Cleveland in the 1990’s – Mike Roberts

Michael D. Roberts was a reporter for The Plain Dealer in the 1960s and covered many of the events in that decade including the Vietnam War. He later edited Cleveland Magazine for 17 years.

The .pdf is here

Cleveland in the 1990’s
By Michael D. Roberts

The decade of the 1990s arrived like the sun bursting through a winter’s gloom. Hope and optimism reigned over the region as Cleveland prepared to celebrate its two- hundredth birthday, in 1996, an event commemorating the triumph and travail of an American city in its maturity.

A sense of pride that had not been felt in years seemed to abound, and it was only right that the changes in the city should be lauded nationally with Cleveland being designated an All American City in 1993. It was the fifth time the city had won the award since 1949.

However, by 1990, the population in the city fell by 68,000 persons, or 11.9 percent in ten years to just slightly over a half- million people, dropping it to the 23rd largest city in American. Forty years earlier it had been the sixth largest city in the country.

Meanwhile, the decline brought with it a population sprawl across the region that left the original inner ring of suburbs in the early stages of decline. The sprawl in Northeast Ohio was caused by an excellent highway network, cheap gasoline, inexpensive land and a desire for suburban living. Later, a deteriorating school system in Cleveland and the movement of jobs away from the central city added to the exodus.

The sprawl now extended beyond the original ring of suburbs into a secondary grouping like Solon, Avon and Concord. It was pushing even further into an exurban grouping of scattered communities that reached beyond the bounds of Cuyahoga County.

And with the population shift went income. Between 1990 and 2000 per capita income rose from $14,601 to $22,321 in the region. In Cleveland it went from $9,258 to $14, 291. But the disparity between income in the city and the suburbs had widened by $2,687 over the last decade.

Civic and business leaders applied a new strategy to revitalizing the Cleveland. Millions had been spent on urban renewal with out appreciable success and now a different idea took shape. The idea of making Cleveland a destination city, a place that would attract visitors and in turn, stimulate downtown with some of those suburban dollars.

The set-piece of this strategy was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an idea that circulated in the early 1980s and gained such momentum that it ended up in a struggle with the New York recording interests over its location. Based on the legend that Cleveland was the cradle of rock and roll in the 1950s, the city won out in a vigorous national competition capped by a poll in USA Today that supported its selection in 1986.

Radio station WMMS—named for nine straight years by Rolling Stone as the best rock station in the nation—played a key role locally in the drive to bring the rock hall here where today it has drawn more than eight-million visitors since it opened in 1995 on the lakefront, just west of East 9th Street.

The Great Lakes Science Center was constructed next to the rock hall and other buildings like the Key Tower, the tallest building in the city, and a totally renovated Tower City, gave promise to a new downtown. No project appealed more to the future of the city than Gateway, the complex that housed a new baseball stadium and arena.

But amid the scent of progress, were whiffs of despair. After 90 years on Public Square, The May Company closed its downtown store in January of 1993.

The once proud banking house of Cleveland Trust—which was founded in 1894, weathered the Great Depression and went on to become the symbol of the city’s financial establishment—found itself burdened by bad loans in the wake of a collapsing real estate market. It was forced to merge with the venerable Society Corporation in 1991. Cleveland Trust had become Ameritrust in 1979 when it became a nationally chartered bank.

Also, there were those who warned that the financing of many projects was akin to mortgaging the city’s future because millions in tax abatements were being issued as incentives toward another effort at saving and reviving downtown. Others argued that the neighborhoods and the poverty stricken were being overlooked in the rush to promote business.

Also, there remained the ever-increasing reality of Northeastern Ohio’s place in the global community. The region was no longer an entity to itself, a citadel of manufacturing and commerce with a talented and well-paid work force. The world was shrinking as was Cleveland’s place in it.

In 1980, manufacturing in Northeastern Ohio counted for 26.3 percent of the jobs. By the end of the decade, 18.4 percent of those jobs had been lost because of the global workplace. With the introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, even more manufacturing jobs bled off in the region as another 7.6 percent went by the wayside.

A national foundation survey of American manufacturing cities noted that only in Cleveland did it find executives who were virtually unanimous in blaming the city’s floundering economy on global competition.

As the 1980s began, the area hosted 12 Fortune 500 companies. In a little more than a decade, that number would dwindle to seven.

A Brookings Institute study found Cleveland lacking in entrepreneurial spirit, a condition that was first detected following the Depression when the large, surviving companies took on a conservative management style.

Another unseen dynamic that would play out later was the disappearance of the influence of the major law firms like Jones Day, Squire Sanders, and Baker Hostetler. From their inception early in the century, these firms had produced an intellectual reservoir that, in effect, could and occasionally did, act as a shadow government.

Often mayors would quietly draw upon the legal and corporate talent to assist with governmental problems. There were always special interests at stake and they often intermingled with the pro bono work of the law firm. While they continued to exist, the truth was there was less and less business here and the future lay in their offices elsewhere.

The media was in flux, too. By 1990, the area was served by only two major daily newspapers. The Akron Beacon Journal to the south of Cleveland, and The Plain Dealer in the city and the suburbs. Smaller, suburban dailies as well as a host of community weeklies existed to both the east and west.

Television had matured and found its place as a medium that could deal well with news that was easily captured visually, but it struggled with substantive issues. By now the print and electronic media had carved out their niches and attempted to service them to the reader or viewer satisfaction.

The internet had arrived, an oddity at first, but a technology so far reaching that it would not only alter global communications, but the way we lived. The traditional media—both broadcast and print—would enjoy its last decade of dominance before facing the challenge that the internet represented.

If the loss of the influence of the law firms on the city was noticeable, the loss of competition that the two newspapers generated had a palpable effect as well. The Cleveland Press, the most robust newspaper of its time, ceased publishing in 1982, leaving the market to the morning Plain Dealer.

The vacuum left by The Press generated the evolution of smaller publications that tried to fill the void. Cleveland had always been a secondary journalistic town, the two newspapers hostile to any attempt by any publication to enter the market. While other cities enjoyed an alternative press, Cleveland supported only the most sketchy efforts.

On the other hand, in the 1950s and 1960s, radio first, and then television enjoyed a national reputation from programming and providing talent that would find success in larger markets. Later the dwindling population and the impact of cable television would affect the market share that national advertisers sought, shifting their spending elsewhere.

Against this backdrop, a city struggling to reinvent itself, a victim of the global economy, with the loss of corporate and civic leadership, and a media in metamorphosis, emerged Michael Reed White, the 55th mayor of the City of Cleveland, a man destined to serve longer in that office than any predecessor and a man who, more than anything, challenged each obstacle, issue and personality he encountered.

