Cleveland: Confused City on a Seesaw
CHAPTER FOUR: Tom L's Heirs
The first few years of the 1930s were the worst in half a century for Cleveland. Everything that could go wrong did. The depression, which was spreading nationally, hit the community harder than most cities; the zip, the desire to succeed, went out of business. The euphoria of the 1920s turned into sagging spirits as banks closed, thousands lost jobs or had wages cut through no fault of their own. The bottom dropped out, and there seemed to be no bottom to the bottom.
Holding companies, based on promises of riches rather than assets, proved to be worth nothing. Farmers were stuck with land, mortgaged to the hilt, which no one wanted to buy. Blowhards and status-seekers who a few years ago thought of themselves as millionaires, were in the hands of receivers. Indictments for crooked manipulation of banks, mortgage companies, and savings and loan companies were numerous, as prosecutors sought goats to appease thousands of small depositors whose savings were gone or frozen. Banker became a dirty word.
The familiar Cleveland syndrome, political volatility, was present in the nth degree, as the city hall changed hands every two years, and new political mahatmas came in with panaceas that didn't work any better than their predecessors'
had. The corruption, which had started to ruin police departments during prohibition, got worse; protected gambling joints and bookie shops invited poor people to wager their last few bucks. Threadbare citizens daily trooped into newspaper offices, without a dime to buy a sandwich, looking for handouts. The welfare offices were swamped, and unable to furnish emergency relief.
It is almost impossible for younger people today, who didn't live through this dismal era, to imagine how rough it was, with 25 percent unemployment, soup kitchens, apple sellers on street corners, blue chip stocks selling under $5 a share, and little sign of eventual improvement. It had to be endured to be believed.
The first to suffer bitter disappointment were the followers of Peter Witt. When the manager plan was voted out in November 1931, and a special election for mayor set for January 1932, it seemed to most political seers that Witt would win it. He had twice won election to council easily. He had led the LaFollette rebels to victory in the city in 1924. He drew big crowds every fall to his town meeting, where he caustically ripped politicians of both parties to shreds. Of his big targets, Hopkins was gone and the Van Sweringens in trouble. He was a rabble-rouser par excellence, but there was nothing phony about him, and the newspapers would not shudder at the possibility of Witt as mayor, as they had at Harry L. Davis.
The political wise guys and the press underestimated the political power of the Catholic church. Witt had not been anti-Catholic, but he made no bones about being an agnostic who never attended any church. One of the three candidates for mayor was a practicing Catholic, high in the Knights of Columbus -- Ray Miller, the county prosecutor, who had sent crooked councilmen to jail in 1929, and won reelection in 1930. He was the candidate of Burr Gongwer and the Democratic regulars. Dan Morgan, recently city manager, was running as a Republican.
The guessers almost unanimously figured Witt would run first in this field of three, then easily win the runoff. But on
the Sunday before election, priests in every Catholic parish warned against the possibility of an admitted agnostic becoming mayor, and went as far as they dared for Miller without actually saying "Vote for our boy." It had a devastating effect. Witt's big following, normally Democratic, dropped away, and he finished a poor third. His voters went to Miller in the runoff, and Miller became mayor in February 1932. It was Witt's last hurrah.
Witt was always convinced of the rightness of his principles and willing to take the consequences of stirring up the animals. He was unquestionably a leader, a man of integrity, who never forgot his humble beginnings as an uneducated molder, and who devoted his life to causes he was sure would benefit his fellowman. Though he was a ferocious skinner of skunks in public, in private he was a big-hearted sentimentalist, a lovable lamb among his family and close friends.
His father, a German Catholic, emigrated to America in 1849 with many others who disagreed with the status quo there. Peter was tenth of eleven children. He went to school only through the fifth grade, started to work at thirteen and at seventeen became a molder. Naturally he joined a union and the Knights of Labor. As years went on, he experienced unemployment, hunger, insecurity, blacklisting, and the familiar hopelessness of the blue-collar workman of that day.
Witt had a natural gift for public speaking, and made up for his lack of formal education by intensive reading. He was involved in the Populist movement, and then as a Democrat campaigned for William Jennings Bryan. His most intense involvement was with the single-taxers, to whose tenets he had been introduced by Dr. Louis B. Tuckerman of Ashtabula (whose twin, bearded sons, also doctors, in later years became devoted disciples of Witt). The fact that Tom L. Johnson also was a converted single-taxer bound him to Johnson when the two finally met.
