Your Questions, My Answers
Real questions from real visitors. I anonymized them and reproduced my answers here. Get comfortable!
My Last Name
Question: Did you change your last name to sound Irish or just really leaning into Oliver?
THANK YOU immensely for checking out the website and taking the time to reach out to us!
I have not legally changed my name, my legal surname is Kostendt. For branding purposes, I have chosen to abbreviate ("contract") my middle name (Oliver) with an apostrophe instead of the more customary period after the initial.
You correctly guessed the reason for this -- to emphasize my Irish heritage, which is on my mother's side of the family tree. It's silly, but our Neighbors of Irish descent love to see an Irish-looking name on the ballot.
Neighbors for Arthur O' Kostendt
Safety in Cleveland and My Experience
Question: I saw your name as a candidate in Scene magazine. I’m a Stow native and Cleveland-Marshall grad, so there’s some commonality. Quick question, how long have you lived in the City of Cleveland? I read your essay about feeling less safe walking the Cleveland streets than when you were deployed. That has not been my experience in the city. Just curious about where that perspective comes from?
Answer: First of all, thanks for reading Sam's piece on Scene, checking out the website, and reaching out. I greatly appreciate your interest.
It's not that I personally feel an imminent or pervasive danger when walking in Cleveland. Sam may have added a dramatic flourish to the emotionally-neutral expression that appears in my website essay: "I am at greater risk walking the streets of our own hometown, Cleveland, than I was in a theater of war."
I consider this a factual statement because we have suffered almost 170 homicides this year in the City of Cleveland. By contrast, 22 of my comrades in arms sadly lost their lives serving in Afghanistan in 2019, as did a handful in the western part of the Middle East theater that year. Although they are high-profile targets in a much larger and more-difficult-to-secure area, it is rarer for our troops overseas to die, whether by violence or accident, than it is for our Neighbors in Cleveland to be victims of homicide.
Also influencing that specific comparison, as it relates to me personally, is the fact that I was fortunate enough to serve in positions and locations of relative safety while deployed. Every member of our Battalion worked extremely hard and made tremendous sacrifices, but thankfully the moments of genuine danger were few and far between during our long tour. In my opinion, anyway -- others might disagree.
And of course, I acknowledge there are a lot of different factors that influence the safety of servicemembers on tour, which I don't particularly have the time or interest in examining in detail, unless it's of strong importance to you. Happy to hear your thoughts.
In sum, that snippet I included in my essay is certainly dramatic, and between Sam's piece and your interpretation, that may have been amplified. But I mean it as a statistical comparison. Like you, I do not fear for my life while out and about in our lovely city.
Thanks again for getting touch, I hope that answers your question. If there's anything else I can clarify, don't hesitate to drop me a line via e-mail or tweet or phone call, you name it.
P.S: I apologize, I just noticed that in the entire wall of text I sent you earlier, I failed to answer your introductory question. I moved to Cleveland in Spring of 2014 and I've lived in the Warehouse District ever since, with the exception of the 15 to 16 months I spent overseas.
Once again, thanks for getting in touch.
Healthcare and Police Reform
Question: What’s your position on healthcare?
Answer: first of all, thank you for checking out my website and for reaching out to me with your question. I truly appreciate it.
To answer you, I think my bottom line is that the city government of Cleveland isn't empowered to make policy that will affect the healthcare experience of most Americans in a meaningful way. So, my personal position on the best way to administer healthcare isn't really important. You may disagree, and it's not my intention to punt the question or dismiss you.
I think this illustrates my point: The Cleveland Division of Health is characterized in the city budget book as a team that provides immunizations, provides guidance and resources to support mothers/reduce infant mortality, operates community health centers, and educates about STD's. These are all great missions (supporting mothers especially). But even if accomplished to perfection, the Cleveland Division of Health isn't empowered to make structural changes to American healthcare at a macro level. As such, neither is the Mayor.
