How the Cuyahoga Valley became a national park, Akron Beacon Journal, March 30, 2024

U.S. Rep Ralph Regula quietly got the Cuyahoga Valley Recreational Area named a national park in 2000

The inside story of how the Cuyahoga Valley became a national park
by Bob Downing, Special to The Akron Beacon Journal

U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Navarre, often said Americans know what they will find at national parks but national recreation areas are more murky, more mysterious, more unknown. His pet peeve was that the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area was not a national park.

That’s why he singlehandedly changed the name of the Cuyahoga Valley park in 2000. It quietly went from Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

He simply added one sentence to a House appropriations bill. It said: “The Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area is redesignated as Cuyahoga Valley National Park.”

That bill with Regula’s sentence was approved by Congress, signed by President Bill Clinton and became law on Oct. 11, 2000.

It is a method that has been used by other federal parks in recent years to become more-attractive national parks.

Regula, who died in 2017, has been widely hailed as a founding hero of Cuyahoga Valley with its popular Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. He worked with U.S. Rep. John Seiberling, D-Akron, to establish the 33,000-acre park between Akron and Cleveland in 1974. Regula served on a House appropriations committee and funneled $200 million in federal funds to Cuyahoga Valley during his 36 years in Congress.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula R-Navarre, who is leaving congress after 36 years, and his wife Mary posed together at their farm on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008, in Navarre, Ohio. (Lew Stamp/Akron Beacon Journal)

He also worked in 1996 to establish the Ohio & Erie Canalway. That federal corridor stretches from Cleveland through Akron and Canton to New Philadelphia and links Cuyahoga Valley to communities outside the park boundaries.

But Regula’s role in the park’s name change was not widely known. Regula made no announcement at the time and neither did Cuyahoga Valley. There was no media coverage. Word of the name change trickled out. Regula’s role in changing the name was not fully explained, although park officials were fully aware of what he had done.

Regula’s son, Richard, a Stark County commissioner, said he had no knowledge of his father’s role in changing Cuyahoga Valley to a national park in 2000.

“But that sounds like Dad,” he said. “He loved the (Towpath) Trail and he loved the park.”

A marker recognizing former congressman Ralph Regula is displayed near the Everett Covered Bridge in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The marker is on land owned by Metro Parks, serving Summit County

‘You’ve got a new national park’

The name change provided Cuyahoga Valley National Park with more prestige and more visitors. Very little else changed. It’s no secret that national parks are the stars of the federal park system and are the most popular and the biggest attractions. The change required new signage and updated maps and brochures with the new name in the Cuyahoga Valley park.

Brandywine Creek flows through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Regula’s role becomes clearer in a National Park Service oral history recorded in 2006 by former National Park Service Director Robert G. Stanton.

He recalled that Regula had called him in 2000 to say, “Bob, you’ve got a new national park.”

That surprise announcement from Regula is part of a Stanton oral history conducted by NPS staffer Janet McDonnell.

Stanton called Regula’s actions “interesting” and praised Regula’s chutzpah in making the change.

“I love that,” Stanton said.

The change also happened immediately, thanks to Regula, he added.

Stanton said he had worked closely with Regula, a friend, and they had a productive relationship funding federal parks at that time.

Regula’s action also changed Cuyahoga Valley to a national park with no input from the National Park Service itself. The park service opposed the move when it learned of the change, but it was then too late.

CVNP now ranks 12th for visitors among national parks

Walking sticks are left at the entrance of a trail Wednesday at the Everett Covered Bridge in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Regula first told John Debo of his plan to change the park’s name at a celebratory dinner for the park’s 25th anniversary in July 2000 at Blossom Music Center, recalled Debo, the park’s superintendent from 1988 to 2009.

Three weeks later, Regula introduced the change.

“It was his achievement, his achievement alone,” Debo said in an interview. “It was a wonderful thing….It was one sentence, but that is all you needed.”

Under strict federal rules, park superintendents can have discussions and answer questions from members of Congress but they are barred from lobbying Congress members, Debo noted.

There had been no serious discussions in Cuyahoga Valley about seeking a change to become a national park prior to Regula’s move, he said.

A boardwalk trail brings visitors a more accessible view of Brandywine Falls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Dan Rice, president and chief executive officer of the Akron-based Ohio & Erie Canal Coalition, praised Regula for being smart, clever and masterful in getting the name changed.

“As an incredible advocate for Northeast Ohio and the region, Congressman Ralph Regula recognized the importance of the name change from a national recreation area to a national park for Cuyahoga Valley,” Rice said. “Through his visionary leadership and masterful legislative skills, Congressman Ralph Regula elevated Cuyahoga Valley National Park alongside Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite national parks. With a stroke of the pen, Cuyahoga Valley became Ohio’s only national park, ensuring a legacy for future generations.”

Last year, Cuyahoga Valley ranked 12th for total visitors among the 63 national parks, with 2.8 million visitors. Great Smoky Mountains National Park was No. 1 with 13 million visitors. Cuyahoga Valley ranked ninth the previous year.

The full national park system consists of 429 units including battlefields, national monuments, seashores and lakeshores, rivers and scenic and historic trails. There are dozens of different types of federal properties within the overall system that covers 85 million acres and attracts 325.5 million visitors per year. That total is up 13 million or 4% from 2022.

Brandywine Falls in Northfield Center Township is a favorite stop for visitors to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The politics of national parks

Interestingly, Indiana Dunes National Park used Regula’s tactics in 2019 when it became a national park, and its now-retired superintendent had close ties to Regula and Cuyahoga Valley

Paul Labovitz retired in July 2023 as Indiana Dunes superintendent after nine years. He was previously a NPS trail planner in the Midwest and was stationed in Cuyahoga Valley. He played a key role in establishing the Regula-supported Ohio & Erie Canalway.