Witt had been speaking on street corners and wherever else he could find an audience. He had become noted as a heckler, and he tackled Johnson when Tom L. first ran for
mayor in 1901. Johnson invited him to the platform to debate, and before Pete knew it, he had become one of Johnson's most ardent admirers.
Pete never did anything by halves. In politics and economics, everything was either black or white to him. He was belligerent on the stump -- Johnson described him as "an angry, earnest man, with flashing eyes and black locks hanging down one side of his forehead." He was sarcastic and fluent, and pulled no punches. Small wonder that he became Johnson's most effective hatchet man. There is not the slightest doubt that Witt fancied himself as the Saint Paul of the post-Johnson era. He felt it his duty to carry on the evangelism of the Johnson tradition and to help spread the golden years, the "city on a hill" that Johnson began. Johnson's mayoralty was the happiest time of Pete's life, for the mayor's odd combination of idealism and practical politics did actually transform the city for a while. Johnson, a millionaire traction magnate and manufacturer who decided belatedly to devote his great talents to government, turned the city upside down from what it had been in the nineties. He established municipal control of the street railway, built a city-owned light plant and sewage disposal plant, created a workhouse farm with accent on parole rather than punishment, established a TB hospital, municipal bathhouses, and dreamed up the Mall plan.
Johnson's impact on Cleveland is still alive today, though he and his principal disciples are long dead. His spirit of independence, of a government run for the taxpayer rather than campaign contributors, still persists, and is one of the main reasons why Cleveland remains such a maverick community in politics.
Witt became city clerk in 1903 and stayed there until 1909, when Johnson was defeated. In 1912, when the Democrats came back under Baker, Witt was appointed traction commissioner, a key job then, for everyone had to use public transportation. The commissioner had the power to order operating improvements. Witt rerouted and extended the lines, developed crosstown lines, added trailers. He even
patented a center-exit car, which was widely adopted elsewhere, and on which he collected royalties (but he refused to accept them from Cleveland). He developed a system of skip-stops and Sunday-only stops and always took the side of the riders. After he was defeated for mayor in 1915, he was hired as consultant by Philadelphia, Boston, and Seattle for good-sized fees, and his recommendations were adopted by Detroit and Kansas City.
It was a natural progression for Witt to run for mayor after two terms of Baker. His congenital frankness did him in. He refused to buy political advertising or kowtow to special groups. Just before election he told west- side Germans that he hated all war, hoped the United States would stay out of World War I and it would end in a draw; but if either side had to win, he hoped it would be the Germans. This was disastrous. The Republicans pounced on this and denounced Witt as a pro-German. Even at that, he probably would have won, had he not been trapped by a preferential ballot (which he himself had advocated) on which voters could express second and third choices. Witt led on first choices, thirty-nine thousand to thirty-six thousand, but since he had no clear majority, other choices were added in, and Harry L. Davis finally won, forty-seven thousand to forty-four thousand Witt had said he wanted first choices or none at all. This was a blunder.
He couldn't resist getting back into politics when the Van Sweringens proposed their Terminal project. In his stiff but losing fight before the ICC, acting as his own lawyer, he appeared with a bulging briefcase that, he confessed in amusement later, was stuffed only with newspapers. (He said he did it because all lawyers carried big briefcases.)
Witt was a tremendous crowd pleaser and like most orators, loved to ham it up. Political meetings are usually stylized, dull, predictable affairs, but Witt turned his into a civic circus. In 1925 he started holding annual town meetings in Public Hall, to which he charged $1 a head admission, to pay for the hall rent, and always packed the house. In 1935, his meeting
drew five thousand people. He was always the sole entertainer at these rodeos, and what a job he did: on the bosses, the railroads, the banks, the Van Sweringens, Hopkins, the newspapers. As he warmed up, he would peel off his coat and throw it in a corner. His words were so often the truth that few wanted to miss the show.
