates engaged in a debate  in the BHS auditorium, sponsored by Cleveland Jewish News. The candidates answered questions regarding the city’s infrastructure, the relocation of the fire department, new city budgets and master planning.

In his opening statement, Horwitz said he was especially happy with recent efforts  to promote transparency in Beachwood. He highlighted his efforts to broadcast City Council meetings and to make records more accessible to the public. Additionally, he is proud of the city’s efforts to respond to criticism.

“We reduced the mayor’s salary by $20 thousand so that we aren’t known as the city in Ohio with the highest-paid mayor,” he said.

When asked about how to improve the Beachwood economy, all three candidates agreed on the importance of attracting and retaining businesses and maintaining high property values.

However, the candidates disagreed on spending.

“We need to consider what the citizens need in this community,” Gorden said. “…We should spend more money on security especially…  we have religious institutions here that are high risk.”

Luxenburg advocated finding areas to cut.

“We need more development and planning,” he said. “You need to know what you’re spending on, you need to use money wisely. Otherwise, you shouldn’t be spending money at all. Overall, we should be spending a lot less.”

Another issue the candidates clashed over was the building of the new fire station.

Horwitz said he supported the project, but not the process.

“The police chief did an analysis and decided that it was for the best, and we did it… However, there wasn’t enough opportunity to discuss, and it was disorganized.”

While Gorden said he fully supported the new fire station, Luxenburg said the entire project was a reflection of the disorganized relationship between City Council and the Mayor.

Near the end of the debate, the  candidates were asked how they would respond to changing demographics and the need for a more diverse city leadership.

“This is something I’ve been trying to answer for the eight years I’ve been on School Board,” Luxenburg said.

“What the city leadership lacks in numbers can be made up for by the culture of acceptance we have in Beachwood,” he added.

“We need to create more organizations to get people across all demographics involved,” Horwitz said.

Gorden emphasized the efforts he has made to increase minority representation in the city’s safety services.

A small number of  BHS students turn eighteen before Election Day. Despite being old enough to vote, seniors questioned by The Beachcomber have not registered and have no plans to do so.

According to senior Gregory Glova, there are too many other factors such as college applications that have limited his involvement in city politics.

“I haven’t registered to vote,” Glova said. “Part of the reason is I have no time.”

Glova says another reason is because he doesn’t feel that the election holds significant or immediate importance.

“It seems like none of the candidates have drastically different opinions,” Glova said. “And plus, we have such a good infrastructure already; no matter who wins the election, I know Beachwood will be in good hands. If this were the presidential election or midterm elections, where a lot more was at stake, I would definitely take time out to register and vote.”

On the other hand, many Beachwood parents are more engaged.

Ramalakshmi Janamanchi attended the mayoral debate on Sept. 25.

“I thought that Luxembourg would have a lot to offer,” she said. “I was still remembering that Gorden managed to win the last election even though there were news reports about his salary and controversy. I didn’t know much about Horwitz, but I was startled by his aggressive tone. I wish there were more events like this for all the elections. It would make it easier to know the candidates; they don’t all make it door-to-door.”

Christine Sansonetti, another Beachwood mom who also attended the debate, feels similarly.

“Initial impressions are difficult,” she said. “However, they all seemed to be very professional, interested in winning and eager to make a presentation.”

Sansonetti does wish that the questions had been asked more pointed questions to highlight greater differences.

“The first one and a half hour of questions were very light,” she said. “I wish the questions would have been more specific and the moderator would have pressed the candidates for more details or asked them to expand on their vague answers.”
Sansonetti would also like to see some new voices represented in Beachwood’s leadership.

“While I think each of the candidates truly cares about the city and the citizens,” Sansonetti said, “I do have concerns with each of them and really wish we had a fourth candidate who wasn’t already intertwined in our current [city leadership]. I personally think we might need a fresh start. At this point, I’m still unsure whom I’m voting for, but I am definitely voting.”