Asked if he was familiar with Regula’s name-change action, Labovitz said, “Of course. I was there….He knew how to get things done.”

Brandywine Creek flows through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Northfield Center Township.

His park on Lake Michigan near Michigan City, Indiana, was created in 1966 as Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The push to change the name was led by U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Indiana. He had introduced legislation in 2017. That effort failed. The name change had been opposed by the park service.

He knew Visclosky had alternate plans, but wasn’t sure what would happen next.

The name change was quietly slipped into the omnibus spending bill by Visclosky in 2019. It passed Congress and was signed by President Donald Trump. Visclosky left Congress in 2021.

The park covers 15,000 acres and is the first national park in Indiana. Stephen Mather, the first NPS director, had proposed making the dunes a national park in 1916 — but it didn’t happen.

Labovitz said other federal parks have used the Regula method in recent years to get parks redesignated as national parks: Gateway Arch in Missouri, White Sands in New Mexico and Pinnacles in California.

“Getting a park designated a national park is 20% dependent on resources and 80% dependent on politics,” he said. “It takes political muscle to get things done with the National Park Service.” The best solution would be to turn all federal parks into national parks, he said.

Bob Downing is a retired environmental writer for the Akron Beacon Journal.

In mirror he sees color of success by Regina Brett, Plain Dealer Sept 7, 2007

In mirror he sees color of success

September 7, 2007 | The Plain Dealer

Justin Bibb still gets accused of acting white.

He was a seventh-grader at Shaker Middle School when I first met and interviewed him. That was seven years ago.

Back then, some black kids tormented Justin for being smart. They spit on his food at lunch. Called him names. Punched him. One day in the restroom, they urinated on his daily planner.

Back then, Justin cried himself to sleep some nights. His dad put him in private school after a boy picked up Justin and dropped him on his head in gym class.

Back then, a black principal suggested to Justin’s parents that his interests – debate and studying hard – were too white.

Last week, I was sitting at a restaurant when a tall, GQ-handsome black man in a crisp black suit and deep purple dress shirt called out my name. I recognized his eyes.

Justin Bibb.

He’s 20. He left Shaker Heights for Orange Christian Academy and went on to graduate from Trinity High School. He’s a junior at American University in Washington, D.C.

He interned his freshman year with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas. Sophomore year, he interned with Sen. Barack Obama. He was elected president of his pre-law fraternity.

He got a scholarship to study urban issues in one of the poorest neighborhoods in D.C. He created a nonprofit called D.C. Today-D.C. Tomorrow to help students create service projects and become leaders.

Justin interned this summer at the Cleveland Clinic. He leaves in two weeks to study abroad. He’s spending his junior year at the London School of Economics.

The boy he once was told me, “Why can’t I be who I am?”

The man he is gets quiet about that painful time.

“I didn’t really know who I was,” he said. “Kids were calling me white, yet I look in the mirror and see an African-American male.”

Justin grew up in Cleveland where his mom taught him to dress for success, for the part you want in life. His first day of school, he wore a buttoned-down dress shirt tucked into khakis. The taunting began.

Justin has straddled two worlds, splitting time with his mom in Cleveland and his dad in Shaker. He has caddied at a country club and has worked construction jobs in the inner city.

At college, he sees too few black males. In some classes, he’s the only one.

“The spotlight is on you. You represent the black race,” he said. “I’m on the path not just for me, but to help another brother. I represent them.”

Justin believes every success he makes will show others that blacks are so much more than what TV and movies depict.

He tells kids it’s not acting white to be successful. He reminds them that Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X both wore a suit and tie.

“We’ve lost that sense of history,” he said.

He doubts the stereotyping will stop anytime soon. The key, he said, is don’t let it stop you.

Justin has no regrets. His experience at Shaker taught him a message he passes along to every child who wants to achieve:

“Dream big,” he said. “The dream has to be greater than the struggle.”

Join Regina Brett today at 9 a.m. on WCPN FM/90.3, where she hosts “The Sound of Ideas” every Friday. Today’s topic: “Reading. What’s on your nightstand?” To reach Regina Brett:, 216-999-6328

Fred Nance has crossed boundaries both real and symbolic Oct 12, 2008 profile of Cleveland attorney Fred Nance October 12, 2008

Fred Nance has crossed boundaries both real and symbolic

“See those boys on bicycles?”

Fred Nance, one of the region’s most powerful and influential citizens, eased his tan Escalade to a stop. He pointed at the trio of black boys pedaling furiously through an intersection near the Cleveland-Shaker Heights border.

Nance grinned and waved at the passing parade. They looked like city kids, not yet teenagers, racing home after a suburban adventure.

He didn’t know them, but he recognized them.

“There was me when I was their age,” Nance said. “That’s exactly what we used to do.”

His eyes followed as the boys disappeared into the streetscape, taking with them any chance to learn their past or witness their future.

“I used to ride my bicycle from East 135th Street and Kinsman, where we lived, to Shaker Heights,” he said. “I knew there was a different world than the one I saw every day in my neighborhood. I caught a glimpse of it, through the trees and across the lawns as I pedaled along South Park Boulevard, just like them.

“And I’d say to myself,” he continued in a low voice from a long-gone time, ” ‘Someday, I’m going to be a part of that world, too.’ “

Let the record show: Fred Nance has arrived.

Regional managing partner at Cleveland-based Squire Sanders & Dempsey, one of the globe’s whitest-shoed law firms, Nance, 55, is a confidante to mayors and the go-to guy for nearly every civic project that’s come Cleveland’s way during the past two decades. He is one of this region’s most recognized and influential citizens.

That’s the public side. In private, Nance is one half of a civic-minded couple. His wife, the former Jacqueline Jones, heads the LeBron James Family Foundation, an Akron-based group that helps children and families in Northeast Ohio. Both husband and wife are high-profile attorneys.