Pete seldom talked less than two hours at these skinnings, and each year, as his list of SOBs grew and grew, the speech got longer and longer. He had a few regular targets, at whom he aimed special blasts. One was Myron T. Herrick, a Cleveland blueblood who had been a banker, governor, and ambassador to France. Pete always referred to Herrick as the "international ass." His fellow councilmen, Herman Finkle, Jimmy McGinty, Bill Potter, Liston Schooley, et al., were familiar targets, and what a kick Pete got out of it when Schooley and Potter were indicted for graft! Naturally, Maschke, Gongwer, Hopkins, and Baker came in for acid comment. Also all prohibitionists and professional drys.
The newspapers, all of them, got it in the neck at Pete's meetings. Though a lifelong foe of hypocrisy, Pete could not resist the temptation to ham it up at least once in every meeting after making some telling point. Before the applause and laughter had died down, he'd shake his finger in the faces of reporters in the front row, shouting, "Take that back to your editors!" It was annoying and unnecessary, for Pete knew perfectly well that all of them were his friends and admirers and took special pains to quote him accurately.
The presence of a crowd acted as a shot of adrenaline to Pete. He simply could not resist an auditorium full of listeners. He was no delicate ironist; he hit with a meat cleaver. At home, or at his simple cottage on North Bass Island, Pete was as amiable as an old St. Bernard dog. He was completely under the influence of his wife, Sally, a kindly homebody, motherly, sweet and patient, who understood his moods thoroughly. He would do anything for Sally -- except stop his town meetings. She didn't go to them; it was against her nature to get angry. At home, he rarely got into a lather about his pet
hates. But if he did, a warning word from Sally, "Now, Dad!" would stop him, and he'd again become the domestic lamb.
Pete's personal appearance was almost a trademark. He always wore a dark suit, no vest, and a black bow tie. His black hair never really turned gray; only a few strands had turned before he died at seventy-nine. He was tall, thin, and spare. He ate no lunch and very little breakfast, and probably weighed the same at seventy as he had at twenty. Yet he took no special exercise. His recreation was talking. And he was well equipped for that, with a deep, resonant baritone that never seemed to tire.
Pete took his defeat in 1932 philosophically. Things began looking up for him in November when F.D.R. was elected president. The New Deal was right down his alley, and he was delighted when the welfare state became law. From that time on, his only public activity consisted of delivering tributes to Abraham Lincoln each year on Lincoln's birthday. For a brief period, he was even able to set aside his ancient animosity against the Van Sweringens by becoming a consultant to the Cleveland Railway Company, which the Vans controlled before their final collapse. (He was persuaded to do this by George D. McGwinn, one of the City Club's "Soviet Table" aficionados, who had become president of the traction company.)
Witt was far ahead of his time when he advocated so many of the welfare-state measures during the LaFollette campaign in 1924; hence it gave him extra pleasure to see them enacted ten years later under Roosevelt.
The late Dr. Carl Wittke, the distinguished historian who wrote an admirable monograph on Witt in October 1949 (published by the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society) called him the "tribune of the people." I'd go further. Witt had a more profound and dynamic effect on the political life of Cleveland than any man of his generation. He was the Dutch uncle of the most politically volatile, independent big city in the country. He represented the angry taxpayer, the independent voter, the frustrated citizen, the confused little
guy who wanted less bunk, more service, and an honest answer from public officials.
Pete was an uncompromising solo operator, and perhaps it was just as well for him that he did not assume the responsibility of being mayor, for at some time he would have had to compromise. He went on, year after year, like a mahatma, almost out of the world at times, as if he saw a light at the end of the tunnel that ordinary men could not see. In biblical days, Pete, with his golden voice, his flair for salty phrases and expressive labels and his single-minded determination, would have been a major prophet. Although he refused to go to church, he was an honest-to-God Christian, who practiced the doctrine of loving his neighbor and forgiving his enemy.
Pete and Sally had three daughters, who carried on their father's liberal traditions and independence. The oldest, Hazel, who never married, was a social worker for years, then became the first head of the Policewomen's Bureau, where she was known for her spunk and independence. The second daughter, Norma, married Herbert C. Jackson, who became a tax expert for Pickands-Mather, the ancient iron ore and shipping firm, and rose steadily to become senior partner. He and Norma established a scholarship in honor of Witt at Western Reserve University. The third daughter, Helen, married Stuart Cummins, who was born on North Bass Island.