He was clearly the dominant figure of the decade not only in the city, but the county as well. Traditionally, the mayor of Cleveland was recognized as the leading politician in Northeastern Ohio. A lot of this had to do with the city being the focal point of politics, economics and culture for the region.

While the suburban population was steadily increasing, its political clout was dispersed and unfocused as a crazy-quilt of 59 political entities existed in the county. For the past half century there had been efforts and movements to create a county or regional approach to governance. But the prevailing political forces ignored reform.

While cities, towns and villages had local governments, there existed a county government which was essentially an administrative body that collected taxes, and ran a variety of agencies and a criminal and civil court system. It was the job of three county commissioners to allocate monies to these agencies.

There were eight elected county officials who ran their offices as they saw fit. They reported to no other government official. Over time each office—the clerk of courts, the auditor, treasurer, recorder, engineer, sheriff, prosecutor, and coroner—built its own political apparatus.

This form of government was nearly 200 years–old and ill-suited for a county so complex in nature. It had no legislative capability and was prone to political manipulation with an impotent check and balance system.

Historically, the political power of city hall outmatched that of the county, and when Mike White came in office his presence was such that he was regarded as the mayor of the county.

White was the first generation of minorities to reap the full benefits of the civil rights era. Born in 1951, he grew up in Glenville in the 1960s, and proclaimed as a youth that someday he would be mayor of Cleveland. He went on to Ohio State, became the first black Student Union President and returned home to work as an assistant to Cleveland City Council before becoming the councilman for Glenville from 1978 to 1984.

While in council he became a protégé of George Forbes, who reigned as council president, and was the most prominent black political figure in the city. White later served in the Ohio Senate.

In the beginning, following his overwhelming victory in the mayor’s race over Forbes in 1989, any knowledgeable political observer, be they party member or political writer, gave White such high marks that he was thought to overshadow the legendary Carl B. Stokes, America’s first black mayor.

It was White’s turn, at 38, to consolidate those gains and further integrate black fortunes into the city while building the kind of government that would attract new businesses or at least retain jobs. The early days of his administration were marked by energy and enthusiasm. Arriving at work at 6 a.m., he impressed businessmen who saw him bounding up the city hall stairs at that early hour.

He exuded so much promise that he made the opening of his decade luminous along with the building and the visible progress that the city appeared undergoing. Articulate, passionate, intelligent, a black man representing a new generation, Mayor Mike White seemed to possess it all.

A poll taken in 1992 showed that 77 percent of whites interviewed believed that White had improved race relations in the city.

White came into office the recipient of much of the efforts that Mayor George Voinovich and Forbes had made in laying the ground work for Gateway and instilling confidence in developers like Richard Jacobs and Forest City, both of whom had made substantial investments in downtown.

White was a micromanager. And at first his efforts along these lines were both amusing and impressive. Driving to city hall he would see a pot hole and order it repaired by day’s end. He directed the erasure of graffiti and would rile against lazy municipal workers or shoddy work. He seemed to dedicate his energies to single- handedly lifting the city from its lethargy to a higher station, one that not only would exalt him, but all those who shared life here.

As time passed, it appeared that for every strength White possessed, he was cursed with a fault. His anxious nature to achieve was blunted by suppressed anger that could erupt at a moment’s notice. He would dismiss those who disagreed with him as if he were divine.

He created enemies over the merest issue, complained bitterly about the media and seemed constantly at war with the police department. Conversely, he was fiercely loyal to old friends, particularly Nate Gray, who was a life long companion and twice his best man.

The first major issue that White faced was the passage of a 15-year sin tax to underwrite the Gateway project that was to house both the professional basketball and baseball franchises. It was intended to develop the old Central Market area.

The tax was a county-wide issue. White worked hard for its passage which won by a scant 51 percent. City residents, opposing the use of public money for professional sports, voted it down. It was carried by suburban voters.

Also awaiting White was the paralyzing issue of the Cleveland school system, caught up in the throes of bussing for more than a decade. Its cost, the population drains from the city and the basic inability to educate was a burden of increasing magnitude.

By 1991, some black leaders were questioning the value of bussing. The activist Reverend Marvin McMickle asserted that white flight made bussing irrelevant, pointing out that transporting blacks cross town to sit in classrooms that were already 71 percent black made no sense. Other black leaders disagreed, but nearly everyone conceded that the schools were in disarray.

The Cleveland school board had become so politicized and contentious that its very existence was inhibiting progress. Over time, White used drastic measures on the school board, finally securing control over it by supporting a panel of candidates of his choice for office in 1993.

In his first term, the White administration had built more new houses in the city since the Korean War, talked the banks into investing $600 million in the neighborhoods and boarded up 500 drug houses in the city.

White negotiated concessions from the labor unions serving the city, and balanced the budget without raising taxes.

His critics maintained that he had done nothing for mounting unemployment and that his strident manner had created unwarranted friction in reaching his solutions, unnecessarily alienating many in the community.

The unemployment situation was at 7.5 percent in Northeastern Ohio between June of 1990 and June of 1993. Cuyahoga County lost 35,000 jobs in that period. The majority of these jobs were in the city. Later White would assert that his administration had created 10,333 jobs in the first five years of his office.

As the mayor concluded his first term, there were no serious challengers seeking to unseat him. The race in November of 1993 was one of the most inconspicuous campaigns in city history as David Lee Rock, a political unknown, told voters that he would arm the police department with submachine guns if elected. White won going away.

In December of 1993, amidst the anticipation of the opening of Gateway in the spring, Mike White made ominous mention of an unmentionable thought. There appeared to be other cities attempting to lure the Cleveland Browns from their birthplace.

There was reason to believe White’s observation. Attempts to build a new domed stadium in the 1980s had failed. Discussions dealing with the renovation of Municipal Stadium had been inconclusive, and Art Modell had shown no interest in being part of Gateway.

Modell had been one of the city’s great champions and benefactors since he bought the Browns in 1961. There was something strange afoot, but most fans could not believe that their beloved Cleveland Browns would leave town.

In the past, genuine alarm had been raised when rumors of the Cleveland Indians circulated and, on at least one occasion in the 1960s, a move to New Orleans had been cut off at the last minute. Part of the impetus for Gateway was a warning by Major League Baseball that the Indians needed a new stadium if it was to remain in Cleveland.

The National Football League had become dominated by men of means, millionaires who bought into the game as a pastime or hobby. The truth was time had by passed Art Modell. Once one of the league’s great innovators, Modell was no longer in a position to compete with these new elite owners for whom money was no object.

The pettiness of Cleveland politics had derailed efforts to build a domed stadium while other cities were erecting facilities of such magnitude that, in comparison, Municipal Stadium appeared worn and tired, a relic from the Iron Age.