Fred’s working-class childhood shaped his life. Jakki, as everyone calls her, grew up in comparative affluence. As a married couple, they complement each other. She’s the playful, outgoing and social counterpart to his more serious, studied and practical personality. Both are committed to improving the region.

Venturing beyond racial borders

Nance was set on his path during the long, violent summer of 1966.

In a social experiment that preceded Cleveland’s failed school-desegregation efforts, Jesuit priests recruited 12-year-old Nance to attend St. Ignatius High School on the near West Side.

“Even though I was far and away the best student at my inner-city grade school, I wasn’t deemed to be quite up to their standards,” Nance said. “So after I applied and was accepted to St. Ignatius, I had to take remedial classes that summer to get into the school in the fall.”

This was years before busing became the long-running court case that Nance would argue against on behalf of the Cleveland School District in federal courts. No, at this moment, Nance found himself waiting at the intersection of East 55th Street and Woodland Avenue for a bus to take him across the Cuyahoga River and the city’s racial borders of east and west, black and white.

For six days during that summer, rioters burned and looted in the Hough neighborhood after racially charged clashes between a white business owner and black customers. Young Fred watched in awe as National Guardsmen with fixed bayonets rode past in military halftracks on their way to engage the rioters.

“I watched guys come out of stores and smash the windshields of cars with sledgehammers and throw bricks through store windows,” Nance recalled. “I’m just a 12-year-old kid, standing on the corner and thinking: ‘There’s got to be a better way.’ I wanted to empower myself so that this wasn’t what I or the people I loved have to resort to.”

Right then, Nance made a promise to himself.

“I figured out, standing on that corner, that the advantages in life must go to the people who understand the rules of the game and who are in a position to manipulate them,” he said. “I decided then I wasn’t going to be a powerless victim, and I figured that being a lawyer was the way to go.”

He entered St. Ignatius that fall at the bottom of his academic class. Four years later, he graduated with an A average and rejected full scholarships to Princeton and Yale for one to Harvard.

“A lot of what followed for me happened as the result of the transition from one world to another that took place at St. Ignatius,” Nance said. “It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t especially easy socially.”

After graduating from Harvard and the University of Michigan Law School, Nance returned to Cleveland in 1978, joining Squire Sanders & Dempsey as one of the few black associates at the firm. In 1987, he became a partner.

His life and career took a dramatic turn in 1991 when Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White needed a lawyer to represent him in a grand jury investigation. White wanted Charlie Clarke, then the dean of Squire Sanders trial attorneys.

White settled on Nance only after Clarke canceled appointments with the mayor and sent the young and promising black lawyer in his place. As Nance recalled, Clarke’s motive was to give him an opportunity that would promote his career. It worked to perfection.

“At first Mike wasn’t all that impressed with me,” Nance said. “But in time it clicked. He started asking me to work on different legal matters for him.”

Two years after that rocky start, White called Nance to ask him to negotiate a lease for him.

“I told him the only experience I had with that was signing a lease on an apartment when I was in law school,” Nance said, laughing at the memory. “He said just take care of this for me.”

The lease turned out to be the contract between the city and Art Modell, who wanted to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. When the legal wrangling ended, the team had moved, but the city kept the Browns’ names and colors and the promise of a new team in 1999.

That legal work thrust Nance into the big time, and he bloomed as the go-to lawyer in Cleveland.

In the early 1990s, he was working on the busing case when he met Jakki. His first marriage had ended after 10 years. Jakki, too, was divorced and working for another law firm.

Their courtship is the stuff of family lore. Thrust together on the legal project, the two lawyers huddled over one-on-one lunches. Following each meeting, she billed him for her time. She was completely unaware that Nance scheduled the get-togethers to get to know her better.

Eventually, Nance came clean.

“Jakki,” he told her, “I keep asking you to lunch because I like you. And, would you please stop sending me these bills afterwards?”

Determination born of adversityJakki had a more privileged childhood than Nance, but a more stressful and dangerous one as well.

Her father is Dr. Jefferson Jones, a nationally recognized oral surgeon, who wanted nothing but the best for his two adopted children: Jeff and Jakki. The family lived in affluent white communities where they weren’t always welcome.

Jakki Nance, 42, remembers racial attacks and social ostracism that dogged her and her family as they integrated predominantly white neighborhoods and schools.

Vandals struck their home repeatedly when they moved into Pepper Pike. Someone broke the tops off three driveway light poles. The house was egged. Eventually, the night marauders fired shots into the house.

Jakki said it scared her, but not her father, who armed himself and refused to leave.

“He had been in the Army and was determined to protect his family,” she said. “As a child, I felt protected by my father even though I hated we had to go through all that.”

Her father wanted her to become a doctor, but she pursued dance before deciding to become a lawyer.

Her years at Orange High School were filled with confrontations with white teachers who doubted her intelligence and black and white classmates who shunned her. Only after leaving Ohio in 1984 to attend Spelman College, the predominantly black women’s school in Atlanta, did she find a sense of self and acceptance.

“At Spelman I was happy,” she said during a recent interview as she picked at a green salad on the patio of a suburban East Side restaurant. “It was the first time in my life I was judged on my work instead of who I was.”

Jones, now retired, said his daughter’s childhood experiences made her determined to succeed.

“She had the attitude that nothing would stop her from what she wanted, that she would show everybody what she was made of,” he said.

She returned to Cleveland after college and entered law school at Case Western Reserve University. By the early 1980s, she was working in a family friend’s law office and seeking ways to make a mark in the city.

She and Nance were married by White in 1999.

Jakki Nance has been instrumental in turning around the disorganized LeBron James Family Foundation. Under her direction, the foundation has formed closer ties with local businesses and created profitable projects like an annual bike ride for charity.