Pete and Sally celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1942. When he died in 1948, he insisted on no formal funeral service, and the only words spoken were a eulogy by his old friend and lawyer, Edgar S. Byers.
Burr Gongwer really came into his own with the election of Ray Miller as mayor. He had actually got the best of the 67/33 deal with Maschke on city hall jobs under Hopkins, for his council minority did not equal 33 percent, and he determinedly tried to hold on to them by keeping Hopkins as manager. With Morgan as manager throughout 1930-31. Gongwer's troops were out in the cold. But he had foreseen that Miller would have a brilliant future in politics. He directed the 1932 mayoralty campaign, and had a cabinet lineup ready
to go. It was heavy with men who had been assistants under Miller as prosecutor.
Gongwer was in solid, too, on the state level. A Democratic governor, George White, had defeated Governor Myers Y. Cooper in 1930, and was reelected in 1932. This was a welcome change to Gongwer. He had never really been cozy with the previous Democratic governor, Vic Donahey, who relied for advice more on personal friends in Cleveland. When Roosevelt became president in 1933, Gongwer really had it made on four governmental levels -- national, state, county, and city.
Walter Burr Gongwer was an astute, brilliant, and charming man, totally unlike the image of him the newspapers conjured up, one who did a great deal for the city through the first-rate candidates he supported for public office. Burr was not depicted by the papers as quite the ogre Maschke was, though he was every bit as clever an operator. One reason he got off more lightly was that he was often on the same political side as the Press and Plain Dealer, which tended to be Democratic nationally. Another was that the men he supported or associated with were favorites of the papers -- Newton Baker, Bill Hopkins, Carl Friebolin, and Governor James M. Cox. Such a pal of theirs couldn't be all that bad.
Gongwer was a reporter for the Plain Dealer, and a good one, before he forsook journalism for politics. He covered city hall when Johnson was mayor, and became so fascinated with Johnson's flair and genius that he quit the paper and became Johnson's secretary. From then on, for forty years, he was never out of politics. He idolized Johnson and named his only child Dorothy Johnson (Mrs. W. Raymond Barney) after the famous mayor.
Burr, though extremely articulate in private conversation, never made public speeches, as Maschke did in his later years. He was more retiring than Maschke, not a bridge player nor a golfer, but fully as much of an intellectual, a great reader of history and philosophy and somewhat of a loner. One reason Gongwer never made speeches was that Baker was always
available to speak for the party, and Baker was one of the finest extemporaneous orators who ever mounted a rostrum.
Burr was election board clerk at one time, and later customs collector. When he left federal office, he went into the general insurance business with his close friend, Pierce D. Metzger. There he was highly successful in writing surety bonds for public officials and contractors who won public contracts, and fire insurance on public buildings. This, like the political practice of law, is lucrative and Gongwer was well off when he died. There is nothing underhanded or illegal about this kind of insurance business. The law requires that such insurance be provided. It could be bought from any insurance company, but actually always goes to old political friends of the officials (and who is an older friend than the county chairman?). This has gone on for years, and still does.
Gongwer was brilliantly profane in his description of people, particularly those he disliked. He knew where all the bodies were buried, and who was trustworthy. He was a handsome man of middle height, with thick curly brown hair, who wore prince-nez and smoked the best Havana cigars. He stocked his cellar with the best liquors, and made certain before prohibition came in that he had plenty to last through the drought. He was not a heavy drinker; he simply was a connoisseur of good brandy, whisky, and imported liqueurs, as he was of good cigars. And of politicians, too.
Like Maschke, Burr could always be relied on to tell the truth to newsmen, and to keep his word when he pledged it. He was greatly admired and respected by all the reporters who dealt with him; the editorial position of their papers, and occasional sharp criticism, did not bother him. He heartily disliked the Press, which was his most constant critic, and he never referred to it by any name except "The Harlot." (The Press never said anything kind about any political chairman. The word "boss" was always a dirty word.)
Gongwer's number one problem as chief honcho of the Democrats was the Irish. During his tenure as leader, practically all the Cleveland Irish were Democrats (and still are).