Modell was aided in his deliberations by his friend, Al Lerner, who had made millions in the credit card business and came to Art’s aid by becoming an investor in his troubled holdings.

Lerner made his money in Baltimore and was now living in Cleveland. It was his desire to own a team in the NFL and he had done spade work to that end in Baltimore which had lost its team to Indianapolis in 1984.

For Cleveland’s suffering sports fans, 1995 would prove to be the best of times and the worst of times. The year started out with the task force assigned to study the Browns situation recommending that Municipal Stadium be refurbished.

On June 1, White announced that he supported a 10- percent parking tax. Five days later the Browns broke off contact with the city, Modell citing a need to give the community time to collect its thoughts and study its resources.

Sports fans continued to follow the story unaware of the impending doom. They were distracted by the fact that the Cleveland Indians for the first time since 1954 played in the World Series, though they would lose in six games to the Atlanta Braves.

Finally, in order to head off the possibility of a news leak, Modell announced on November 6 that the Browns were moving to Baltimore. The news came on election eve with the sin-tax extension on the ballot. It passed the next day by 72 percent. It was too late.

In the aftermath of the announcement, there was an outcry of anger and chagrin unlike heard here before. And no one was angrier than the angry man himself, Mike White.

White’s resulting denouncement of Modell and the NFL shook the football world and almost immediately guaranteed the city a replacement team, although the mayor fought to keep the Browns with threats and lawsuits and every form of intimidation that he could muster.

But White’s ceaseless attacks put the league in a position that it had to move quickly and decisively in placating the Cleveland fans with the offer of an expansion team in 1999, after a new stadium was built.

There will always be the lingering question as to why the stadium was built on the site of Municipal Stadium which occupied prime lakefront land. Many ask whether the city had once more missed an opportunity to develop its waterfront into vibrant and attractive location.

There had been six sites proposed and a commission selected by Mayor White chose the existing stadium location because the city already owned the land and construction could be completed in time for the 1999 football season. It would also be assured to be built while White was in office.

From the beginning, the construction of the stadium was a continuous controversy as overruns drove the cost of the facility over $300 million. At least that is what White reported to a skeptical city council two years after the stadium opened. As one reporter who tried to pin down the overruns, which were greater than Gateway, claimed it maybe that the true cost of the building might never be known.

The right to play in that stadium was won by Al Lerner who spent $530 million for an NFL expansion team, outbidding a half-dozen groups who vied for the franchise. White had endorsed Lerner. The Browns were back, but it would never be the same.

In July of 1996, the city paused to celebrate its 200th birthday, the exact day being July 22. A committee that had formed in 1992 managed to raise $80-million to spend on events and projects. The city was alive with concerts and festive gatherings. A lakefront trolley connecting Gateway with the North Coast Harbor was opened and the city’s bridges were festooned with lights giving a spectacular glow to the night. A plan was unveiled to plant 10,000 trees in the city over the next year.

White had promised Clevelanders that he would create a police department of some 2,000 officers, an increase of 500 officers. Crime was a problem in Cleveland, as it was in many urban areas, and as with other challenging issues he faced, White attempted to deal with if forcefully.

The Cleveland Police Department is virtually a culture to itself. It is also at the edge of the city, the sharp edge where the streets get mean, the duty dangerous and the hair-trigger nature of race is a trip wire.

When White took office, the city’s crime rate was beginning to climb after dropping in the 1980s. In 1990, there were 4,917 robberies, 3,259 assaults, 171 murders, a total of more than 9,000 violent crimes. During his years in office, crime steadily dropped despite a continuous change of police chiefs, eight in all.

A central concern of the business community was the access to Cleveland by air. It was thought that some of the companies that moved to other cities had done so because flights out of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport were limited. The global economy was again pressing the region to react to its requirements. The airport facilities needed expansion and new runways.

Hopkins had been the first city-owned airport when it was built in 1925. Over the years, the airport’s development languished, and the city was threatened with the loss of a major airline hub unless it improved. The problem was that Hopkins was land-locked and any expansion would require negotiations with suburbs.

White began a series of talks with Brook Park Mayor Thomas Coyne, who would lose neighborhoods in any expansion. The negotiations between the two mayors over the $528-million project ran an emotionally charged gamut beginning in 1992, both men belligerent in support of their positions.

In executing White’s airport expansion plan, the city became locked in a lawsuit with the City of Brook Park over the IX Center, which was located in that city and provided tax revenue to the municipality. Cleveland lost the legal battle to acquire the center, which sat in the way of runway expansion.

It took four years of litigation and failed negotiations before an agreement was reached in August of 1996 that enabled the airport to build a new runway, expand an existing one and create a taxiway out of yet another. The agreement preserved the IX Center for the time being.

In 2001, after reopening negotiations with Brook Park, Cleveland bought the IX Center for $66.5 million, twice what the next bidder offered, the deal included a land swap with Brook Park. The purchase of the exhibition hall would result in the 2005 conviction of Ricardo Teamor, one of the mayor’s confidants. Teamor later was sentenced to prison for bribing city councilman Joe Jones and confessed to paying kickbacks for city contracts.

When the administration’s attention shifted back to the airport, so did the omnipresent shadow of Nate Gray who became involved with airport parking. Several things enabled him to weave his special interest into the fabric of major projects in which the city engaged.

While it reported the news from city hall, The Plain Dealer failed to investigate the emerging suspicions over the conduct of city affairs. There was an internal conflict in the way The Plain Dealer went about its business. On the one hand, the publisher, Alex Machaskee, liked to court power, particularly city hall, and that very implication sent a message to the reporting staff to tread lightly.

Mike White used this situation to drive a wedge between the publisher and the editor. In doing so, he changed the culture of the newspaper in 1999 when a new editor, Doug Clifton from Knight-Ridder, began to bring outsiders to staff the newspaper.

The coverage of city hall intensified and the tension between the newspaper and city hall magnified.

The other failure was that of the county prosecutor’s office by now thoroughly politicized and blind to public corruption. More than one prosecutor would argue that the office did not possess the resources to combat white collar crime. Yet, it never made an effort to gain those resources.

Six years into his tenure, White drew increased attention from the media. The Plain Dealer reported that the turnover at city hall under White was running twice that of the Voinovich administration. Some 45 persons had departed the administration. By this time, he had gone through four police chiefs and four fire chiefs.

Shrugging off increasing criticism from the city council and the media, White sought a third term in office. Despite his drop in popularity, there was no political figure that was a serious threat to White. Councilwoman Helen Smith stepped forward to offer some opposition, but lost by some 25,000 votes.

