City of Cleveland prepares to host first presidential debate of 2020

U.S. Elections

CLEVELAND, Ohio (NewsNation Now) — In Cleveland, all is ready for the first debate of the presidential campaign — and that includes extremely tight security.

Heavy steel barricades are up, the National Guard is in position and the area around the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University will remain on lockdown into Thursday, long after the candidates are gone.

The city’s mayor says success Tuesday night will require only two things: enlightening discourse inside the hall and respectful protests outside.

“Cleveland has been a peaceful place lately,” Mayor Frank Jackson told reporters Monday in a video briefing alongside other top officials. “Let’s keep it that way.”

On the eve of the debate, protesters of any kind were hard to come by. NewsNation found one unemployed bus driver who had traveled from Michigan to express his anger over President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The debate’s gonna be here,” he said. “The candidates will be here. The focus is here.”

It certainly is, although, after a long and violent spring and summer in Cleveland and other major US cities, no one can be blamed for taking precautions. Protests that turned violent in the city cost businesses millions. The mayor has no plans to allow a repeat. His safety director, Karrie Howard, says a lot of time and effort has gone into getting ready.

“Our local and federal partners are working very hard to make sure this historic debate happens in a very safe and secure community,” he said.

Civic leaders were joined at Monday’s briefing by Lt. Col. Audrey Fielding of the Ohio National Guard, who, without getting specific about security plans, hinted at a large support role for her soldiers.

“Members of this task force are specifically trained and equipped and prepared to support law enforcement in protection tasks,” she said.

Cleveland Police is the lead agency for securing the venue. Days off have been canceled and officers are working 12-hour shifts through the event, while members of neighboring jurisdictions are being paid a premium to assist.

While they’re the kind of preparations that give locals a lot of comfort, not everyone’s convinced. 

Doug Park says he and his wife are leaving. They’ll get a hotel room nearby and come home when the debate is over, he says, hoping to find everything as they left it.

“I don’t want to take a chance. I’ve seen on TV what they’ve done in other cities. So no, no way.”

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