Cleveland: Confused City on a Seesaw
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Downhill All the Way: 1963-1973
For the next ten years, it was downhill all the way for the once gung-ho, forward-looking community of Cleveland. As in a Greek tragedy, events moved inevitably from bad to worse, from cause to effect. A few forward-looking citizens could see the disaster coming, and knew that, like the next earthquake along the San Andreas fault in California, it was just a question of when. The basis for the disaster had been laid years before. When it finally came to an end in the early 1970s, Cleveland had already lost its oomph, was the butt of TV jokes and many thoughtful citizens wondered whether it could ever pull out of it and become again the "city on a hill" that Tom Johnson had visualized years before. It was going to be an uphill pull.
The first in the series of disasters was the administration of Mayor Ralph S. Locher, one of the most honorable, well-meaning, personally amiable men ever to hold the office, but a total bust as an administrator and executive. Locher succeeded Tony Celebrezze in 1962, and was in office during the long newspaper strike. He was slow in sensing the far-reaching repercussions, the shock to retail business from having no newspaper advertising in the three weeks before Christmas, the heaviest buying season of the year. He made no move to inject himself into the strike as a possible arbitrator until it had already lasted two months, and even then he was ineffec-
tive in trying to get the hostile groups together. He offered his office as a neutral meeting place, but his impact on the impasse was almost nil.
When spring came and the strike finally ended, Locher had to face an election, to continue his regime that began with his appointment, since he had been Celebrezze's law director. The Democratic organization was no more fascinated with Mayor Locher than they had been with Celebrezze, and they tried to defeat him. The man they endorsed was a political sad sack, who had been around the track several times but had not set the course afire, Mark McElroy, a former councilman and attorney general of Ohio, but only an average performer. Even at that, Ray Miller could not deliver the entire organization to McElroy. County Prosecutor John T. Corrigan, an official with an excellent record, decided the time had come for him to cash in on the electable name of Corrigan, filed to oppose McElroy, and carried part of the organization with him.
Locher had the advantage of being in office, and both newspapers endorsed him. He hadn't done anything wrong -- in fact, hadn't done much of anything -- and the editors believed he deserved another shot at the office. Locher finished first, in a fairly close race.
It was a time when aggressive leadership at city hall, a willingness to join hands with business leaders and the newspapers to get the city moving again might have avoided some of the disaster that came later. The situation was ripe for an active mayor to step in and rev things up. In downtown Cleveland, on the edge of Erieview, a new university, Cleveland State, had been created by Governor Rhodes's administration and was amply supplied with funds. It bought the old Fenn College buildings and started to acquire adjacent real estate. It needed help from city hall, which had urban renewal funds, to get a fast start, but Mayor Locher did not move in on the opportunity.
The Cleveland Development Foundation, which had been created to help grease the machinery for expansion, wanted to help Cleveland State, as well as other good projects, get off
the ground. Its chairman, E. W. (Pike) Sloan, Jr., offered to furnish funds to hire engineers, draftsmen, and lawyers to work with city hall, to get things moving, but he couldn't even get a yes or no answer from Locher. Inertia was in charge.
The entire urban renewal staff had been concentrating on Erieview, but even that project, despite its sacrosanct status, was not moving fast enough. The Plain Dealer was finally taking a critical look at it, and ran several articles by Eugene Segal, urban affairs reporter, indicating that there was bungling in the planning of streets to be vacated and others to be opened. In this, the Plain Dealer editors were encouraged by Raymond Cragin, big downtown real estate operator, who represented Sterling-Lindner-Davis, whose store was on the edge of Erieview (its warehouse was vulnerable for seizure under eminent domain).
It was comparatively mild criticism, but James Lister, who had been urban renewal director under Celebrezze, resigned. The top office for months remained vacant, despite the fact that practically nothing was being done to expedite the University Euclid area, which included the increasingly restless Hough slum.
The Western Reserve University part of this area couldn't wait any longer to get its part of the project moving, for it had a tremendous expansion of Lakeside Hospital going. So Neil Carothers, an engineer who could make things move, was hired, and WRU began doing things on its own.