In the always problematic school system, the mayor had not only positioned his candidates on the school board to gain control of a situation replete with problems, but sought to have the state legislature grant him the power to have city hall take over the operation of the entire school system.

In July of 1998, White took over responsibility of the troubled school system with its $600-million budget and implemented new leadership and reforms. It was a burden so immense that even the toughest task master found the path toward achievement littered with obstacles.

From 1990 until White left office in 2001, the Cleveland schools had seven changes in its top leadership which illustrated the chaos in which the system was operating. His selection of Barbara Byrd-Bennett in 1998 temporary halted the turnover as she lasted as the system’s chief operating office until February 2006.

Instability became the hallmark of a school system in dire need of help. The instability, in fact, seemed at times to be contagious in the city.

It struck the Flats in 2000. The Flats had gained a regional reputation as an entertainment spot that drew visitors from adjacent states. To sit in one of the waterside bars during a summer evening and watch the boats dock, four and five deep, alongside the restaurants was one of the city’s joys.

One public official described the Flats as “Cleveland’s front door.” The problem was that the throngs of thousands of visitors were not accompanied by needed security.

The alcohol and proximity of the river resulted in several drownings each summer and assaults became synonymous with the revelry.

White ordered the police department to crack down on the clubs in the Flats. Fire and health code violations began to close clubs. Some bar owners saw racial overtones in the police enforcement as city hall complained that minorities were not being treated equally in the operations in the Flats.

Slowly, what had been a showcase for the region went dark.

And then in a surprising move, on April 23, 2001, Mike White announced at Miles Standish School—where he was once a student—that he would not seek a fourth term. He said he had done what he had come to do and would never again run for public office.

Even his most severe critics acknowledged that White’s achievements were impressive. He built stadiums, expanded the airport, set an ailing school system on a new path, built housing and brought jobs to the city. It was not perfect. City Hall finances were a mess and under a state audit.

But history would not offer a satisfying conclusion for the man who was mayor longer than anyone else, and clearly one of the best.

Four years after White left office, a shadow descended over the record of his administration. In a packed courtroom in the Carl B. Stokes Federal Courthouse overlooking the Flats, Nate Gray, White’s best man, friend and confidant was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay $1.5-million in taxes for his role in public corruption.

White was adamant in telling reporters that the case was about Nate Gray and not Mike White.

The media would find this not to be true.

It was White who was the target of the investigation. The affidavit that the FBI submitted for the federal court’s permission to wire tap suspects was a sealed document, meaning it was illegal for the media to possess, let alone publish it which happened.

The FBI affidavit asked for the wire taps in order to investigate former Mayor Michael White. He was never indicted. Nate Gray refused to cooperate with federal lawyers and served more time in jail where he remains (as of 2012).

Authorities found that Gray had deposited $13.4 million in his bank account during the 12 years of the White administration.

It was a dark ending to a decade that had begun with such promise and held so much achievement. Mike White retired to raise alpacas on a farm in Newcomerstown, Ohio, in Tuscarawas County. He rarely makes public appearances and almost never deals with the media.

Undeterred, the city moved into another century with many old problems still lingering and even more beginning to fester. It was time for new leadership and new challenges. And in time there would be more corruption in public office which would lead to startling developments.

The final chapter: “Cleveland in the 2000s” by Mike Roberts is here

Cleveland in the 1980s – Mike Roberts

Michael D. Roberts was a reporter for The Plain Dealer in the 1960s and covered many of the events in that decade including the Vietnam War. He later edited Cleveland Magazine for 17 years.

 Cleveland in the 1980s
The .pdf of this article is here

            While the 1980s gave promise that Northeastern Ohio was reviving, there were historical and contemporary forces at work that would thwart any serious comeback. There was no reversal to the population exodus from the Cleveland. For the first time, the census showed a decline in Cuyahoga County. The biggest problem was a shrinking job market.

The Great Depression of the 1930s is generally regarded as a critical and devastating turning point in Cleveland’s history. By 1980, one could argue that no region in America was so permanently scarred by the Depression than the Cleveland area.

Now, another devastating economic force was descending upon the region. This time it was global in nature and it compounded the damage of the awful economic impact of the Depression. It was the globalization of industry and it was growing at a time when Cleveland was optimistically looking forward to a new decade

To understand the economic gyrations that the region faced in the 1980s, one has to reflect on the turn of the 20th century when Cleveland found itself on the cutting edge of what is known as the Second Industrial Revolution. An entrepreneurial spirit flourished here as rarely seen in America.

            In the early 1900s a diverse economy was emerging in the city as inventors and investors found their places in steel, machine tools, electricity, paint, automobiles, shipping and manufacturing. Entrepreneurs were attracted to the city and were welcomed by fellow inventors and industrialists.

            Seventy fledging automobile companies were located in Cleveland. Alexander G. Winton made the first commercial auto sales in the country here.

Technological spinoffs created new businesses at an astounding rate. For instance, the Brush Electric Company, founded in 1880, was directly responsible for the establishment of such blue chip companies as Union Carbide, Lincoln Electric, and Reliant Electric simply through the technological transfer of former employees.

            Key to the success of these aspiring enterprises was the ability to attract financial capital through which they could develop and market their innovations. The need for capital, in turn, created financial institutions attuned to the spirit of enterprise that permeated the community.

            At one time, prior to the Depression, the city hosted 38 banks and a stock market that carried more relative industrial stocks than its much larger counterpart in New York.

            Cleveland inventors were among the top producers of patents in the country, resulting in the creation of many small businesses which thrived because of the local financial markets.   It was the maturity of these companies that created the wealth that drove Cleveland.

            The Depression destroyed many of the city’s financial institutions and with their demise went the availability of capital. The small, entrepreneurial business that had spun off the innovation that created great companies withered and died.

            When the country recovered, the financial markets of the East Coast came to dominate. Even into the 1980s local business innovators complained in a common refrain that Cleveland banks were too conservative. The memory of the Depression lingered indelibly in bank ledgers.

            Years later a senior partner at Baker Hostetler, one of the city’s prestigious law firms, would explain that the reason the firm originally opened offices in other cities was to keep their wealthy clients who fled the city in the wake of the Depression.

The loss of a vibrant financial market cost the city’s economy the self reliance that had attracted so much innovation and success in the past. The city’s business culture changed from spirited entrepreneurs to conservative bureaucrats who shunned the risk that created wealth and who merely managed the large companies that had survived the Depression.

The other factor that had a long- range effect upon the region was its reliance on manufacturing jobs with limited knowledge requirements, but decent pay. This work did not need to be supported by higher education

World War II and the Korean War helped revive the regional economy, but postwar global forces were already at work that would be as powerful in its negative impact as the Depression. In fact, it could be argued that the Depression rendered the region unable to cope with the global events a half century later.

