by Jack Craciun III
(Plain Press, December 2016) On November 19th, 2016, Cleveland Ward 15 Councilman Matt Zone was elected president of the National League of Cities (NLC) at the organization’s 2016 City Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Zone, who served as NLC’s first vice president in 2016, will lead the nation’s largest membership and advocacy organization for city officials.
From reinvigorating his ward’s main thoroughfare, Detroit Avenue, into the award winning Gordon Square Arts District and contributing to Cleveland becoming the “America’s Hottest City” (Forbes Magazine October 27, 2016), Councilman Zone’s focus is rebuilding Cleveland into a world-class cultural destination city.
His public service accomplishments at home now demand of him to accept the 2017 Presidency of The National League of Cities, and he has just returned from Shanghai China where he was honored as the Keynote Speaker of the China Society of Administrative Reform Forum on “Urban Governance in the Context of New Trends of Urbanization: Challenges and Responses.”
Within 60 days after Michael J. and Mary Zone were married in September of 1944, Michael enlisted in the U.S. Army and left to serve his country overseas in World War II. Captured by the Nazi’s during the Battle of the Bulge, he was sent to Bad Orb, one of Germany’s worst POW camps. Despite the sub-freezing temperatures, famine and brutalizing conditions, Michael managed to stay alive until the POW’s were liberated six months later. His future son-in-law, Former Ohio Lt. Governor Lee Fisher, has written that Michael, who kept a revealing diary of his ordeal, was able to survive when younger, stronger men did not, because “He could see beyond the barbed wire and the cruelty of the guards and could see something that kept him alive. He could see his own future.”
Michael J. and Mary Zone’s future after World War II included the blessing of nine children, raised in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood on Cleveland’s west side where they grew up. They established a neighborhood grocery store, a community newspaper, and travel agency and, in 1960, Michael J. Zone was elected to Cleveland City Council. His legendary service continued until his unexpected death in 1974 from a heart attack attributed to the ravages of his POW experience.
After Councilman Michael J. Zone’s death, City Council President George L. Forbes asked Mary Zone to serve the remainder of her husband’s term. She agreed, and subsequently was re-elected to three additional terms. She was the first Italian-American woman to serve on Cleveland City Council and the first woman to serve as Council Majority Whip.
On the night of her husband’s death, it took over 50 minutes for an ambulance to arrive at their home. The delay infuriated Mary and many people in their west side neighborhood and all over Cleveland. As a result, Mary’s first legislative initiative was the successful establishment of the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) unit in Cleveland, one of the very first of its kind in America and the world.
Mary Zone’s proudest day during her public service was when Mayor George Voinovich and Cleveland City Council dedicated the Michael J. Zone Recreation Center in her ward. Councilman Michael Zone had been a tireless advocate for building a quality recreation center on Cleveland’s west side, and was successful in lobbying the Ohio state legislature to kill legislation which would have used the land that the recreation center now occupies to build a state route highway tie-in.
Michael and Mary’s 8th child, Matt, has continued his family’s deep-rooted legacy of public service for the last 15 years since he was elected Cleveland City Council. In November, 2001 he took his seat representing Ward 15, which includes the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood where he and generations of his family grew up and served their beloved community for over 55 years.
During September 2016, Councilman Matt Zone traveled to Shanghai upon the invitation of the China Society of Administrative Reform to be a keynote speaker at their forum on “Urban Governance in the Context of New Trends of Urbanization: Challenges and Responses.” Councilman Zone gave a presentation on the topic of “Joint Economic Development Agreements” which permit a regional approach to economic development by sharing the benefits and responsibilities of commercial and industrial development through cooperation and contracts between communities.
Matt is recognized nationally, regionally and locally as a leader on environmental and arts & cultural issues. On the national level, he now serves as President – Elect of the National League of Cities, the United States oldest and largest organization representing 19,000 cities, towns and villages, serving more than 218 million Americans. The first (and last) Clevelander to hold the position of President of the National League of Cities was former US Senator George Voinovich, who served as its President in 1985 while Mayor of Cleveland. In 2017, Councilman Matt Zone will be the second Clevelander to be honored as the President of the National League of Cities.
Regionally, Councilman Zone has served as President of the Northeast Ohio City Council Association (NOCCA) and is one of the founding members of the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force, which is working to create offshore wind generation in Lake Erie. Matt also serves on the steering committee of the Regional Prosperity Initiative (RPI), which is working to create a “Smart Growth” plan and “Revenue Sharing” for Northeast Ohio.
Locally, Councilman Zone continues to be a tireless advocate for alternative energy and green building. His district is home to the only “EcoVillage” in the State of Ohio and one of the first in the United States. An EcoVillage is a community of people creating a way of living that sustains healthy ecological relationships by offering an alternative model that strives to replace consumption and waste with preservation and regeneration. The Cleveland EcoVillage is complete with an LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) built school, theatre and certified Regional Transit Authority (RTA) rapid station, as well as highly energy efficient homes that heat and cool for less than $500 annually and a model storm water demonstration project on 25-acre city recreational facility.
As a devoted supporter of the arts, this second-generation Zone believes the arts and culture community can serve as an economic generator. As soon as he took office, Councilman Zone set to work on a strategic plan to reinvigorate his ward’s main thoroughfare — Detroit Avenue. He drew upon the diverse culture and his love of the arts as a catalyst to save the community. He has been the driving force behind the development of the Gordon Square Arts District, which is comprised of new housing and businesses, retail development and the construction and renovation of three theaters. Councilman Zone also sponsored the City of Cleveland’s “Percent for Arts” legislation, which requires all applicable capital improvement projects over $300,000 to set aside 1.5 percent of the total budget to include artists in their design. He serves as council’s representative on the city’s Public Art committee.
Councilman Zone’s background is quite diverse, and includes being a trained mediator and urban planner. He has worked with city constituents over the years and helped to empower stakeholders in the decision making process. Matt also has extensive experience fostering innovation, engagement and collaborative action across community sectors.
Editor’s Note: Jack Craciun III is Chairman and CEO ITM Ltd. This article first appeared in the Erie Chinese Journal.