After several months of doing nothing to get urban renewal going, Mayor Locher did an incredible thing -- he appointed as urban renewal director a man with no experience whatever in the field, and no particular political or business stature in Cleveland. The man was Bart Clausen, who had been an employee of a Cleveland radio station, had served one year as president of the City Club (during which it had just about gone broke), and then had moved to Washington, holding a job as an obscure assistant in the interior department. He was known as a do-gooder and social uplifter, but he had made no good-sized waves in Cleveland. The newspaper editors were
astounded, to say the least. Clausen occupied the office, but was unable to do anything to straighten out the mess. Perhaps no one could have. At last, things got so bad that the HUD office completely froze Cleveland's previously allotted urban renewal funds.
Urban renewal wasn't the only department at Locher's city hall that was doing nothing or just bumbling along. His finance director, Ed Knuth, seemed unable to give a clear picture of how much money was on hand for city operations or whether a city income tax (now permitted by the state) was necessary. He confused the council and mystified the editors with his arcane explanations. Locher appointed a blue-ribbon "Little Hoover" committee, headed by Carter Kissell, to investigate, and it recommended a small income tax, among other changes. Knuth often talked darkly of deficits, but at the last moment every year he always managed to come up with funds from some cubbyhole.
The other big departments drifted along. Nothing was done about the obvious need to expand the sewage disposal plants, or improve snow removal or street maintenance. It was a continuous mystery why Locher did not get off dead center, and at least accept the offers of the business community to help iron out the mess. Probably the answer was that Bronis Klementowicz, Locher's law director (who had been utilities director under Celebrezze) and principal political adviser, a man who felt he knew the ethnic communities better than anyone, believed that the cosmopolitan groups would resent Locher playing footsie with the business community, whose leaders were regular contributors to Republican campaign funds.
It was a total stalemate, and Locher simply didn't move. Maybe he couldn't, maybe he didn't want to, maybe he didn't have the capacity, maybe he was following in the footsteps of Celebrezze and Frank Lausche (he had been Lausche's secretary when he was governor), who were great at coasting along in the status quo. One big-shot corporate lawyer, who had tried in vain to help Locher, said if Locher had been the proprietor of a drugstore in a small town, he would have been
the most popular man in town, but he didn't have the capacity to run a city the size of Cleveland.
The situation was getting so desperate, in the opinion of Plain Dealer editors, that three of them asked Lausche, who was now in the Senate, to get Locher appointed to a federal judgeship, to get him out of city hall. They met Lausche at lunch at the new Hollenden House, which had replaced the ancient hotel that had become a firetrap. He agreed to try, and could have got Locher a judgeship, for one was vacant; but the mayor told Lausche he would refuse to accept appointment if one was offered. He felt he was doing a good job and wanted to run again in 1965 to vindicate his record. He apparently had no comprehension of how the black community was deteriorating or that the failure of urban renewal there had exacerbated the situation. The editors did have this comprehension and so did the Interracial Business Men's Committee. They knew they were trying to cap a volcano.
Locher did run for vindication in 1965. (This time he had the support of the Democratic organization.) This time he had a narrow squeak, and beat out the second-place candidate by only two thousand votes. This man was Carl B. Stokes, a handsome, personable, light-skinned Negro, who had attracted favorable attention as a state legislator. Stokes had been coming up politically for several years. He had been a state liquor inspector, and an assistant police prosecutor, was obviously popular among the blacks, and also had considerable support from white businessmen.
So Locher hung on for another term, and the editors and businessmen continued to bite their nails and wonder if anything could really get him to move. He continued blandly to bumble along, oblivious of the trouble that was ahead. The avalanche had already started to move, but he didn't see it. It finally came in July 1966. The rioting that Police Chief Wagner had long expected finally broke into the open in the Hough area.
The first sign of big trouble came when gangs of black kids began running through the streets, throwing rocks and fire
bombs, stopping cars, and occasionally looting stores run by whites. Chief Wagner was convinced the kids were tutored in the JFK House and then sent out to stir up trouble.
In early June, the police had managed to confine and control the brawls. A nine-year-old boy had been shot during one commotion and another time a mysterious fire broke out in the store of a white man who had been a target for the agitators, and the place burned down. This seemed to be a trial run. In mid-July very hot nights had driven most of the slum residents out into the streets, and the long-feared incident occurred that triggered a full-scale race riot.