            The global economy began with the recovery of foreign nations from World War II and the emergence of cheap labor and a new wave of technology. It was most evident in the 1970s as foreign automobiles, the Japanese being most prevalent, began to challenge American manufacturers.

By 1980, with the vast federal highway system completed in the region and school busing an emotional city issue, the suburbs held more allure than urban life for those who could afford it. The population in Cleveland dropped 177,000 in the last decade to 573, 822.   Worse yet, Cuyahoga County experienced its first decline since 1810 with a 12.9% decrease to 1,498,400.

The loss was not all in the city. Parma, once the largest suburb in the state, dropped below 100,000, losing 7.7% of its population in the last decade.

Even the most casual observer could notice a change in the population shift by simply reading the high school football scores in the newspaper. Schools that had been remote and on the edges of the county were developing better teams, and becoming more competitive with those closer to the city. Schools like Aurora, Avon, Kenston, and others were more and more prominent in the sports news.

Added to the local issues, globalization was making its impact on the way people lived. In retrospect, the post war era in the region had been consumed by issues wrought by parochial politics and the reverberation of civil rights. At first, business and political leadership seemed impervious to the impact of world industrialization on the region.

State and local governments in the region did not react to the new world view because they were neither positioned nor prepared to do so. In Cuyahoga County alone there were 56 different governmental entities, and in reaction to the economic ill fortune they began to offer inducements to businesses in the form of tax cuts.

These inducements were made to attract or maintain companies, but they affected the tax base of communities. These cuts would be a first and inadequate response to the shifting marketplace.

The 1980s brought a new realization that local government had to change to a more regional concept if the area was to make its way in the changing world. The realization that we were no longer competing with an adjoining state, but with vast overseas markets brought with it a need to alter traditional economic and political thought.

            While regional or a county government had been proposed, discussed and even put on the ballot in the 1950s, it was not a compelling issue for the ordinary voter. The ethnic nature of politics and the growing emergence of minorities distracted from regional issues.

            Yet, economic necessities were forcing certain aspects of regionalism to be implemented. In 1968, the City of Cleveland found itself unable to maintain its port and was forced to merge with the county. Financial and political exigencies created the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District in 1972.   The city turned over some of its parks to a regional system when it could no longer afford upkeep.   In 1974, the city merged its bus system into the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.  

            One regional opportunity that eluded Cleveland was the failure to annex suburbs that wanted to purchase city water.   The government in Columbus, Ohio, grew its municipal boundaries by annexing in return for water and thrived.

            The unwillingness and the unpreparedness of community leaders to work for a regional government both pre and post World War 2 created a growing economic separation from the rest of the world. It would be a problem that plagued Cleveland and Northeast Ohio into the modern era.

The Northeastern Ohio area could claim the development and manufacture of the automobile since its inception. Generally regarded as the second most important automotive center in the nation, the impact of the global economy began to have a negative impact as imported cars rose in popularity with the American public.

Most noticeable though was the impact of globalization on the steel industry. Following World War II, American companies produced two-thirds of the world’s steel. It was a euphoric time as the industry continued to rely on aging technology to bolster profit margins.

The region’s steel mills were important contributors to this boom, but early in the 1970s it was evident that foreign competitors using new technology and cheaper labor were able to undercut the price of the product.

As double-digit inflation lay waste to the American economy in the early 1980s, adding to the steel industry’s travail, companies merged and unemployment spread. In Ohio in 1975 there were 20 steel companies operating 47 mills. Ten years later only 14 companies operating 23 mills remained. Employment and production had fallen to nearly half of what it had been in the decade before.

Other companies began to be effected by foreign markets and new technology. The venerated Warner & Swasey, one of Cleveland’s oldest companies known for optics and machine tools, was sold in 1980 and slowly dismantled, falling victim to the increasing computerization of industry.

The dwindling steel production saw more job loss in the Great Lakes shipping industry, causing unemployment on boats, on the docks and in related industries.

Having been weaned on manufacturing and heavy industry, the region fell behind in preparation and education for the oncoming knowledge-based technologies. Because universities near Silicon Valley, Boston and Pittsburgh had been the springboard of new technologies, those areas flourished as the 1980s progressed. Cleveland lagged and lost ground.

            But there were glimmers of enlightenment in the region. Kent State University began to do research with liquid crystals and Akron University was developing polymers which hopefully would replace a decimated rubber industry in that part of the region. The Cleveland Clinic was growing faster, on its way to becoming not only a preeminent hospital, but a place of medical discovery.

            Cleveland State University, late in coming on line, was nevertheless growing and beginning to have an impact on the community. Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, which had merged in 1967, was trying to create a new identity to meet the challenges of a new world. The truth was that the region had failed to devote the needed resources to higher education decades before and was now in a race to catch up with the rest of the world.

Thus, the global economy had a far-reaching effect on the daily lives in Northeast Ohio at almost every level. Things would never be the same.

            By 1980, Cleveland was exhausted and nearly inert from the political and racial turmoil that seemed to taint every issue that touched its citizens. It was so pervasive that during a political meeting on the East Side, an elderly black man leaned over to City Council President George Forbes and asked in all earnestness why no one could get along downtown.

The remark had a profound influence upon Forbes. It signaled that even the proverbial man in the street was sick and tired of a city hall that was a national joke and lacked the capability to staunch an ever increasing flow of population and business away from the city.

It also signaled how far the region was behind the rest of the global village.

The next decade in Cleveland would feature leadership that would attempt to bring order to the town.   Forbes was destined to be the most dominant figure. Outspoken and audacious, he had two agendas: helping blacks attain a respectable place in Cleveland society and making the city a better place for all. He could not achieve one without the other.

Together with Mayor George Voinovich, Forbes formed a leadership tandem that elevated the city from its chaos and engendered cooperation with the business community that had not been seen in years.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Forbes came here in 1950 after serving in the Marine Corps to attend Baldwin-Wallace College with the idea of becoming a minister. In time, his ambitions changed and in 1963, he was elected to the Cleveland City Council just as the civil rights movement was gaining traction.

By the 1970s, Forbes had become the most powerful black politician, following Carl Stokes’ tenure as mayor and his move to New York to become a television anchorman. Forbes was elected council president in 1973 and remained in that position throughout the 1980s.

After the tumult of the 1970s, the city needed a respite, and there was a sense of resignation on the part of the political and business leadership that in order for the city to have a future there needed to be more understanding and cooperation.

Only strong leadership could manage such a course through the no man’s land of tangled politics and civic malaise that was cast over the city as if a storm had passed through and left a wake of frustration.