Most of the other ethnic groups were habitual, congenital Democrats, too -- the Poles, Czechs, Lithuanians, Slovenians, Italians, Germans, Hungarians, and so forth. They were larger in number but easier to direct than the Irish. Gongwer realized, however, that if his county and legislative ticket was to get anywhere in the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant suburbs, it had to be balanced, not entirely Irish. This was hard to do. Anyone with a familiar Irish name stood a good chance of beating the endorsed slate in the primary, and almost every biennium someone tried it.
Burr's way of coping with the Irish was to produce a slate, which was well balanced among all the ethnic groups -- and with Protestants and Jews, too -- and get the executive committee to approve it long before the primary filings. There was no way he could keep the ambitious, fractious Irish from running, but this way he discouraged a few.
One of the Irish he had the most trouble with was Martin L. Sweeney, who got his start from being a high official in the Fraternal Order of Eagles. Sweeney was easily elected municipal judge, and when Congressman Charles A. Mooney died, won the nomination for congress, which automatically meant election, for it was a safe, one-sided district. Mooney was a regular, but Sweeney wasn't, and he was a constant headache to Gongwer during Roosevelt's first term. He joined with Father Charles Coughlin, the contentious radio priest from Detroit, in continually denouncing President Roosevelt, and warning against getting into war. He was on the same kick when he ran against Mayor Ray Miller in the 1933 primary; and the bad feeling this fight engendered was a big factor in Miller's defeat by Harry L. Davis in November. Sweeney continued as a maverick for several years, until Michael A Feighan, then an up-and-coming state legislator, beat Sweeney in a primary, with the help of the Plain Dealer and Press, who were actively pro-Roosevelt and anti-Coughlin. Sweeney was never able to make a comeback.
Burr had none of the problems with blacks that the Democrats today are having. There were no black Democrats in the
twenties, and their number did not increase substantially in Ohio until after World War II.
Gongwer's far-sightedness was best illustrated by the way he encouraged women to get actively into politics after women's suffrage became the national law. He did this through the brilliant organization of Mrs. Bernice S. Pyke, who had been a suffrage leader. Mrs. Pyke, a dynamic, handsome young woman with prematurely white hair, did so well among the ethnic groups, where women normally took a back seat, that she soon achieved a status in the organization second only to Gongwer.
Mrs. Pyke was one of the few women in politics who thought and acted like a man. She followed the Gongwer-Maschke pattern in leveling with reporters at all times, and her judgment on people was excellent. No Ohio woman before or since has developed such stature. When the movement to unhorse Gongwer developed later, it was directed as much against Mrs. Pyke as against Gongwer. Too many men were jealous of her power.
Gongwer was extremely wise in his choices of assistants for Miller and later Frank T. Cullitan when they were county prosecutors. Among the men who served as assistants in that office were Thomas A. Burke (later mayor), Frank J. Merrick (later safety director, common pleas and probate judge), Frank D. Celebrezze (later safety director and municipal judge), Neil T. McGill (later appellate judge), P. L. A. Leighley (later appellate judge), David Ralph Hertz (later traction commissioner), and Henry S. Brainard (later law director). All were exceptionally able public servants. His choices for other county offices were also excellent, and the performance of his men, with no public blemish, greatly assisted in keeping the Democrats continuously in office -- men like County Commissioners John F. Curry, James A. Reynolds, and Joseph F. Gorman, Auditor John A. Zangerle, County Engineer John O. McWilliams, Coroner Samuel T. Gerber.
Gongwer differed from Maschke in one important respect -- he was a great hater, all his life. He was not one to forgive and
forget. He heartily disliked Witt, with whom he served under Tom Johnson; this was aggravated by Witt's continual drumfire against Baker, whom Gongwer worshiped. He disliked Martin Sweeney and never forgave him. He disliked Cyrus Locher, whom Governor Donahey appointed senator. He disliked Donahey himself, whom he regarded as an ignoramus and a phony. Eventually he came to dislike Miller, whom he had supported warmly for prosecutor and mayor, and considered him an ingrate for accepting the county chairmanship in the control fight that finally unhorsed Gongwer.