Worth noting, the Cleveland Division of Health has been a disaster of leadership and management for at least a decade. It is currently embroiled in scandal and attempting to tread water with a skeleton crew. Our next Mayor needs to take a hard look at the Division's mission, staffing, and leadership to make it functional. Rachel Dissell's consistent reporting on the Division and Department has been edifying:
As Mayor, I would communicate emphatically to our Neighbors the importance of prioritizing their own health, through healthy habits and investments in exercise and mental wellness. I think if this had been done effectively in years past, we would be weathering the current pandemic at least a bit better. However, obviously individual healthy lifestyles aren't going to fix the types of health issues many people struggle with, often/typically through absolutely no fault of their own.
I am sure your question concerns the operation of what we know as "the healthcare system." As a Republican, on principle I don't think socializing this system (further) is the ideal answer. But as a rational person, I think it is a possible answer. It may be the best answer when all things are considered. Many flourishing countries do government-paid-for-healthcare-by-God-given-right. There are obviously drawbacks and advantages. It may not work with as much efficiency in our country. It may work efficiently in THOSE countries because OUR country has the system we do. I am nothing like an expert on it, I'll leave those arguments to people who are. Needless to say, as Mayor I would not play a part in that discussion in the halls of federal power.
We may disagree on the above, but one thing I think we might agree on: The status-quo, both pre and post Obamacare, is defended vigorously by special interests and powerful lobbies. There are many: hospitals, drug companies, insurers, medical schools, and professional organizations to name some. The policy status-quo is designed primarily to satisfy these interests rather than heal Americans. Obamacare (the ACA) was highly touted and was successful at giving people struggling with "pre existing conditions" financial access to the care they need. This is a good thing. But it was also a devil's bargain with the insurance lobby to make insurance coverage mandatory, even for people willing to risk living without it. This did the opposite of what I think is necessary for a solution: detecting and mitigating the drivers behind astronomical healthcare costs. The first step I would take in this complicated effort would be examining the cost of medical education, the cartel behavior of the American Medical Association on restricting supply of care, and the costs of medical malpractice insurance.
I apologize for the word count, I hope this gives you some idea of my perspective on healthcare as it pertains to the national and local levels of policy. If you have any other questions or comments, or anything to teach me about it, please don't hesitate to get back in touch with me. Once again, I thank you profusely for taking the time to reach out.
Reply: I appreciate your thoughtful and comprehensive response. Can you help me better understand your position on policing? I think since George Floyd’s murder, people on both sides of the aisle have rushed to take the most provocative stances. Personally, talk of a “Law and Order” campaign puts a bad taste in my mouth. What are you planning to do as Mayor re: police reform?
Answer: thanks once again for your additional question. I'm genuinely appreciative of Sam and Scene for posting a brief on my campaign; however, I think the headline on that piece did me a mild disservice. My platform has four pillars, and although "Defend Our Neighbors From Crime" is the first, each one is essential. The others are "Educate Our Kids, Protect Our Environment, and Discipline Our Government." I don't mean to insult your intelligence if you already read this on my site or in the story. But I think our city government fails to meet its obligations if it neglects any of these 4 responsibilities.
As Mayor, my commitment to the fourth pillar is what I hope will assuage your fears about irresponsible pursuit of the first pillar. Every city department must operate in a disciplined fashion, with a focus on its mission. And the overall mission of each department is to serve our Neighbors, not to serve themselves. This applies especially to our Department of Public Safety and our Division of Police.
As you may know, misconduct and lapses of discipline became a cultural fixture of our Division of Police. It was investigated in 2002 by the US Department of Justice, and then again just 12 years later in 2014. The second report was made in conjunction with the well-known "consent decree" with the DOJ. I have some criticisms of the consent decree, but the 2014 report is a humiliating document for our city government. Especially because numerous problems identified in the 2014 report were originally brought to the Mayor's attention in the 2002 report. Without reviewing my notes, two such problems were (1) when a use of force occurred, only one officer present needed to submit a report to supervisors, not all of them. This was identified for correction in 2002 and was not fixed by 2014 and (2) complaints to the Office of Professional Standards were freely marked as 'administratively withdrawn' if there was any delay or hardship in following up with the complainant (who was not permitted to remain anonymous) or if the complainant didn't complete the complaint form fully and correctly. This was identified for correction in 2002 and was not fixed by 2014.