The couple agree that their lives far exceed anything they ever imagined as youngsters.

“I’m one of the luckiest people I know,” Fred Nance said. “But I believe you make your own luck. I always wanted to be successful, but I didn’t know what success would be or look like.”

When the National Football League needed a new commissioner a year ago, Nance’s name was on the short list.

John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for greater diversity in professional football, said the organization recommended Nance for the job because of his role in bringing a new team to Cleveland after Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore.

“Fred Nance was a guy who’s a great lawyer and we felt helped us save Cleveland and save the Browns for Cleveland,” said Wooten, who played on the Browns’ 1964 championship team.

While the couple toyed with the idea and enjoyed the attention, neither Fred nor Jakki was eager to leave their comfortable lives in Cleveland.

Currently, Nance is neck deep in negotiations to secure a Medical Mart/convention center as the curative to an ailing downtown.

Why is Nance the go-to guy on so many civic projects?

Tom Stanton, chairman of Squire Sanders & Dempsey, thinks it’s something simple, elemental and rare. “People trust him,” he said.

“It’s a chemical thing,” Stanton said, over coffee and dessert at a dinner party in Nance’s home for the firm’s summer associates. “I don’t know how to explain it, except to say he has this natural sense of empathy that compels people, and I mean everyone, blacks and whites, young and old, to be comfortable around him.”

<class=”caption”>The Fred Nance File

For nearly 30 years, Fred Nance has been involved in a battery of legal matters at Squire Sanders & Dempsey that defined and shaped Greater Cleveland. Here’s a partial list of some of his highest-profile cases and negotiations:

• 1979 — Carnival kickbacks — As a first-year associate, Nance joined the trial team that successfully represented George Forbes against accusations that the then-Cleveland city council president had accepted payoffs from a local carnival operator.

• 1991 — Doan and Beehive school projects — A county grand jury investigated whether then-Mayor Michael White had, as a councilman eight years earlier, used his position as a city councilman to aid the development of real estate projects in which he was an investor. White wanted the top trial lawyer in the city to represent him. Instead, the law firm sent Nance. The grand jury never charged White, and the two men became friends. For Nance, it was the start of a relationship and an entree to a series of lucrative legal contracts with the city.

• 1995 — Cleveland Browns — Nance represented the city in a lease dispute with Browns owner Art Modell, who was in the process of moving the team to Baltimore. The Browns were forced to delay their move and to leave all team colors, names and trademarks in Cleveland.

• 1991-96 — Busing — Nance represented the Cleveland School District, on behalf of White and a group of black community leaders, seeking to release the schools from court-ordered busing. After years of legal wrangling, a federal court ruled in 1996 to allow the district to assign pupils “with its best judgment rather than complying with a court-ordered mathematical formula for racial balance.”

• 1997 — Concourse D — Nance negotiated a 30-year lease of the new concourse with Continental Airlines, a $100 million investment that ensures Cleveland Hopkins International Airport remains a Continental hub.

• 2001– Brook Park land swap — Though many other attorneys were involved in the decade-long litigation over the controversial decision to swap land and municipal boundaries between Cleveland and Brook Park, Nance claims credit for settling the matter. The deal allowed construction of an extended runway at Hopkins.

• 2003 — The throwback jerseys — Nance had no clue who LeBron James was, but agreed to help the high school basketball player at the request of a friend. James faced suspension from the state championships because he accepted two vintage basketball jerseys worth about $845 from a clothing store. Nance won in court, allowing James to lead his team to the state title in his senior year. Nance’s wife now heads James’ foundation.

• 2005-2006 — DFAS — Nance led the successful effort to retain 1,100 jobs at the Defense Finance Accounting Services Center in Cleveland.

• 2007-present — Medical Mart — Nance spearheads the ongoing talks to develop a new convention center and medical mart in downtown Cleveland.

Plain Dealer News Researcher JoEllen Corrigan contributed to this report


Comfort zone without boundariesThis is no small feat and, in large measure, is the real secret to Nance’s success. In a hyper-segregated, class-stratified city, where East rarely meets West and wary tribes mingle at arm’s length, Nance is expert at crossing boundaries.

Or, to put it another way, Nance never lost the feeling of freedom, just like the carefree boys on bicycles, that comes with racing across the sharp and bright lines dividing one part of Cleveland from another.

To that end, he added, it’s important that he and other black professionals hold themselves up as examples.

“If you don’t see people who look like you, people who started out where you started out, it is not an irrational conclusion to draw that it is impossible to try and work within the system,” Nance said. “That’s why it’s very important to show African-Americans who have done things right and are enjoying the benefits.”

Nance makes crossing boundaries appear effortless and perfectly natural. To watch him work a room — whether at an all-black social gathering, a racially mixed civic meeting or formal presentation where he’s the only African-American — is like watching a skilled athlete going through practiced repetitions.

“My forte is dealing with difficult people in stressful circumstances to come out with a positive result,” he said.

None of this is easy. Years of preparation and practice — along with setbacks and miscues — precede the performances that make fans cheer and detractors jeer.

And he does have detractors. Though few of them are willing to say so out loud or in public.

“I’m so sick of hearing about him,” said one black Cleveland attorney, who admitted to being more than a little envious of the glowing media attention that sticks like cellophane to Nance. “He’s a good lawyer, but there are so few of us out here and he’s like the only one that everybody knows and talks about. That can get to be old and a bit too much to swallow.”

Nance has heard such talk.

“People don’t say that to my face, but they say it around mutual friends, and it gets back to me,” he said, adding there are others who say even worse. “Then, there’s a group that says I’m a tool of the establishment, just like every other fat cat profiteering off the backs of the people.”

After recounting these critical comments, Nance laughed and said there might be a bit of truth to them.

