He served time; can he serve on the Cleveland city council?
John A. Boyd feels his rehabilitation makes him a model of hope for those struggling as he did.
Cleveland's Ward 6 encompasses the sprawling campus of the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, and the cultural riches of the Cleveland Play House, Museum of Contemporary Art, Karamu House, and Little Italy. But it is also one of the city's poorest areas with boarded up homes and businesses amid storefront churches and convenience stores, a striking canvas of today's economic woes.Skip to next paragraph
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Many Ward 6 residents have been touched by the prison system – including John Boyd, who has spent half of his adult life incarcerated for murder, forgery, theft, and drug trafficking.
He's not so different from many others in his neighborhood, except that he believes his life is a testimony to rehabilitation.
"It's never too late to be what you might've been," says the tall, calm, social worker. He's so convinced of his ability to change people's perceptions that he's hoping to be elected the ward's city councilman in the April 22 special election.
Boyd's story is one of redemption, but not the easy kind that washes everyone clean on a Sunday morning. It's more complex, playing on society's deepest fears about the true nature of forgiveness. As a result, his hope for a future of public service is held hostage by community unease over his past.
Talk shows and bloggers are vociferously critical, saying it's a big stretch for a convicted murderer to win a council seat that pays $70,000 per year. Others say that if residents vote for him, they deserve what they get.
But Boyd wants people to see him as a rehabilitated man, someone worthy of a second chance, of public service.
Whether a convicted felon can hold office isn't clear, but in that debate, Ohio's attorney general has indicated that the law is vague in addressing a convicted felon holding office.
Regardless of that open question, Boyd is running against Mamie Mitchell, a former Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor. Ms. Mitchell holds the position on an interim basis and enjoys the endorsement of key city leaders, including council president Martin J. Sweeney.
Despite the long odds, Boyd supporters are optimistic. "A lot of people support him because he can relate to people. If people listen to him, he's got 'em," says Frances Caldwell, his campaign treasurer.
And Boyd feels voters recognize that he hears them and cares: "One of the key features of living in oppressed conditions is the assassination of all hope. Prison was like that, but so are the conditions here. Residents in Ward 6 need hope."
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Boyd knows that, just like first impressions of the ward itself, he is more than he seems.
His freshly painted, tidily landscaped home on East 84th Street is one of the nicest in this neighborhood of boarded-up houses and vacant lots. That blight is one reason he's running.
"I was born and raised in this house," he says. "This neighborhood is no reflection of what it was in my childhood. It was a middle-class neighborhood. We would sleep on the front porch in the summertime and leave the doors open year-round."
But his close-knit world was a predominately female one comprised of his great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and two aunts. Young Boyd had no relationship with his father.
"A woman cannot teach a child how to become a man. So a boy will start looking to other men ... for role models," he says.
Like many other inner-city neighborhoods, Boyd's was not short on colorful characters. "There was a lot of hustling going on. Like a lot of young men without fathers we would gravitate toward the guys with the big shiny cars and the pretty women," he says.