Complementing Forbes was George Voinovich, elected mayor in 1980 who now was a seasoned public official, having served as a state representative, county auditor, county commissioner and lieutenant governor. Voinovich had the confidence of the business community and possessed a fiscal sensibility that gave city government a course of direction that it had not seen in a decade.

At first, Voinovich was leery of Forbes. By nature, Voinovich was conservative, quiet in his ways and not given to displays of emotion. The fact that he had the most successful political career of any mayor since Frank J. Lausche in 1944 testifies to his planning and patience. He was a man navigating a mine field when it came to his political career, careful with each step.

Conversely, Forbes was a man of action who paid little attention to the consequences. As city council president, he tolerated little deviation from his colleagues, fought frequently with the media and trumped with race-card politics. His radio talk show on WERE was regarded as outrageous, especially on the West Side where his humorous references to race were not taken lightly.

            If Voinovich tip-toed around controversial political issues, Forbes rushed through them like a rampaging bull. Together they made for interesting and effective leadership, something the city had not seen since the early Stokes administration

            Forbes had many admirers in the business community, especially James Davis, the managing partner of the powerful law firm Squires, Sanders & Dempsey. It was Davis who put the full weight of the firm behind Forbes when he was indicted on eleven counts for accepting a kickback from a traveling carnival. Davis rallied the business community to support Forbes, who was ultimately found innocent.

Davis acted as a mentor to the council president, instructing him in the ways of business, pointing out that government does not create jobs, but creates an environment where business can thrive and create jobs.

Something that was clearly not thriving as the decade opened was the Cleveland Press, the afternoon newspaper that had meant so much to the city for most of the century, at times acting as its very soul.   Time and circumstance had slowly sapped the strength from the paper. Television and an expanding highway system that lead from the city was destroying the newspaper. The six o’clock television news made the afternoon edition stale in content and the ever-broadening suburbs made timely delivery harder, limiting the newspaper’s reach to an ever-diminishing audience.

The history of The Press reached back 103 years and it was the flagship of the Scripps-Howard media empire. For 38 of those years The Press had been guided by Louis B. Seltzer, a self-educated man of such drive and vision that his will virtually dominated the city’s life in every way. There was no single person more powerful in the last century in Cleveland.

Seltzer understood the ethnic mix of Cleveland and promoted it through the newspaper. The process built reader confidence to such an extent that its endorsement, or lack thereof, could make or break a politician, project or position.

Regardless of his achievements, Seltzer had his flaws. The coverage of the 1954 Sheppard murder case would be judged by the U.S. Supreme Court as prejudicial to the defendant Sam Sheppard, who would ultimately be acquitted of the murder. Seltzer’s dominance over city hall was so complete that it had weakened the two-party system in a way that would affect politics for years.

Seltzer retired from The Press in 1965, but it was already clear that the newspaper was in decline. The Plain Dealer, for years an anemic competitor, had gained momentum through new management and by virtue of the times. The Plain Dealer staff celebrated the day it surpassed The Press in circulation in 1968.

After Seltzer left, The Press never regained its vitality. It was dutiful and competitive, but there was something troubling about its condition. It was almost like witnessing a friend or relative suffering a long and debilitating illness. It reportedly was losing $6 million annually.

It was no surprise then that in 1980, wealthy industrialist Joe Cole announced he had purchased The Press for $1 million and other considerations. Cole, long active in Democratic politics, intended to revitalize the newspaper and challenge The Plain Dealer.

The Press added color and a Sunday edition and outwardly appeared to be making a run at survival, but behind the scenes Cole was bleeding money at a rate he could not afford. Secretly, he began negotiations with the Newhouse family, owners of The Plain Dealer.

These negotiations resulted in the closing of The Press on June 17, 1982 in a transaction that saw the Newhouses pay Cole some $22.5 million for the subscription list of the Press, and its shopping news.

The circumstances surrounding the closing of the newspaper troubled its former employees and others who complained of antitrust violations. Finally, a federal grand jury was convened to hear testimony, but never returned an indictment,

The death of The Press would have a great impact on the city. The lack of competition would allow The Plain Dealer to lessen the intensity of its reporting over the next decade and in time the city and county would witness government corruption of historic proportion.

The issue of the municipal light plant, which had brought so much woe to the city for so long, still lingered. Voinovich was not about to let it simmer and come back to haunt him politically. Discussions of a possible sale to the Illuminating Company proved unsuccessful.

Finally, the administration confronted the issue by changing the image of what was known as “puny muny”, renaming it Cleveland Public Power and investing in its future. An embittered Illuminating Company countered by moving its headquarters to Akron.

Meanwhile, the embattled school system, under court- ordered busing, floundered from crisis to crisis. The office of superintendent was in a constant state of flux as one after another of the superintendents either failed or found himself in constant conflict with the school board. One superintendent even committed suicide.

The finances were so out of control that one study showed that the politicized custodians were making $1.3 million annually in overtime. The system needed $50 million to repair its buildings and the cost of busing was so expensive that the federal court ordered the state to pay half the cost. Busing did little to improve the academic standards of the system. The majority of students could not pass state proficiency tests.

Enrollment continued to drop, there was flight from the city and citizens finally passed a bond issue to repair schools only to have the school board and superintendent disagree on how the money should be used. The superintendent resigned in frustration. The school system appeared to be in a free fall.

The endless newspaper stories concerning the schools and the lack of quality education in Cleveland’s public system numbed readers, who turned elsewhere to relieve the constant reminder that they were witnessing failure on a massive scale. Sports would become an increasingly popular escape.

To that end, a foretelling meeting took place between George Forbes and a man named Richard Jacobs, a real estate developer who had enjoyed great success, but was little known in Cleveland circles. Jacobs had asked for a meeting with the council president to announce his intention to buy the Cleveland Indians.

The first thing Forbes asked is whether Jacobs could afford to do so. The developer just nodded and Forbes thought the man crazy.

Forbes reached for the phone and called Mayor Voinovich.

“Mayor, you better get down here quick,” Forbes said. I got a man in my office who wants to buy the Cleveland Indians…..Yes, he wants to buy the team with cash. Hurry, I’ll try to keep him here.”

The Cleveland Indians were city hall’s lingering nightmare. Since the 1950s, the team had floundered from one season to the next, cursed by bad luck, low attendance and indifferent ownership. In effect, it had become as much of a charity as any welfare agency in town, being passed from one wealthy family to another, who offered temporary sustenance, but no future.

Rumors that the team would move circulated annually, like a case of flu, and woe to the politicians in office if that was to occur. City Hall lived in fear of that moment. Several real attempts were made to move the team, but were staved off by aggressive newspaper coverage

The appearance of Jacobs would be a beacon of hope in more ways than one. The city had endured so much frustration and disappointment on so many fronts that its citizens had no contemplation of the future. That day in 1986 symbolized the dawning of new hope.