A black man, who had been drinking, lurched into a bar run by a white man and asked for a glass of water, presumably to mix with some wine he had. The bartender refused. Soon afterward a sign appeared on the bar, reading "Colored not served here." Much pushing and shoving began, police were called, and before long the whole neighborhood was battling the police. Fire bombs were thrown, shots fired from upper apartment windows by snipers, and police reserves called out. A young black mother standing behind an apartment window was killed by a bullet, and the hysteria turned to chaos. Fires were set wholesale, crowds cut hoses when the firemen came and shot at the firemen. By dawn the riot had quieted some, but fire had destroyed several apartment blocks, and it was obvious that more trouble would break out the next night.
Twelve policemen had been injured. Thirty-eight fires had broken out. Chief Wagner was convinced the signal had been given to pour it on. An armed Negro in a parking lot near Mayfield Road was shot and killed by two whites, and in distant Shaker Heights another black, returning from work, was shot by someone in a passing car. That afternoon, black councilmen and white community leaders urged Mayor Locher to call the Ohio National Guard for help. He did reluctantly, and a guard company came up from Akron.
At nightfall, the rioting broke out again. A black man was shot and killed in a scuffle. The guard put up roadblocks to seal off the area. About 4 A.M. a Negro family fleeing in
a car from a fire in their apartment (next to a recreation center that was burning), tried to crash a roadblock and was fired on by guardsmen. More casualties; a young black mother was shot in the face and her two children also wounded. The police had a helicopter watching the Hough area for snipers and Chief Wagner himself was out there with his rifle. More apartments and stores were burned and looted, more people were homeless and hungry. The rioting continued for three nights, lasting till dawn. Eventually a heavy rain helped cool the furor.
The newspapers covered the nightly riots with teams of reporters and photographers, who worked twelve hours straight through. Hard hats had been furnished the photographers and it was a good thing that Julian Wilson, AP photographer, wore one, for he was hit on the head by a brick. The PD photographic coverage was offered to the AP, and for this the Plain Dealer was given a distinguished service award by the Associated Press Managing Editors Association at its San Diego convention later that year.
The Hough riots attracted national attention, of a kind that did Cleveland no good, but they did not shake Mayor Locher out of his normal lethargy. They did, however, stir up some voters to turn away from the Democrats, and in November 1966 Ralph J. Perk was elected auditor for a second four-year term; so was Governor Rhodes. A year later, the riots were one of the principal reasons why Locher was finally defeated when he tried for mayor again.
Important changes were taking place on both newspapers at this time. Porter and Mullaney retired at the Plain Dealer in December 1966 as Tom Vail's right- hand men, and were replaced respectively by William M. Ware, who had been night managing editor and Sunday editor, and Thomas R. Guthrie, who had been Washington correspondent and before that, news editor. At the Press, Louis Seltzer's long reign had ended in retirement and Thomas L. Boardman had become editor. Vail and Boardman had the final decisions on all endorsements.
Before the next year, 1967, was far under way, another
surprising bombshell exploded in the Cleveland newspaper field. On 1 March, Samuel I. Newhouse, who owned a national chain, bought the Plain Dealer from the Holden estate for $55 million, a price far higher than had ever been offered before. It astonished the community, for practically no one had figured the Plain Dealer would ever be sold to interests outside Cleveland. The sale was the final step in the long process of liquidating what had once been a priceless set of trusts, and it finally resolved an intramural, almost fratricidal, tug of war among conflicting Holden descendants.
For many months Tom Vail had been making elaborate plans to build a new Plain Dealer building facing the shoreway east of Edgewater Park. Some land had been purchased from the American Shipbuilding Company, which abutted on an arm of the Cuyahoga River and had dock space. It also was close to the New York Central freight tracks, so newsprint could be brought in easily by both water and land. Tom had got the well-known New York architects, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, to make preliminary plans, and had asked all the department heads to prepare estimates of space they'd need in a new building; some of them had made detailed room plans. The Plain Dealer building at East Eighteenth- Superior was already too small, as Guerdon Holden had predicted. The press room needed space for an additional press. The plant of the Art Gravure Company next door (in which the Plain Dealer owned a controlling interest) needed expansion. The garage was too small for the circulation trucks, and the employees needed a garage to park their cars at night. It was an ambitious project, and plans had even been made to get new access roadways built by the city and state, running off the shoreway.