The point of all this is that poor leadership, lack of accountability, and undisciplined management of our Division of Police is at this point a tradition. At minimum, these two failures-to-correct noted above result in poor accountability for use of force. Apathy of police and elected leadership sends a clear message to subordinates on patrol: "The DOJ told us exactly what we need to do to protect our Neighbors from excessive force, and we don't care, we will not hold you accountable." Using the chains of command that anchor at the Mayor's office, every city employee needs to be held accountable for ethical and Neighbor-serving conduct. Cops included.
Time flies -- it's now been almost 7 years since 2014. The consent decree established some additional monitoring organizations and continuing oversight by Judge Solomon Oliver of the US Court of the Northern District of Ohio. His honor is a great and just man, and a highly respected jurist. But he does not work for the city or our Neighbors, and his ability to effect cultural change at the Division of Police is therefore attenuated. Put simply, he is not a leader of the police force. The Chief, the Safety Director, and the Mayor are. They are still unable to develop a productive relationship with the consent-decree mandated Community Policing Commission
Aware of this, and with the disregard of advice in the 2002 report in mind, can we trust that current leaders have made ANY material improvements to police culture in accordance with the 2014 report? I'm inclined to agree with the progressives who would say no, we can't. I'd also agree with progressives that the police union all too often protects bad cops and sanctions serious errors at the expense of the people police are meant to serve. That being said, as a leader of the police I would not criticize an employee in the media -- this should not be mistaken for indifference to discipline.
Between working, getting through school, then training and getting deployed, I haven't been up to the minute on police conduct issues and review board meetings that have happened since the DOJ report. Tamir Rice's tragic shooting occurred only a couple of weeks prior to that report's release, and his case is not mentioned in it. No high-profile allegations of CDP misconduct are present in my memory since then (correct me if I misremember) (The police chase connected to Tamia Chappman's heartbreaking death a year ago was found to be conducted within protocol, although those protocols are now themselves under review by the board identified above.) So maybe improvements were made -- at least the number of incidents has dropped. But killings remained elevated during that period. This year, they have exploded out of control. Brutality and harassment isn't the solution to this, according to what I learned in justice-focused classes at law school. Simply pervasive patrolling and constant situational awareness by the authorities about what is happening on our public streets will have a crime deterrent effect. My ideas for achieving this include the use of gunshot-detecting technology, London-style CCTV outdoor public surveillance, aerial camera drones to replace squad cars for dangerous pursuits, and simply more frequent patrols with better coverage.
(Our Neighbor Arthur Keith was shot and killed by a CMHA police officer in early November, and we must insist that our own city officers doggedly and unbiasedly pursue and release the facts of the shooting that took place on our soil. Video is currently being withheld from the press as our county government is surely developing a legal strategy.)
In any case, the misconduct problems I mentioned above aren't solved by reducing public safety funding. In fact, Judge Oliver's commission has noted that information and data on current police misconduct is insufficient because the Internal Affairs team is woefully understaffed (link above). I believe reducing police resources would be a mistake, and our poorest Neighbors would suffer the consequences of ever-increasing lawlessness in the neighborhoods. I believe civic hostility toward law enforcement is also contributing directly or indirectly to this year's spike in violent crime in our city, and in places like Minneapolis this year. The truth is that while the most notable victims of police misconduct are Black, the typical victim of non-police crime in our city is also Black, and the latter case is much more common. (Worth noting at this point -- criminal conduct by police is crime. My commitment to fighting crime applies whether perpetrated by police or civilians.) Handicapping the police and leaving our neighborhoods to the authority of lawbreakers, whether organized or not, is not doing justice by our Neighbors of any color.
My belief is that policing issues are not solved by hostility to police or withholding of funds, but by leadership and discipline. I have the same view of our troubled public school system. There are 6 areas for CDP improvement I identified in my review of the DOJ findings: 1) incident reporting by patrol cops 2) supervisor review thereof 3) complaint response 4) training/tactics 5) equipment and 6) early intervention in cases of problematic conduct.