“It’s obviously ironic to me, given where I started,” he said, still chuckling. “Maybe, it’s deserved because I certainly have benefited from being a part of the system. But I honestly believe I’ve had the opportunity to do the public good that I’ve always dreamed of and I have a good life, too. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Nance recently joined a dozen professional black men on a stage at Audubon School, a public elementary school not far from his old neighborhood. One by one, the men — doctors, engineers, college professors and lawyers — described their occupations to the kids, who sat in wide-eyed wonder at the idea of people who look like them doing unimaginable things.

When his turn arrived, Nance spoke without a microphone, projecting his deep voice to the back of the auditorium.

“I was raised right around the corner from here, at 135th and Kinsman, and I’m a lawyer,” Nance said. “I represent a young man you all know named LeBron James . . . “

Nance paused for dramatic effect, as the kids perked up at the name of the famous basketball star.

“I’m here today because I need one of you to come and take my place one day.”

The auditorium exploded in cheers as the kids stood to applaud. And Nance, beaming just as he had when the boys on the bicycles crossed his path, crossed yet another boundary, pressing his own childhood dreams onto the next generation.  

Arnold Pinkney was one of Cleveland’s most effective political strategists: Brent Larkin

Arnold Pinkney was one of Cleveland’s most effective political strategists: Brent Larkin

Gallery: Arnold Pinkney, civil rights leader, political consultant, dies

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Arnold Pinkney was blessed with the rare ability to figure out where voters were headed, and get there first.

That gift made Pinkney one of the most effective political strategists and campaign managers in Cleveland history.

Over the course of a political life that spanned nearly half a century, Pinkney’s candidates won a whole lot more races than they lost.

But Pinkney, who died Monday at the age of 83, didn’t win them all. And two of those losses were tough to take.

Because they were his own.

Pinkney ran for mayor in 1971 and 1975, defeated both times by Ralph Perk. Of the two, 1971 was, by far, the most disappointing.

In one of the most memorable mayoral races ever waged in Cleveland, events beyond Pinkney’s control conspired to cost him a victory.

Pinkney’s mentor was former Mayor Carl Stokes. He worked as a top City Hall aide to the nation’s first black, big-city mayor, and in 1969 managed Stokes’ winning re-election campaign.

Of all the members of the city’s growing black political class in the 1960s, Pinkney always thought Stokes stood head and shoulders above them all.

“Only one person had the charisma, the experience and the drive to win that job,” Pinkney recalled a few years ago. “Back then, it took a special talent for a black to be elected mayor. And only Carl had that talent.”

With the black church as its foundation, Stokes’ political base was built to last. And when he decided not to seek re-election in 1971, Pinkney hoped to use that base to become the city’s second black mayor.

Stokes quickly got on board. But first he had a score to settle.

Partisan primaries were held in those days. In the Republican primary, Ralph Perk easily dispatched a young state representative from Collinwood named George Voinovich.

Pinkney ran as an independent, leaving Council President Anthony Garofoli and businessman James Carney as the Democratic candidates.

Stokes disliked Garofoli, and in the waning days of the primary campaign he recorded a message endorsing Carney that was telephoned into the home of virtually every black voter in the city. Political robo-calling was in its infancy at the time, but that call enabled Carney to upset the favored Garofoli.

Stokes had flexed his sizable political muscle to punish a fellow Democrat, but he was playing a risky game. After convincing blacks to support Carney in the primary, he asked them to switch back to Pinkney in the general election five weeks later.

It backfired. About one in five black voters stuck with Carney, enough to swing the election to Perk, a Republican.

The 1971 campaign was my first as a reporter for the Cleveland Press. And I distinctly remember that, aside from Perk and a handful of his closest allies, no one thought he would win.

Afterwards, some who knew Stokes well thought he never wanted Pinkney to win, that he wanted at the time to be known as Cleveland’s first — and only — black mayor.

Pinkney never bought that. But he did come to believe Stokes’ strategy cost him the election.

“There’s no question Stokes’ endorsement of Carney siphoned votes from me 35 days later,” he recalled 20 years later. “I indicated to him (Stokes) that I didn’t think the strategy would work, but Carl prevailed.”

By 1975, Cleveland had switched to nonpartisan mayoral contests where the top two finishers in the primary would meet in a runoff election.

In the primary election, Pinkney finished first in a five-candidate field, nearly 4,000 votes ahead of Perk, who was seeking a third, two-year term.

Years later, Perk would admit he played possum in the primary. By taking a dive in Round 1 of the voting, Perk hoped to scare his supporters (i.e. white voters) and increase turnout on the West Side.

It worked. In the runoff election, he beat Pinkney by 17,000 votes.

Pinkney never again sought elected office, instead devoting his time to campaign consulting and selling insurance.

He played a key role in many statewide campaigns, notably Dick Celeste’s three runs (two of them successful) for governor. In 1984, he managed Jesse Jackson’s race for president.

When Gerald Austin, another veteran political consultant with deep Cleveland ties, was offered the job of managing Jackson’s presidential campaign in 1988, the first person he called was Pinkney.

“Arnold told me if Jackson and I could both control our egos, we’d learn a lot from each other,” recalled Austin. “So I took it. Arnold was special. He was a wonderful teacher, a real gentleman, a dear friend.”

For 40 years, Pinkney, Lou Stokes and George Forbes formed a political triumvirate that permeated every aspect of black political life in Greater Cleveland.

One Saturday morning in the late summer of 2011, Pinkney and House Speaker Bill Batchelder sat at a table in Forbes’ home and drew a new congressional district that protected the seat held by Rep. Marcia Fudge. Stokes signed off on the district via telephone.

Slowed a bit by illness, Pinkney nevertheless played an instrumental role in the 2012 school levy campaign that saw voters overwhelmingly agree to fund Mayor Frank Jackson’s school reform plan. And last fall he served as an adviser to Jackson’s re-election effort.