Gongwer was not a gregarious man. He lunched, usually alone, at a private table on an upper floor of Fischer-Rohr's restaurant every day for many years, and did not return to his office after lunch. In the evenings he enjoyed the solitude of his country place in Lyndhurst (now the site of part of the Acacia Country Club), where he could read and meditate on the cantankerousness of the human race, of which he had abundant evidence.
Cleveland was fortunate in the first third of this century to have had as bosses two such strong, honorable characters as Gongwer and Maschke. But it was fashionable then for newspapers to denounce all bosses on general principles.
The man whom Gongwer had brought along as prosecutor and helped elect as mayor, Ray T. Miller, served less than two years as mayor, and later became a long-time boss himself. Despite his excellent cabinet and eagerness to do a good job at city hall, Miller was in deep trouble from the start, largely because of the horrendous, insoluble welfare problem. It got worse by the day. Evictions were frequent, and Communist agitators regularly paraded and picketed around furniture of evictees piled on the sidewalks. The federal government had not yet stepped in with its WPA make-work program and the whole burden of feeding the poor fell on the city administration. Miller, like Morgan before him, tried hard to cope with it and had the able assistance of lawyer Marc J. Grossman, (who took over the thankless job of trying to get the legislature to provide money after A. V. Cannon, who had knocked him-
self out trying, died). The efforts of these two wealthy lawyers on behalf of the destitute, were an unparalleled piece of unpaid, unselfish public service. The combination of the welfare trouble and Martin Sweeney trouble, doomed Miller to be a one-term mayor, right from the start.
Miller came here from Defiance, Ohio and soon after, the whole family of Miller brothers emigrated to Cleveland. All of them had played football for Knute Rockne at Notre Dame. Although Ray had not made the varsity, his younger brother Don was a star, one of the famous "Four Horsemen" and his older brother Harry had been a regular. Gongwer sensed early that Ray had the makings of a great candidate. He was young, handsome, broad-shouldered, aggressive, spoke vigorously and eloquently, and was eager to get into politics. Burr persuaded him to run for county prosecutor in 1926. That was a bad year for Democrats, and Miller lost to Edward C. Stanton, the steady Republican who had held office six years. Miller's time came two years later when he again ran for prosecutor and defeated Maschke's candidate, Arthur H. Day. He was reelected in 1930 and ripe to run for mayor in January 1932. Gongwer needed someone of the stature of Miller to ward off Peter Witt; it is doubtful if any other Democrat could have done it.
Miller was not a great administrator as mayor. The slambang, offensive style, which was so good in public and in court as a prosecutor, was not as well suited to his posture as mayor. His public relations were not apt. He couldn't give jobs to all who asked for them in the depression. So Sweeney gathered up all the rejected job-seekers and polled a big vote in the primary, not big enough, however, to place in the runoff. His disgruntled followers still had the harpoon out for Mayor Miller and went over to Davis in November, so Davis won, at last.
In 1935, Miller ran again for mayor and lost in the runoff to Burton. Yet he was far from finished. He stayed in the political picture for more than thirty-five years, until he died in 1966. His law practice grew larger and larger, and ultimately he was
in a position similar to that of Maschke, a lawyer with a primarily political practice, which expanded because he had become a boss.
Gongwer had launched Miller on his career, but as time went on, the party unfaithful, who could not get everything they wanted from Gongwer and Mrs. Pyke, began to urge Miller to unhorse Gongwer. In 1938, the troops elected Miller county chairman over Gongwer, and Burr and Mrs. Pyke retired bitterly to the sidelines, feeling they had been double-crossed by an ingrate. The death of Newton Baker about this time helped erode Gongwer's support. Exit Burr as boss.
Miller had a phenomenally long reign as boss. In the end, the same thing happened to him as had happened to Gongwer -- a protege he had supported took the job away from him. County Engineer Bert Porter, whom Miller had been very enthusiastic about and had backed for mayor unsuccessfully in 1953, was elected chairman with Miller's blessing in the early 1960s. He refused to let Miller act as regent, calling the shots behind the scenes. When Bert insisted on being his own boss, the party regulars went with Porter, and Miller was finished.