Through leadership and discipline, it is both possible and necessary to preserve the rights of our Neighbors, the American dignity and safety of Black Clevelanders, and the security of our streets at all times, in all neighborhoods.
I obviously have a problem with brevity, so let me try and conclude with this point: many people do and will have a problem with my characterization of police officers as "soldiers" in a "war" against crime. I think these people misunderstand the role of soldiers. A soldier's priority is not to "kill" "enemies" but to accomplish a mission. In recent times, our soldiers have accomplished their mission best not by killing anyone, but by building relationships of trust, respect, and mutual strength with local civilian partners.The important thing is that for soldiers, the mission is always placed first -- above personal comfort, reward, and safety. The mission of the Division of Police is to protect and serve our Neighbors. To use young Tamir Rice's killing as an example, driving the patrol car right next to an "armed and dangerous suspect" was a major, irredeemable tactical error -- see my point 4 above. I believe that shooting Tamir in half-a-second was possibly or possibly-not racist. It was possibly or possibly-not criminal. But it was definitely a self-serving action. If that former CDP officer put service to Neighbor, which Tamir was, above his own safety, he would have willingly risked taking the time to understand the situation and to mitigate the tactical error of the driver. Nobody would have died. As a soldier myself, demanding our civil servants take personal risks in service of our community is something I will do without hesitation. It's not asking of them anything I won't do myself.
Please don't hesitate to get back in touch if you have any more questions. I apologize once again for the lengthiness -- I promise to keep future answers under 1,000 words.
Black and Gay Clevelanders
Question: Hey! I am interested in hearing more about your views. Where do you stand on Black Lives Matter, the movement and not simply the organization? Are you an ally of the LGBT+ Community here in Cleveland? What is your political affiliation?
Answer: First of all, thank you immensely for checking out the website and getting in touch with me.
To be completely honest, I'm not enthusiastic about commenting on issues of racial justice and the plight of other marginalized groups, for a couple reasons -- In the first place, don't belong to any of these groups and so my commentary will necessarily have that shade of ignorance. I also hesitate to indulge the tendency of some to make these issues central to elections at the local level. Involving identity group struggles in issues of local government is, I fear, divisive within the local community, where we should be tightest. These issues are obviously important to you, so I don't mean to disparage you at all. I just want to be honest as I preface an answer that may sound pretty pathetic to you.
Without commenting on the political action group of the same name, and without supporting the tenets of sociological theories like Critical Race Theory, I of course believe that Black Lives Matter. Most of our Neighbors in Cleveland are Black, which is why I think our Black community will benefit most from the election of a skilled and energetic leader, who will administer an effective city government and competently deliver services to our neighborhoods. Even if that leader isn't the one who walks in lockstep with the progressive party line and says so, aggressively.
Of course, all of our many ethnic groups will benefit from a higher quality city administration, and together we will continue to make our city wonderful. But since Black Americans make up our biggest ethnic community, every city service that has been lackluster for decades -- public education, transportation/infrastructure, electrical reliability, building/housing safety, to name a few -- will benefit Black Americans the most if we can elect a leader that will get them running effectively. I think I can do this. I am sure there are many Clevelanders of every race who can do this, and I hope one will be elected Mayor.