Former Plain Dealer editorial page editor Mary Anne Sharkey worked with Pinkney on those and other campaigns. From Pinkney, she learned the importance of a ground game in winning citywide elections, watching as he “dispatched troops with the precision of a general.”

Pinkney wasn’t averse to using social media and other 21st-century political tools, but his talents and tactics remained decidedly old school. Nevertheless, they worked.

“Arnold had a golden gut,” said Sharkey. “He did not need focus groups. He knew this town.”

About as well as anyone who ever lived.

Brent Larkin was The Plain Dealer’s editorial director from 1991 until his retirement in 2009.

Arnold Pinkney obituary from Plain Dealer

Arnold Pinkney obituary from Plain Dealer January 13, 2014

Political strategist Arnold Pinkney, consultant to Jesse Jackson, Frank Jackson and others, dies

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Arnold Pinkney, who rose from the steel mills of Youngstown to become a nationally known political strategist and the manager of Jesse Jackson’s historic presidential campaign, died Monday — mere months after his most recent campaign.

He was 83.

Pinkney was best known locally as the shrewd kingmaker who put Louis Stokes in Congress and Frank Jackson in the Cleveland mayor’s office. In between, he was a trusted tactician for former Mayor Michael R. White and former Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste.

Friends said Pinkney had been ill for months. But his influence remained considerable in local politics. Last June he endorsed Armond Budish for Cuyahoga County executive, becoming one of the Beachwood-based state representative’s key early backers. He also remained close with Mayor Jackson through his successful bid last fall for a third term.

A statement from Hospice of the Western Reserve and forwarded by the Cleveland NAACP said Pinkney passed at 1:30 p.m. at the David Simpson Hospice House. His family thanked well-wishers but asked for privacy in the statement. Arrangements with the E.F. Boyd & Son Funeral Home are pending.

“The Cleveland community has lost a remarkable public servant who cared deeply about the future of our children and the well-being of all people,” said U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Democrat from Warrensville Heights and chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “Mr. Pinkney has been a friend and an astute political mentor to many, including me. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Betty, his daughter Traci and all other members of his family.”Said Budish, in an emailed statement: “Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to Arnold’s family today. Mr. Pinkney was a dedicated leader and public servant not just to the African American community, but also to all of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. His imprint on this region has been historic, and he will be sorely missed but not forgotten.”

Political consultant Mary Anne Sharkey, who worked with Pinkney on levy campaigns and on Frank Jackson’s campaigns, said Pinkney remained engaged on the mayor’s recent re-election campaign. She recalled working with Pinkney to prepare Jackson for a City Club of Cleveland debate with challenger Ken Lanci.

“Arnold paid attention to everything from soup to nuts,” said Sharkey, who was at Cleveland City Council’s Finance Committee meeting Monday afternoon as word of Pinkney’s death spread. Council members, she said, observed a moment of silence.

An insurance broker, Pinkney drew national attention as the campaign manager in civil-rights leader Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential bid. Jackson didn’t win, but he credited Pinkney with running a campaign that mobilized millions of previously disenfranchised poor and minority voters.

“I am very sad today,” Jackson told the Northeast Ohio Media Group in a telephone interview Monday. “With his passing, a huge part of history goes with him — that generation, led by Carl Stokes and Lou Stokes.

“A civic leader who could push or pull,” Jackson added. “He could manage in the background or lead from the forefront. He was forever blessed with a good mind and courage and could be trusted. His legacy of service will be with us a long time.”

Pinkney often said the highlight of his career occurred years earlier in the ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hilton in Los Angeles.

Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey had made a strong showing, but narrowly lost the California primary in his quest for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. As the partisan crowd cheered, the former vice president’s wife, Muriel, motioned for Pinkney — then her husband’s deputy campaign manager — to join the candidate on stage.

“We’re going to win this race,” Humphrey told Pinkney on national television. “And if we win, you’re coming to Washington with me to help put this country back together.”

Everyone back in Ohio was watching, and Pinkney was convinced he was headed to the nation’s capital for a cabinet post or a high-level White House position.

“It was one of the proudest moments of my life,” Pinkney would recall years later.

Humphrey didn’t win, and Pinkney didn’t go to Washington. But his fascination with politics lasted until his death. It was an attraction that began at an early age.

An education in politics

His father, David, was vice chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party and favored Wendell Willkie over Franklin D. Roosevelt. His mother, Catherine, served as a precinct committeewoman. Their politics cast the boy as an underdog in the overwhelmingly Democratic steel town.

“Me and one other kid, a white kid, were the only ones in our whole school to wear Willkie buttons,” he said with a chuckle.

Pinkney’s father died just three months before his son, the youngest of five children, graduated from high school. To help the family make ends meet, the 17-year-old Pinkney moonlighted in steel mills.

It was around that time that he discovered Humphrey, who was to become a surrogate father. Listening to the 1948 Democratic National Convention on the radio, the teenager heard the youthful mayor of Minneapolis deliver an impassioned plea for his party to embrace civil rights — a plea so strident it drove Southern segregationists from the Philadelphia convention hall.

The speech rang in Pinkney’s ears for years. Decades later in hotel rooms from Portland to Pittsburgh, Humphrey and Pinkney would share meals and talk politics until dawn. Pinkney rode in Muriel Humphrey’s limousine during the senator’s funeral.

Young Pinkney was moved by Humphrey, but his first ambition was to play baseball. His exploits on the diamond at Albion College in Michigan eventually landed him in the school’s sports hall of fame. A talented shortstop with a strong bat, Pinkney played ball with Major Leaguers while stationed in Europe during an 18-month stint in the Army.

Pinkney held his own with the big-leaguers, but Indians scout Paul O’Dea warned the young man that he would be in his late 20s by the time he made it to the majors.