During Miller's long chairmanship, the Democrats controlled the White House, except for eight years of President Eisenhower. The city hall and statehouse most of that time were technically Democratic, too, but Miller was usually at odds with Governor Lausche. Ray was still not able to call all the shots at city hall, either, after Tom Burke succeeded Lausche as mayor, and even less so when Anthony J. Celebrezze succeeded Burke. Celebrezze felt he owed nothing to Miller, since Miller had tried to beat him. When Ralph S. Locher succeeded Celebrezze, he too was largely independent of Miller, and Miller tried vainly to beat him in 1963.
Miller had many business connections with political overtones. He represented several big unions, which had become increasingly powerful under Roosevelt and Truman. He had a big interest in radio station WERE, which was then broadcasting the Browns football and the Indians baseball games.
His law partner, Don Hornbeck, a Republican, was secretary of the baseball club. His wealthy corporate clients were numerous.
As Miller's practice grew, so did his family. Six children were born, and as they matured, Ray nudged them into politics. His oldest son, Ray T. Jr. became a state senator. Ray's younger brother, Creighton, was one of the prime movers in Telerama, cable-TV company. His brother, Don, was appointed federal referee in bankruptcy.
Ray was a hospitable, convivial man, who loved to entertain large parties at his big house on South Park Boulevard, Shaker Heights. He was at his most magnanimous while presiding over the mixing of a Caesar salad, pouring in each ingredient with much ceremony. He got along famously with all the political writers and like Maschke and Gongwer, told them the truth. He was blunt and undiplomatic in dealing with the troops, but they always knew where he stood.
Newton D. Baker, who was the official head of the Cleveland Democrats during the twenties and well into the thirties, was one of the few Cleveland political figures to become a nationally known statesman. He was called by President Wilson to become secretary of war before the United States got into World War I, and bore the entire responsibility for mobilizing an army from scratch, setting up the draft, and sending an expeditionary force of one million men to fight in France. After the war, drained emotionally and physically, he returned to Cleveland, but he remained active after Wilson's death.
He was the unquestioned leader of Ohio Democrats at national conventions and kept such close contact with the national scene that in 1932, he had strong backing in both north and south for the presidential nomination. Had Roosevelt not been nominated on an early ballot, Baker stood a good chance of being chosen as a compromise candidate.
By any standard, Baker was one of the great men of his time. After he returned to Cleveland, he was always in demand to hold unpaid, nonpolitical civic jobs, and he continued to take a strong hand in Democratic party affairs, for he be-
lieved that good citizens ought to involve themselves in organized politics and government. He was revered by all newspaper men who came in contact with him, because he was simple, unpretentious, sincere and always approachable, a perfect example of the fact that the biggest men in government, industry, and the professions are the easiest to deal with. It isn't always easy to get through their cordon of secretaries and assistants, but when you meet the big man face to face, he goes direct to the point and gives a straight answer. He will expect you to treat all confidential matters confidentially, but he puts on no airs, doesn't give out the old double-talk. This was Newton D. Baker.
Baker's unblemished principles made him the ideal teammate for the pragmatic Gongwer. Baker was always available to pronounce the principles, and take the high road, while Gongwer took the low road and attended to the patronage, the endorsements, the nuts and bolts of party management, without having to make speeches. Gongwer idolized Baker, but he also appreciated how useful Baker was to him as a party boss. Baker held the official position of chairman of the central committee, but Gongwer was chairman of the executive committee. Baker made statements and speeches. Gongwer made decisions and backed candidates. Baker approved completely of Gongwer's decisions; he had no illusions about the necessity for a party boss. The Democrats were lucky to have them both; the Republicans had no such elder statesman as Baker. They left all the problems to Maschke, who made no pretense to being a statesman.
Baker came to Cleveland from Martinsburg, West Virginia, where he grew up as a Democrat; his ancestors had been Confederates. He joined Tom L. Johnson early, and was city solicitor, then law director. When Johnson died, Baker was the natural heir to run for mayor. When Wilson chose him for secretary of war, Baker was known as a pacifist. Wilson was not concerned about that; he needed a man of integrity.