One of these city services is, of course, policing. And this is the most controversial point where we may differ the most. Our Black Neighbors have legitimate grievances with policing in our city (and nationwide). I believe the best remedy for these grievances is to discipline the Division of Police, not to defund it. As you may be aware, violent crime has exploded this year in our city, with nearly 170 homicides and plenty of days left in 2020. While most of our Neighbors facing scrutiny (in some cases unfairly so) by the police are Black, so are most of the victims of crime. While politically trendy in a left-leaning city like Cleveland (and most cities nationwide), handicapping the police and leaving these Neighbors without protection, mostly in our poorest neighborhoods, is something I believe is not acceptable. Former councilman and mayoral candidate Zack Reed, who is obviously a better spokesperson than I on the issue, ran on a similar platform in 2017. https://www.cleveland.com/naymik/2017/10/can_cleveland_really_afford_40.html
To support the same idea from a different perspective, I don't think Cleveland is going to be able to solve American racism as a city. Obviously it's an admirable goal, and racism in municipal policy cannot be tolerated. But sacrificing city services that our Neighbors rely on, like law enforcement, in pursuit of a prejudice-free society is not a good trade at the municipal level in my opinion. It should go without saying that I will not tolerate discriminatory conduct in my administration. But I will hesitate to pursue lofty, aspirational progressive goals at the cost of law and order -- I don't think the City of Cleveland is going to become the world's first-ever utopian society, and I'm certainly not the guy to achieve that within a Mayoral term. Loss of life like we have experienced this year, and cities like Minneapolis are seeing this year, must be addressed in my opinion. As a city, we are just at a lower rung on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Once we are able to clear the streets of snow, correct power outages in a timely manner, respond to FOIA requests within a decade, pick up trash and separate recycling, etc., then we will be ready to make total social egalitarianism and outcome-equality a priority. In the meantime, like I said above, getting the city government running properly will benefit our Black neighbors the most. (Progressives will argue that this is punting, and it'll never happen if we don't get it done today, and that this philosophy is racist. But that's just a fundamental disagreement on politics)
In the same vein, my plan to address those more controversial concerns is to discipline the Cleveland Division of Police. Like every other city department, inadequate leadership has led to poor city services, unacceptable employee conduct, and tragedy in the case of poor police discipline. Police must be held to a high standard of conduct, must approach their duties with courage and willingness to risk personal safety, and must make service to our Neighbors, regardless of color, their top priority. The Department of Justice wrote two investigative reports on our Police this century, one in 2002 and one in 2014. The number of failures cited in the 2002 report that reappeared in the 2014 report is humiliating. Six years have now passed since the 2014 report and the consent decree. Can we trust that the issues with leadership, management, incident reporting, training, equipment, early intervention, and complaint review have been fixed? Progressives would say no, and on this point I would agree. The strength of the police union at resisting reform and protecting bad cops is something the next Mayor will have to contend with to get the problems fixed.
I am a devout Christian, which does put me at odds in some ways with our LGBT+ Neighbors. I'm suspicious of political movements that attach to this cause in pursuit of broad social change. With that disclosed, I pass no judgment at all on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. My sins (I have many of them) are no better than theirs, and God is the ultimate judge of us all, not Artie or any other person. And it's certainly not my place to deny His mercy to anyone. I am proud of my friendships with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
I'll be honest with you, I have old-fashioned views on the family unit, in accordance with my religious beliefs. But as Mayor, I will not have the power of nor the interest in restricting the rights that have been secured in Washington DC to the LGBT+ community in this arena. I will not have the power of nor the interest in making or resisting policies concerning transgender individuals and their medical care. I will have the power of and the interest in ensuring that all members of these groups will be protected from physical violence, harassment, discrimination, and denial of public accommodation that they have shamefully been subjected to in the past. I know you'll hate me for saying this, but I have worked alongside lesbian and gay Americans both in the military environment and in my civilian career, and I believe those individuals would defend my character if you asked them about it.
As you've probably surmised, I am a Republican, but I am not a slavishly devoted one. I consider myself a free thinker and my goal is to improve our city government for all Clevelanders, not to advance a conservative agenda. As I alluded to in my second paragraph, I think these battles of political philosophy are more suited to the level of national or state politics. City government should not, in my opinion, engage in culture war, but simply administer the laws of the state and country equally among our Neighbors. I think this is the best way forward in pursuit of local togetherness.
I apologize for the encyclopedia volume I just subjected you to. I hope I was able to articulate myself well, if not concisely. Thank you again for your question and for checking out the website. I appreciate the opportunity to put my views on these subjects into writing, and if you have anything to teach me about it I invite you to write back. I am sure some of my views are unacceptable to you, but my intent is to be completely honest and give you a complete answer.