Richard Jacobs was an enigmatic man. Withdrawn, and circumspect to a fault, he was a brilliant businessman who had amassed millions developing shopping centers here and across the country.   No one shied from publicity as did Jacobs, so when he bought the Cleveland Indians, his name was as obscure to the public as some of those who played for him.

A native of Akron, Jacobs and his brother, David, had worked hard at building their business and appeared to be diverting somewhat from real estate to dabble in sports, a familiar path taken by men of means who wanted test their fortune in the public arena.

But Jacobs was not your average wealthy man playing at the game. In the beginning, he knew next to nothing about the business of baseball. However, he brought an intensity and financial acumen to the game the likes that had not been seen since the glory days of Bill Veeck in the 1940s.

He also had a keen eye for executive talent which, in turn, assembled a farm system that within a few years would produce a core of players that in the next decade would take the Cleveland Indians to two World Series.

While baseball was the most visible of his pursuits, Jacobs invested in the city in other ways. He purchased Erieview Tower, the orphan left from the aspirations of the ill-fated urban renewal projects of the 1950s, and built a stunning shopping mall on the top of a discarded ice rink called the Galleria.  

Later, he announced the construction of a new skyscraper on Public Square that would be known as Society Center which eventually became Key Center. He proposed yet another such building for the Ameritrust Bank on the western side of the square.

Already downtown was booming, aided by tax abatement, with the kind of building that had not been seen since the city’s halcyon pre-Depression days. Sohio cleared the eastern side of Public Square in 1985 and built a 45-story office building that respectfully maintained a lower profile than the Terminal Tower in height.

Forbes and others had urged Sohio to surpass the Cleveland landmark as a symbolic gesture of a new era. Sohio officials wanted to preserve the past and opted to allow the Terminal Tower to be the dominant skyline feature.

Not so Richard Jacobs. As the plans for his tower on Public Square evolved, a reporter asked whether it would be taller than the Terminal. In a rare moment of candor, Jacobs responded:

            “You’re damned right.”

Key Center would ultimately rise 888- feet tall, overlooking the Terminal by 180 feet. It was that symbolic split with the past that Forbes had sought from Sohio, a signal of a new kind of spirit in town.

            In a sense, Jacobs represented the pre-Depression drive that had fuelled Cleveland’s early growth

That spirit was typified by the building that was taking place downtown. National City Center rose 35 floors on the northwest coroner of East 9th Street and Euclid and opened in 1980. Eaton Center on Superior and East 12th Street was a 28-floor structure that was completed in 1983. Across the street the Charter One Bank building opened its seven stories in 1987.

In 1983, on East 9th Street, the silver, chisel-like structure knows as One Cleveland Center reached 31 stories high, the fifth tallest building in the city at the time.

            Ameritech built a 16-story contemporary headquarters on East 9th Street in the Erieview Plaza, the site of the controversial urban renewal project that was planned some thirty years prior.

            In 1985, where the old Cleveland Press building stood, a 19-story office building called North Point was built, housing the now international law firm of Jones, Day.

While all of these projects were changing the city’s skyline, its trademark symbol, The Terminal Tower, until 1964 the tallest building in the country outside of New York City, was undergoing a dramatic remake aimed at refocusing Public Square as the heart of Cleveland.

Forest City, a national real estate company founded by the Ratner family here in the 1920s, received $73-million in government loans and aid to convert the Terminal Tower concourse into a vast shopping and business facility now called Tower City Center. The dramatic make over featured some of the nation’s most fashionable stores.

Dick Jacobs’ influence was felt in other ways. His Cleveland Indians played in the dismal confines of Cleveland Municipal Stadium, a cavernous ballpark opened in 1931 that was considered a grand achievement in its time. The stadium was home to the Cleveland Browns as well and operated by the Stadium Corporation, a business entity that leased the facility from the city. Stadium Corporation was run by Art Modell who was the principal owner of the Browns.

Since 1961, when he arrived from New York and bought the Browns, Modell was celebrated as the city’s sports impresario. Outgoing, self deprecating and emotional, Modell carried with him the stigma of having fired one of the best coaches in all of football, Paul Brown, and then never delivering a team that matched the consistency under him.

Shortly after buying the Indians, Jacobs asked Modell to review the lease agreement the team had with Stadium Corporation. The Indians were getting less of the advertising revenues from the signage than the Browns, even though the baseball team played far more games.

            Modell refused, and while it was a minor thing it was an ominous omen of things to come. It was clear to Jacobs that he had to have his own stadium if his baseball venture was to be successful.

            At one point he asked Modell if the Cleveland Browns were for sale. They were not, replied Modell. Jacobs longed to own a National Football League franchise.

For years there had been talk of building a new stadium or putting a dome on the existing field. The conversation and proposals were aimless, typical of how the city dealt with major municipal projects. But the town was coming to the understanding that if it was going to keep major league sports, something would have to be done about a new stadium or even stadiums.

Other cities were building new stadiums and the baseball commissioner publicly commented that unless Cleveland followed suit there was the distinct possibility of the Indians moving to another town.

In 1984, a proposed increase in property taxes was put on the ballot to finance a domed stadium. Raising property taxes was a political mistake of the first order and opponents had a field day. The issue also was soundly defeated, a signal that the public was reluctant to support the construction of a sports facility at its own expense.

The failure of the tax issue sent Modell a message. In all likelihood, there would be no new stadium in the near future and his best course of action would be to improve the existing structure. The Stadium Corporation was responsible for the upkeep of Municipal Stadium and the money for improvements would have to come from the corporation.

Modell asked the city for a ten-year extension on the stadium lease, expecting quick approval since the city enjoyed a constant stream of revenue from the arrangement. Negotiations lingered for nearly a year before he dropped the proposal, his frustration increasing.

For all of his civic involvement, and it was substantial, Modell never had a true sense of politics. He contributed to campaigns, knew four Presidents, but lacked clout at city hall, possibly because he never really needed it. Now circumstances were changing and rapidly.

Dick Jacobs had little political savvy when he first showed interest in the city and its baseball team. But he was a quick study, a man who did not delude himself about the limits of his knowledge. His quiet manner belied the fact that he was always working, gathering information about the city and those who made it work.

Everyone around him was a source and he politely used those sources to gain needed insights into his interests. He did not suffer fools and was quick to judge who might be helpful to him and who might not.

In this way, he gained an edge on Modell in the maneuvering for a new stadium. Modell waited for the city to call him, Jacobs had his strategy in place before most even knew there was any need for one.