When he returned to Cleveland, Baker was tired, middle-aged, disillusioned, and nearly broke. He had spent so many
years in government that he had had no opportunity to accumulate money. So he organized a new law firm with two old Democratic friends -- Joseph C. Hostetler, who had originally come from a farm in Tuscarawas County, and Thomas L. Sidlo, a bright young man who had been in Baker's cabinet as service director. The firm soon attracted affluent corporate clients, and today is still one of the most influential and largest in Cleveland (although no one named Baker, Hostetler or Sidlo is still with the firm). PD editor Erie Hopwood was a close friend and client of Newton Baker; so was Elbert H. Baker (no relation), chairman of the Plain Dealer board.
Baker had a small, slight body, but a big mind. He was only a few inches more than five feet tall, was slender and lightweight. In addition to an amazing intellectual capacity, he had a deep, melodious voice and an uncanny ability to speak in complete, convincing sentences without a note in front of him. He simply knew exactly what he wanted to say, and how to say it; and he said it in the most mellow tones, which came out without the least bit of phoniness, unlike most orators.
Baker was a most approachable man, completely without deviousness or stuffiness. It was always easy to get to see him; all that was needed was to get his secretary to make a date. The secretary was usually a young law student or a newly graduated lawyer. (One of his most competent and popular secretaries was Henry S. Brainard, who later became city law director and after that, counsel for the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company.)
Baker was so short that he literally could, and would, curl up in a big office chair, and tuck one foot under him. He regularly smoked a big-bowled pipe. He was calm and even-tempered and went out of his way to be kind to young people. He was never without a book near at hand, usually some tome on history or philosophy. He was continually learning, and never wanted to waste a moment. He was often seen in a hotel corridor, waiting his turn to speak, quietly reading a book. He had plenty of books -- not just law books, but reading-type books -- in his office.
Everyone who heard Baker speak marveled at how he could extemporaneously come forth with the most cogent, well-reasoned, well-phrased arguments, without notes. He had such mental discipline that he arrayed his thoughts beforehand and knew how to express them for the most telling effect. He never prepared a text.
He was a tremendously effective courtroom lawyer. A1though he did not appear often in court, when he did it was worth paying admission to hear. One such time was when he defended Editor Louis B. Seltzer and Chief Editorial Writer Carlton K. Matson of the Press against a charge of contempt of court laid on them by Common Pleas Judge Fred P. Walther. The Press had severely rebuked Judge Walther for giving a light slap on the wrist to a defendant in a gambling case that involved Sheriff John M. Sulzmann (sheriffs were always in the grease with Cleveland newspapers). Walther took offense and cited the two editors for contempt. Baker, who was the Press's lawyer as well as the Plain Dealer's, appeared personally to defend them.
Baker's cross-examination was superb, and his demolition of the judge's reasons for citing the editors was icy, logical, and devastating. He went about as far as a lawyer could without saying in so many words that the judge was incompetent, ill-advised, or both. He made Walther seem like a pretentious fool. Finally, the irritated judge said, "Mr. Baker, are you expressing contempt for this court?" Baker, poker-faced, said firmly, "No, your honor, I am trying to conceal it." (Walther found the editors guilty, but the court of appeals, after hearing Baker, freed the two.)
Baker used to enjoy telling of the sage advice he got from an old-timer, a brilliant courtroom lawyer, Matt Excell, when he was just a kid breaking in. Excell told him what emphasis to use in addressing a jury. "If the facts are on your side, argue the law," advised Excell. "If the law is on your side, argue the facts. If neither the law nor the facts are on your side, confuse them, Newtie, confuse them." Such smart tactics are still being used.
Baker was a man of broad culture. He was a music lover and supporter of the Cleveland Orchestra. (Mrs. Baker was an accomplished concert pianist.) He was deeply interested in education, and was offered the presidency of both Ohio State University and Western Reserve, but he preferred to stay with his law practice. He did serve as chairman of the board of trustees at Reserve, and was also on the board at Ohio State. The Newton D. Baker Hall now contains the dean's and other administrative offices at Reserve, and there is a Baker Hall, a men's dormitory, at Ohio State.
Cleveland lost its number one citizen when his heart gave out in 1937.
(His son, Newton D. (Jack) Baker II, has been administrator of the Lakeview Cemetery Association for several years, and his wife Phyllis, is active in Cleveland Orchestra and charitable efforts.)
|PREVIOUS CHAPTER||NEXT CHAPTER||TABLE OF CONTENTS|