Maurice Maschke from Philip W. Porter


from Cleveland: Confused City on a Seesaw

by Philip W. Porter
retired executive editor of the Plain Dealer

courtesy of Cleveland State University, Special Collections

Maschke was much maligned, and unfairly so, by the Plain Dealer and Press editorial writers, but he bore the criticism philosophically. Reporters, on the other hand, learned that he always told them the truth, or nothing at all. He was respected by two generations of political writers. (An interesting paradox was that Maschke, a brilliant bridge player, one of the best in the country, was for years the favorite partner of the late Carl T. Robertson, the number two man among the PD editorial writers. Robertson, a determinedly independent man, refused to take part in writing denunciations of Maschke). Maschke was astute, well respected by other lawyers, by businessmen and even by his Democratic opponents. Tom L. Johnson praised him as a worthy opponent. Witt, though he professed a strong dislike of all bosses after Johnson died, praised Maschke publicly as a man of integrity (in contrast to his frequent aspersions against Hopkins). Gongwer respected and liked him. He was a ripe target for cartoonists and editorial writers. The name Maschke had a harsh, grating sound. He was bald, except for a wisp of hair on the back of his skull. He was not handsome. His large nose increased the prejudice of bigoted anti-Semites. He had a thin, reedy voice and seldom spoke in public until his later years, which was probably wise, for he was a poor public speaker.

Maschke went to Harvard (though he grew up in a poor neighborhood) both to the basic college and law school, and soon afterward gravitated into politics. He realized that the Republicans would have a tough time as long as Tom Johnson was running for mayor, so he concentrated on helping friends get elected to state and county offices. Two he helped were Ed Barry, who was elected sheriff, and Theodore E. Burton, elected to Congress, both despite a Democratic trend. Maschke sensed that Johnson’s popularity was beginning to erode and he rightly surmised that a respectable, colorless candidate might beat Johnson next time around. So he got his friend and protege, County Recorder Herman Baehr, to run for mayor in 1909. Maschke’s intuition was right. Baehr was the man nobody knew. He wouldn’t debate the brilliant campaigner Johnson. The people didn’t vote for Baehr; they voted against Johnson. (It was the old story of the Greeks deposing Aristides the Just, a man who was too good to be believed.) Maschke was now in the saddle as boss, after only twelve years as a practicing politician. He was appointed county recorder, to succeed his friend Baehr.

In 1911, Maschke was appointed customs collector by President William Howard Taft. In 1915, he was replaced by Burr Gongwer and began to practice law with John H. Orgill.

When Harry L. Davis was elected mayor in 1915, Maschke got back quickly into the city hall picture. The hall remained Republican all through World War 1. It was obvious that 1920 would be a Republican year nationally, too. Maschke sensed it early, and saw a chance to get into the national picture by coming out for Senator Harding. (The always Republican News endorsed General Leonard Wood, but Maschke’s delegates stuck with Harding, and won.)

The 1920 election, however, produced a temporary estrangement between Maschke and Governor Davis. Davis got the idea that Maschke had let him down in Cuyahoga County, which he almost lost. Maschke retorted that Davis had lost strength because his pro-labor attitude during the war had alienated businessmen in the suburbs as well as his home area, Newburgh, where the steel mills are located.

Maschke’s law practice was now making big money and he was on his way to becoming a wealthy man. His fees came largely from corporations, particularly from utilities, which were always deeply interested in getting legislation passed or killed. This type of law practice was, and is, the standard way for political bosses, and lobbyists, to make politics pay. Political law practice and political insurance business are the most familiar means, and they depend almost entirely on friendship and influence. If everything else is equal, few legislators, state, city, or national, will refuse a request from a party chairman to vote his way on a routine bill. And often on important bills, too. The boss makes promises, and holds the public officials to theirs. It has been a way of political life for centuries and still is.

The personal bitterness between Maschke and Hopkins continued even after Hopkins was ousted as manager. In the fall of 1931, when Hopkins was running for city council (to which he was later elected), they traded insults before the City Club Forum. Hopkins charged that Maschke had profited from city contracts, that contractors had hired him, that city employees were paying him for promotions, and that he, Hopkins, knew nothing about the 67/33-percent deal for jobs. Maschke retorted that Hopkins was a liar and an ingrate, “false, mendacious, spurious, a phrase-maker with an inherent capacity for deception,” and “I put him back on the sidewalk where Gongwer and I had picked him up in 1923.” It was a sensation.

Maschke in 1934 wrote his memoirs for the Plain Dealer, a remarkable thing for a political boss. In the final chapter, he described what qualities brought success in politics:

“Truthfulness, candor, foresight, courage, patience and a deep understanding of human nature. There is as much scheming in business as in politics, but in business it is mostly kept quiet. Politics is everyone’s business and it comes out. Truthfulness is supposed to be a normal quality of man, but somehow, truthfulness in politics distinguishes you.”

He was totally realistic about fame and fortune in politics. “When you win you are a great leader,” he said. “Lose a couple and people are ready to consign you to the ashheap.”

Maschke was way ahead of his time in understanding the value of racial integration in politics. He was the pioneer in backing such outstanding Negro public servants as Harry E. Davis for the legislature, school board, and civil service commission; Perry B. Jackson for the legislature, council, and municipal court; Clayborne George for council and the civil service commission. As long as Maschke was in charge, the black population of Cleveland remained Republican and stable. Today it is 95 percent Democratic and restless.

Maurice was also wise in his selection of first-rate candidates for the legislature. Not since the Maschke era has Cleveland been represented by legislators of the caliber of Dan Morgan, Harold Burton, John A. Hadden, John B. Dempsey, Herman L. Vail, David S. Ingalls, Ernest J. Bohn, Dudley S. Blossom, Chester C. Bolton, Laurence H. Norton, Mrs. Maude Waitt, and Mrs. Nettie M. Clapp. Choosing rich men like Blossom, Bolton, Norton, and Ingalls did Maschke no harm at campaign times, and it did the Establishment of that day no harm in having them on hand to make laws, but they were all first-rate, intelligent, concerned men, who took the lead in public affairs. Today it is hard to get men of real stature to run for the legislature and even harder to get them elected. In the Democratic era of the thirties, the Cleveland legislators were largely a bunch of zeros, hardly known beyond their neighborhoods, with little influence in Columbus. Later, the law was changed to elect legislators by districts, and the caliber of the candidates has improved some. It still is nowhere as high as it was in the twenties.

Maschke died of pneumonia in October 1936. His widow, Mrs. Minnie Rice Maschke, died at age ninety-five in March 1972. A son, businessman Maurice (Buddy) Jr., and a daughter, Mrs. Helen Maschke Hanna, still live in Cleveland.



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