Displayed on a table in Mayor-elect Kevin Brooks’ office at the Church of God International Offices is a plaque given to him by the late Matthew Brown that reminds him not only of his good …
Displayed on a table in Mayor-elect Kevin Brooks’ office at the Church of God International Offices is a plaque given to him by the late Matthew Brown that reminds him not only of his good friend, but also how much Brooks loves Cleveland.
The plaque, emblazoned with the name of the city, as well as a star, always reminds Brooks about what is important.
“This city has meant so much to us,” Brooks said as he looked toward his wife, Kim. “I cherish it because Matt made it for us.”
Brooks said he never took the plaque to Nashville, where he represented Tennessee’s 24th District for 12 years.
The sign is prominently displayed in a spot where it is in a direct field of vision from where his desk is located.
“I kept it here to remind me of home,” he said.
Brooks will be sworn in Monday as Cleveland's next mayor, following Tom Rowland's 27-career as the city's mayor.
Both feel well prepared for the new chapter in their lives that will begin Monday. The years spent on the campaign trail, accompanied with an almost infinite number of non-election public appearances, has well prepared them for the demands that await them.
Kim Brooks, who is Lee University’s director of special events, as well the wife of a legislator, is accustomed to the demands of public life.
The couple met in high school, dated during college and have been married 29 years. Even before they were wed, she was well aware of her future husband’s ambition to run for public office.
She said the 12 years her husband spent going back and forth to Nashville during the legislative season helped her learn how to balance work, while raising their children, Zach and Elizabeth, on her own for much of the time.
“He was gone Monday through Thursday,” she said. “His busy schedule was January through May and mine was April to August. It was normal from September to December. That was our reality for years.”
Weekends were busy not only with spending time with their two children, but also making public appearances. As a result, Kim Brooks is prepared for the demands as Cleveland’s next first lady.
However, she is modest regarding her preparedness for her new role. She does not expect their new life will be much different, other than her husband will no longer be spending so much time in Nashville.
“I don’t think there will be much change,” she said. “It was always a balancing act before, and I’m thankful he is going to be home. We can be real people.”
Along with her new duties as first lady and her full-time job at the university, she will also continue her work with Habitat for Humanity and The Caring Place.
Her biggest goal, right now, is to help with her husband’s transition into city government. Earlier in the day, prior to interviewing with the Cleveland Daily Banner, she had accompanied her husband to City Hall to prepare the transition. They both had made trips to Nashville to empty his legislative office.
Her plans as first lady, in the beginning, will be to help her husband.
“My biggest thing this first year is to be supportive. I will figure it out after that,” she said with a laugh.
The mayor-elect also feels well prepared for his new role and is glad he will be spending more time in Cleveland with his family. He feels the years spent in Nashville have enabled him to bring fresh ideas to the job as mayor, as well as provide him with connections to people with whom he can contact to help Cleveland prosper.
“I've had 12 years training in the Legislature,” he said. “I believe in that the collaborative spirit — rolling up my sleeves and sitting down at a small table to hammer out an agreement — will help me.”
Brooks said he is excited every day about leading the city and has already met with other officials regarding the future of the city’s revitalization initiative.
“I woke up early this morning before the alarm went off,” he said. “I wake up every day thinking that everything in Cleveland is good; but if we moved the needle just a little bit Cleveland will be great."
He welcomes any changes his new job will bring. He knows personal appearances will have to be balanced with his work with the church, as well as his administrative duties as mayor — all while living full time among his constituents, who will also be placing demands on his time. Yet, he is grateful and excited about being closer to his fellow residents.
“When I was a legislator, I was gone for six months of the year,” he said. “Now I won’t have to apologize for being gone so much.”
The massive amount of public appearances required of a city mayor will not be much of a change in lifestyle for Brooks and his wife.
“We had lots of public appearances then,” he said recalling his time as a state representative.
Brooks said he has already been meeting with city officials to ensure a smooth transition and to chart the course of his administration.
“I’ve been meeting with and discussing for the last three weeks with the finance director, the city manager, City Council members, the police chief and the fire chief,” he said. “I’m ready."
During the campaign, Brooks said he planned to function as Cleveland’s ambassador. He noted the term “mayor” may be old fashioned.
“I’m going to be the chief idea officer,” he said. “I want a new way of thinking.”
His new way of thinking is no doubt influenced by the decades spent working at the Church of God, where Brooks arranges and coordinates travel for church personnel, as well as organizes conferences. His employment with the church has enabled him to travel to nations such as India, the United Kingdom, Cambodia, as well as countries in South America. As a result, Brooks has gained an international perspective, as well as inspiration for new ideas.
“The ability for me to travel and to see the world changes your worldview,” Brooks said. “It gives you the ability to learn new ideas and and bring them home.”
Brooks said he has seen innovations in cities around the world and has sometimes wondered why those ideas cannot be tried here. In addition, Brooks hopes his worldview will help recruit even more industries to Cleveland.
“We can’t limit ourselves. We now live in a global society and economy,” Brooks said.
He is appreciative of Rowland achievements over 27 years as Cleveland's longest-serving mayor, and hopes to build upon them.
“We’ve had 27 years of incredible leadership,” Brooks said. “He has built a great foundation. We are ready to take it to the next level. I can’t wait for that to happen.”
While the Brookses are excited about the opportunity to help lead the city to new heights, they understand they will sometimes encounter difficult times.
Brooks recalls flying over Cleveland in a helicopter to survey damage caused by a series of tornados that ripped through the city in 2011.
“I remember seeing the damage and feeling physically sick,” he said.
Another trying time was when the city was trying to dissuade Whirlpool from closing its plant.
“I don’t think people know how close we came to losing Whirlpool,” he said. “That was a dark, stressful time.”
Like current Mayor Tom Rowland and first lady Sandra Rowland, the Brookses know their faith in God will enable them to weather any storm.
“We have faith in prayer,” Brooks said as he looked toward his wife. “We have a strong foundation in our faith.”
He said the decision to enter the mayoral race was something he felt called to do and trusted God to open the door. That knowledge gives them strength.
“Our faith and future is in God’s hands,” he said. “We fully believe in and are fully committed to Cleveland.”
They also plan to rely on close friends to help stay focused on simple things such as cookouts, especially during stressful times.
Brooks will also gain strength through the support of his wife, whom he describes as his best friend.
“I can’t imagine going through this without the support of my wife, best friend and mother of our children,” he said. “Kim really is the backbone and foundation that makes it possible for me to serve.”
He said the city is fortunate to have her as its next first lady.
“Cleveland is about to be blessed,” Brooks said. “She will accomplish a lot as first lady.”
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