The rapid inflation that accompanied the escalation of the war in Vietnam overtook the plans. What Vail had originally estimated would cost about $25 million soon mushroomed to $40 million, and this would require major financing. He made strong efforts to get this big funding from local banks, but there was no enthusiasm for it. The Cleveland banks
were still ultracautious. The conservative George Gund was still number one at Cleveland Trust, although Freiberger was senior vice-president. If the new building was to be financed, the money would have to come from New York. Even in New York, Vail was discovering that the carrying charges would be almost prohibitive. The other branches of the Holden family who lived in the east (McGinley and Greenough) were complaining that they were still not getting the return from the Forest City Publishing Company they thought they were entitled to. Vail did not want the property to be sold. He wanted to continue to manage it, put up his long-planned new building, and even buy some "farm club" papers in the suburbs and downstate Ohio. But it was not to be. Word got out to Newhouse that the Plain Dealer could be bought and he put the necessary big money on the line. It was now worth much more than it would have been three years before, since Vail had been battling the Press, and the Press had rapidly slipped. Freiberger as trustee obviously believed he got a good price for the renovated Grandma. (The Forest City Publishing Company thus degenerated into a dummy corporation, without power to make decisions.)
The Newhouse management let Vail remain as publisher and editor, and gave him carte blanche to run the editorial department, as they did all their editors. As one of the beneficiaries of the Holden estate, he received a sizeable percentage of the purchase price, but his big dream of empire vanished with the sale. The Newhouse national management began to take a penetrating interest in the business office, made weekly visits to check on advertising and circulation, and soon brought in a troubleshooter from Birmingham, Leo Ring, who was an old hand at solving labor-mangement problems. To make the purchase pay off, Newhouse had to reduce the number of printers and start to introduce automation in all the production. This he did, fairly soon.
Young Vail was in sole charge of the editorial policy now, with a new team advising him. Boardman was in charge at the Press, but without Seltzer's clout. This was the situation
as the election of 1967 approached, a year and a half after the Hough riots had shaken the city. A hard choice had to be made, whether to continue to go along with bumbling Mayor Locher, or to try something new, to take the radical step of endorsing a black man in the hope of bringing peace to the racially troubled city. Locher by now had the full support of the Democratic organization, but Carl Stokes was again a candidate, and this time, he had a considerable number of white liberals and businessmen furnishing him funds.
There was much soul-searching and dissension at the Plain Dealer about the endorsement. Joseph F. Saunders, a columnist and editorial writer, a deeply religious man, who had become a powerful protagonist of civil rights, was strong for Stokes. Doris O'Donnell, the star reporter who had many contacts with the police, the FBI, and with lesser black leaders, had no confidence in Stokes and did not believe his past record as a liquor inspector or police prosecutor qualified him to be mayor. Finally Vail took the bull by the horns himself and decided to go all-out for Stokes, in the primary election. (Some of his political friends in Columbus told him he'd be sorry later.) Vail felt the endorsement would unite the restive blacks and the business community, and give the city a chance to move forward again, after the dismal years of Locher. He was in a rush to be first with the endorsement, around Labor Day.
The Press was wishy-washy about it at first, and recommended that the voters go for either Stokes or Seth Taft, the unopposed Republican candidate, in the primary. (That year there were party primaries, rather than a nonpartisan primary in which the first two qualified for the final.)
Stokes beat Locher in the primary by twenty thousand votes, an overwhelming margin, and by so doing took over what remained of the Democratic organization. Locher lost a lot of the ethnic voters on the West Side, because of Saunders's editorial appeals to them. Independents and do-gooders were eager to support the charming black candidate.
Then came the confrontation in November with Taft, who
was also a liberal and a do-gooder. Most of the ethnic voters who had supported Locher did go for Taft, and had he conducted even a mildly racist campaign, Taft would have won. Both newspapers' support of Stokes and his own conscience caused Taft to lose by sixteen hundred votes, in a real squeaker.
(Locher ran the next year for common pleas judge, and was unopposed. It was an ideal spot for him. He remained in common pleas until 1972, when he ran unopposed for probate judge. His judicial record has been excellent and few people now remember his days as mayor, because so much worse has happened since then.)
In retrospect, what had happened was crystal clear. Celebrezze's concentration on Erieview had neglected Hough, and the black community resented it. Locher did not sense the depth of this resentment, and did nothing. Riots broke out. This convinced the editors that Locher had to go, and the best way to beat him was to support Stokes, a black man who had white support. Their support convinced just enough voters to let Stokes win in the November final. But, as wise politicians had predicted, the editors came to regret it.
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