Photo by Erik Drost, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
By Vince Grzegorek, Cleveland Scene | August 30, 2021
A host of sitting elected officials, candidates for mayor and city council, and local organizations have voiced their support for forming a municpal bank exploratory committee in Cleveland.
They include Cleveland city councilmen Charles Slife, Mike Polensek, Joe Jones and Anthony Brancatelli; Cleveland city council candidates Kate Warren, Rebecca Mauer, Aisia Jones and Ayat Amin; mayoral candidates Ross DiBello and Dennis Kucinich; and local groups such as Black Lives Matter Cleveland, Global Cleveland, the Chandra Law Firm and ThirdSpace.
“We are in a unique economic climate right now, with the pandemic still wreaking havoc and significant federal funding on its way to cities around the country,” says Geeta Minocha, who wrote the open letter and sought the commitments of the people and groups who have signed onto the call for action. “It presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine how we engage with our institutions. Public banks offer communities a means of making the most of community dollars: A government depository for taxpayer money makes financing for public projects — infrastructure, transit, education, etc. — cheaper. Moreover, scaled partnerships with regional institutions can bank the unbanked.”
The letter calls for a committee of nine members from the public and private sectors representing a diverse group of perspectives and experiences in what would be a local effort similar to exploratory committees in other cities. The Cleveland committee, as its imagined, would advise the mayor and city council on the creation of a public bank.
“I wanted a broad coalition of support for the exploratory committee, because the notion of a new institution can understandably be very scary to some,” Michocha tells Scene. “So it was important to me that trusted community groups and more moderate elected officials signed on before the expected progressives. Moreover, a big misconception around public banks is that they would crowd out small and medium-sized private banks. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as public banks would expand the loan portfolios of these private banks. But it’s an intuitive assumption, so I want to combat that by onboarding as many financial institutions as I can. I currently have one, a hedge fund called Steelyard Capital, and am hoping this gives me more credibility as I try to meet with other financial institutions. But overall, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the traction behind this committee, and public banking in general. It’s clear that people have been viscerally feeling the gaps in our existing systems and institutions and are ready to try something new.
She’s been a longtime advocate for public banking, but realizes that while the push in this moment might not make it happen, there are still positive outcomes to be had in bringing together a diverse group to talk about what problems and barriers exist in the community.
“It might be that, when all is said and done, the numbers from the exploratory committee don’t support creating a public bank in Cleveland,” she says. “So one of the major goals of this committee would be understanding how that existing infrastructure can be made more efficient in order to meet the community’s needs, with or without a public bank.”