“He said, ‘Your race needs more lawyers than baseball players,'” Pinkney recalled.

Heeding O’Dea’s advice, Pinkney came to Cleveland in 1955 and enrolled in law school at Western Reserve University, but dropped out when he ran out of money. He met his wife, Betty, while at Albion. The couple later had a daughter, Traci.

The young family man went to work, becoming the first black agent hired by Prudential Insurance Co. He was soon drawn to causes, heading a membership drive for the NAACP and picketing a supermarket chain for not hiring blacks.

Partnering with the Stokes brothers

Pinkney met the Stokes brothers while doing bail bond work, and he soon became involved in local politics. After seeing Pinkney run successful local judicial campaigns, Louis Stokes tapped Pinkney to run his 1968 Congressional bid. The victory made Stokes Ohio’s first black congressman. Pinkney’s reputation grew after he helped Carl Stokes, the first black mayor of a major American city, survive a tough re-election fight.

“It’s like watching a symphony,” Louis Stokes said of Pinkney’s campaigns during a 2001 interview. “I’ve seen a lot of campaigns and Arnold is unquestionably the best I’ve ever seen.”

Pinkney did not spend his whole career behind the scenes. He served as Cleveland school board president from 1971 to 1978. The post thrust him into the public spotlight during the start of the district’s tumultuous desegregation case.

Pinkney’s visibility grew, but it wasn’t enough to propel him to higher office. He made unsuccessful runs for mayor in 1972 and 1975. After the latter loss, he moved to Shaker Heights to remove himself from consideration for future races.

The affable Pinkney was known for campaigning hard in white West Side wards where support for a black candidate ranged for disinterest to outright hostility. Pinkney would later tell of walking into a Kamms’ Corner tavern and hearing himself being loudly disparaged by a guy standing at the bar.

“The guy said, ‘He don’t have the nerve to come in here,'” Pinkney recalled years later. “I tapped him on the shoulder and shook his hand. He said he lived in Fairview Park, but if he lived in Cleveland, he would have voted for me.”

But Pinkney also discovered a considerable down side to public service. While serving on the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority in 1984, Pinkney was convicted of having an unlawful interest in a public contract. Pinkney argued he sold insurance to the board only after a board attorney told him such a deal was legal.

Five years later, a state parole board unanimously recommended a full pardon, and Celeste, who was then governor, pardoned his old friend.

The reigning guru of Cleveland politics

Pinkney spent much of the last two decades championing candidates and causes he believed in. His knack of knowing exactly how many votes a candidate or issue needed to prevail — and precisely where to find those votes — established him as the reigning guru of Cleveland politics.

“Most people take political science course and that kind of thing,” said former Cuyahoga County Deputy Elections Director Lynnie Powell, who first met Pinkney as a 16-year-old campaign volunteer. “Arnold never really did that. He knew in his gut how to run a campaign and how to reach people.”

White, who met Pinkney when he was 14, frequently tapped into that expertise during his three terms as mayor. In a six-year period, White asked Pinkney to run campaigns on five issues, all of them successful: the 1995 effort to extend the countywide tax on cigarettes and alcohol to help pay for construction of Cleveland Browns Stadium; the 1996 Cleveland schools levy campaign; a 1997 campaign to defeat a charter change that would have limited the city’s ability to grant tax abatements; and a 2001 school bond issue.

“I’d rather be on his side than against him,” said Richard DeColibus, the retired Cleveland Teachers Union president who pushed the unsuccessful tax-abatement issue.

Pinkney ran lawyer Raymond Pierce’s mayoral bid in 2001, losing to Jane Campbell and rival political strategist Gerald Austin. But he got revenge four years later when he helped Frank Jackson defeat the Campbell-Austin team.

Through it all, Pinkney remained an active partner in Pinkney Perry Insurance, a firm he and Charles B. Perry opened more than 45 year ago. He also served on the boards of Albion and of Central State University in Wilberforce.

“I have a gift for getting people involved,” Pinkney said in a 2001 interview. “And I like doing it.”

This obituary was written by former Plain Dealer reporter Scott Stephens, with contributions from Plain Dealer reporter Grant Segall.

Morrison lost his job, not his mission Plain Dealer July 6, 2005

Morrison lost his job, not his mission

Plain Dealer, The (Cleveland, OH) – July 6, 2005
-Joe Frolik

The bad news is that Ed Morrison has left the building — in his case, the Weatherhead School of Management’s Peter B. Lewis Building — and in a manner that should embarrass his former bosses at Case Western Reserve University.
The good news is that Morrison is not leaving Cleveland. In fact, he’s already set up shop in Midtown and plans to continue preaching the gospel of “open source” economic development that he believes can transform this region.

That will come as relief to the hundreds of business and civic entrepreneurs whom Morrison has encouraged since he returned home less than two years ago to take charge of the Center for Regional Economic Issues. Since early last week, when Morrison revealed that he had been fired by Weatherhead Dean Myron Roomkin, those supporters have filled cyberspace with vitriol for Case and odes to Morrison.“He’s the best thing that’s happened to Northeast Ohio in a long time,” says Herb Crowther, who credits Morrison with helping him pull together a network of partners who see biofuels technology as a business opportunity. “He brought together a group of people interested in the future of the region and in taking up activities that may or may not fit the mold. Collectively, Ed gave us a voice.”Voice matters. Morrison holds that “economic development takes place in the civic space.”

In that context, an economic development pro’s job is to bring people together to listen to one another. Help them find places of overlapping interest and complementary skill. Find the professional help — from say, a lawyer or a business consultant — to nurture an idea. Encourage innovation by removing barriers.

It’s a long way from the “industrial park mindset” that Morrison held when he left corporate life 20 years ago and started working with communities and regions on economic strategies. Working mostly in the sun belt, Morrison became convinced that networks could speed development and take it to scale faster than traditional approaches.