For all of the love for the Browns and Indians, there was a resentment toward supporting the teams with public money, part of a psychology that had plagued the city from its populist days. There was an underlying suspicion that progress actually meant that someone was taking unfair advantage of the public. This shadowy mistrust would manifest itself in many ways in the succeeding years around the stadium issue.

As far as Dick Jacobs was concerned, there was no question that the city needed a new stadium and so did he. He needed it to succeed with the Indians and did not hesitate in his efforts to achieve that end.

The organization that had attempted to build a domed stadium had acquired 28 acres of land in what was called the Gateway area on the site of the old Central Market at Ontario and Carnegie Avenues. Jacobs looked at this area as the location of a new stadium, first proposing a 44,000-seat stadium that could roll out another 28,000 seats for football. It was an effort at compromise, but in truth, all parties wanted an outdoor baseball-only facility.

That included Modell who found himself in financial straits. Free agency in the National Football League had changed the economics of the game, and the maintenance   of the old stadium was unexpectedly expensive. It was clear that the new baseball facility would cost him a tenant, and the likelihood of there being enough money available to build two stadiums appeared remote. He had no choice but work on a plan to renovate Municipal Stadium.

Modell proposed a renovation of the facility that would modernize it and cost taxpayers less than $100 million. The idea drew a lot of attention, but city hall appeared to be cold to the idea.

As the decade drew to a close it was clear that the Gateway site would hold a new ballpark if voters would pass a sin tax on alcohol and cigarettes. It was unclear what was going to happen to Municipal Stadium. No one knew it yet, but the uncertainty of the stadium’s fate would lead to the bitterest moment in Cleveland sports history.

Elsewhere, the city was enjoying itself. The once-shabby Flatarea near the mouth of the Cuyahoga River had come to life as a retinue of bars and restaurants lined its banks, creating an atmosphere of gaiety that had not been seen in the city in years.

Boaters docked at the river’s edge and enjoyed the revelry. Acclaimed in the national media, Cleveland’s Flats became a symbol of a revived city that was basking in its apparent good fortune. A reported $2 billion worth of construction was altering its skyline. For the first time since the Depression, there was genuine optimism about the future.

            Not only were the Flats burgeoning with excitement, but Playhouse Square and its grand theaters, which were on the verge of being razed in the 1970s, took on a new life, its marquees once more aglitter. Playhouse Square was once again developing into an entertainment district that could rival most cities. It was a prime example of what the city’s civic effort could achieve in preserving the town’s cultural heritage.

But amidst all the good news, came a dour note. It was announced in 1987 that one of the city’s most venerable and benevolent companies, Standard Oil of Ohio, known as Sohio, was being taken over by British Petroleum.

Sohio could trace its roots to the beginnings of John D. Rockefeller’s oil empire that began in the Flats in 1870. The wealth that he and his associates created became the foundation of Cleveland’s future cultural and commercial life   Slowly, the red and white Sohio signs on gas stations were replaced by the green and yellow BP colors and another era faded away.

BP kept its American headquarters here for a few years, but ultimately moved to Chicago when it merged with Amoco. The loss of old businesses would be a recurring theme in the city as the manufacturing era faded, taking with it jobs and economic security.

The ominous shadow of globalization continued to be cast across a city that had allowed itself to dwell in the past.

When George Voinovich left the lieutenant governor’s job to run for mayor, he told those business leaders that urged him to return to Cleveland that it was his wish to run for governor some day.

He was reelected twice as mayor and it could be argued that his time in office was one of the most productive in the modern era.

Voinovich projected the city’s comeback image nationally, his administration winning three All-American City awards for Cleveland, which he in turn leveraged in a run for higher office.

In 1988, Voinovich ran for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Howard Metzenbaum and was thoroughly defeated, 57% to 43%. The following year he announced he would not seek reelection as mayor. He would run for governor in 1990 and win.

After a decade of progress and relative tranquility, the 1989 mayor’s race broke with the fury and force of an unexpected storm. It was a contest between the past and the future, the mentor and the pupil, the lion in winter and the tiger at dawn.

If George Voinovich could look back on his stewardship with some pride, Council President George Forbes could share in the glow. In the end, and not without some difficulties in style, the two performed well together and the city benefited from it.

Now with the mayor’s office vacant, Forbes eyed it warily. Business leaders urged him to run, especially Dick Jacobs who had developed a friendship with the council president. Forbes had been in city council for 25 years and had endured some of the most difficult years in the city’s history.

Some close to the campaign wondered   whether Forbes had his heart in being mayor.

There was no doubt that his opponent, Michael White, had his heart in the race. Young, articulate, volatile and smart, White had grown up in the city council dominated by Forbes.   He had learned the vagaries and manipulations and politics that governed that body and now he wanted to guide the city’s destiny.

There could not have been a clearer demarcation between the two eras than a contest between George Forbes and Mike White. If this was a moment of historical transition, the shifting of power would not take place in a quiet, well- ordered manner.  

These were two strong- willed men who knew the streets of the city as well as the halls of government.   It was apparent that they did not like each other and would conduct a bitter fight over the race. Forbes accused White of being a slum landlord and a wife beater, while White countered by calling Forbes’ wife a front person for shady investments.

White, a state senator at 38, used the city’s success against Forbes saying that wealthy investors were given special tax breaks without regard for the poor. It was as nasty a political campaign has the city had ever seen.

With two black candidates fighting for votes, the white community became the pivotal factor and there was no reservoir of good will residing there for Forbes. His talk show days on WERE in the 1970s where he had made light of racial issues came back to haunt him.

To many white West Side voters, Forbes symbolized the racial conflict in the city. Those close to Forbes knew that many of his actions were more theatrical than real, but the perception was enough to cost him any chance of election citywide.

He seemed to know it, too. During the campaign, as the polls mirrored the impossibility of it all, Forbes seemed to mellow and back off. He had served longer than any other person as the president of city council and had left his mark on the city in many ways.  

And he had, as that old man asked ten years before, answered the question of people getting along downtown. Yet most of the progress in the decade was cosmetic, and failed to address the city and the region’s place in the on going globalization that was enveloping the world.

The 1980s proved to be, at best a brief respite from reality. The ghost of the Depression and the specter of globalization still loomed heavily on the future of Northeast Ohio.

            Mike White won the election to become the first black mayor since Carl Stokes in 1971.   The 1990s beckoned with promise. White appeared dynamic, driven toward maintaining the momentum that had been so hard to generate after the turmoil of the 1970s.

            The upcoming decade would be bittersweet, full of triumph and disaster and Mike White would ride it through as the longest- sitting mayor in Cleveland’s history. But the city mattered less and less to the future and prosperity of the region.

            There continued to be a desperate need to confront the reality of the region’s place in the world.

The next chapter: “Cleveland in the 1990s” by Mike Roberts is here