“The assumption of the top-down model is that the guys at the top are smarter than the guys at the bottom,” Morrison says. “Open source development is about open participation and leadership development.”

That’s the mindset Morrison brought to REI in 2003, taking over an institution that had been adrift since its brilliant director, Richard Shatten, fell ill with cancer, then died in February 2002. Shortly before he was approached by a headhunter about REI, Morrison attended Case President Edward Hundert’s inauguration, with its day-long symposium on breaking down the walls between universities and their communities. He thought his philosophy would fit perfectly with Hundert’s vision.

At REI, he cut the staff from six to two, but raised its profile by hosting Tuesday forums on dozens of issues and initiatives. Those forums threw open the doors to the Lewis building and became a magnet for entrepreneurs who’ve often felt left out of Cleveland’s corporate culture.

Too many folks here complain that they cannot move forward with an idea without the blessing of corporate or foundation leaders. Morrison told them to give themselves permission and create their own resources.

Morrison jokes that REI was running on the cookies served at those Tuesday gatherings. Problem is, the center was largely out of cash. The elites who had founded it in the 1980s as a regional think tank had backed away by the time of Shatten’s death. Business leaders were reshaping their organizations. The foundations were launching a new initiative on economic development. Without a dean through his first year at Weatherhead, the sometimes-abrasive Morrison had no champion to help with fund-raising. By the end, SBC Foundation was REI’s only outside donor.

Roomkin arrived last November and announced that every activity not related to teaching management was up for review. By the time he and Morrison finally met in March, Roomkin was busy shaking up a school that faces fiscal and enrollment challenges. They did not meet again until May, when Roomkin gave Morrison a set of written orders — including mandating prior approval of all outgoing communications — that in retrospect look like an invitation to leave.

Morrison wrote back that he would not comply. A week ago Monday, Roomkin handed him a letter: You’re out. As word seeped out, Roomkin initially weaseled, suggesting that Morrison had quit. He now says the future of REI is under review.

Morrison himself made a statement early on that he now regrets, blaming his ouster on Greater Cleveland Partnership CEO Joe Roman and other business leaders. “That was an initial slip of the tongue,” he says.

By week’s end, he had opened his own “think-and-do tank,” the Institute for Open Source Economic Development. He’s got clients in other states and all those local fans.

“What’s done is done,” Morrison says. “It wasn’t right, but the issue isn’t Ed Morrison or Dean Roomkin. It’s how do we move on these strategies. There’s no going back.”

Cleveland in the 2000’s by Michael D. 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 2000’s
By Michael D. Roberts

Since the end of World War II, Northeast Ohio underwent continuous change in almost all ways. As 2000 and a new century appeared, there was one serious exception to those metamorphoses. There had been no change in the way the people who lived here were governed.

The heart of the region—Cuyahoga County—was ruled by a political system that was born in post colonial days, and in the two centuries since, had become wasteful, ineffective and virtually invisible. It hardly met American standards of democracy let alone the demands of a future that was global in scope.

This government had been sustained by a political culture that by the last half of the 20th century had become corpulent, corrosive and corrupt. There had been more than a dozen attempts to change the archaic government since 1917, but they were thwarted by politics mired in patronage and the past.

These politics were perpetuated by the fractured nature of the county itself. Over the years, first ethnic politics and later black politics focused on narrow interests. The county stretched for 458.49 square miles and was made up of 38 cities, 19 villages, and two townships and included 31 school districts.

By 2002 the total cost of all government in Cuyahoga County was nearly $7- billion annually or $5,079 per resident. The frightening statistic, though, was that the expenditure per capita had risen 68 percent between 1992 and 2002.

There were many reasons for this government morass. The terrain and transportation system had enabled people to escape the crowded conditions of the city. Over the years, cheap land and plentiful jobs had enabled the creation of an array of suburbs that spanned the economic ladder.

As these suburbs emerged, the city’s petty political squabbles created a distraction in Cleveland City Hall, which failed to grasp how this growth would ultimately effect the city. This sprawl of suburbs would ultimately drain the city of population and taxes, the result of poor planning and insular thought.

Thus, the nature of politics led to the creation of 59 separate entities at a time when it was becoming more and more evident that Cleveland and Cuyahoga County needed to adopt a regional approach to its government.

But to take this step into the future was a threat to the status quo, mainly the political structure, which held the power and patronage and by 2000 could see no farther into the future than the next government paycheck.

For more than a century and a half, the most prominent political figure in Northeastern Ohio was the mayor of the City of Cleveland. From that position, political careers were launched that could reach to the U.S. Senate, Congress and the governorship. It was generally accepted that Cleveland City Hall was a point of departure to a higher realm of political stardom, a fact that teased and cajoled the ambitious.

Such were the thoughts of Jane Campbell in 2001 when she set out to become the first female mayor to preside over the city. She defeated an unheralded black candidate, Raymond Pierce, with 54 percent of the vote. Pierce, who served in the Clinton administration and was a lawyer, seemed an unlikely candidate in that he did not have the presence that voters had grown to expect from the black community. Gone were the days when the Lou Stokes, George Forbes and Arnold Pinckney held power.

In fact, the key to Campbell’s victory was the number of votes she pulled from the city’s black east side. She won 27 percent of the vote in ten of the city’s predominant black wards while Pierce could garner only 16 percent in the seven overwhelmingly white wards.

It was an interesting victory, aided by the more than $700,000 she raised in campaign funds and strong labor support.

At 48, Jane Campbell came to the city hall with notable achievements, serving as in the state legislature for six terms and two terms as a Cuyahoga County commissioner. In the legislature she was selected by the Democrats as the majority whip and later the assistant minority leader.

She was a revered leader in women’s rights organizations, stressing the need for more involvement by women in community and government positions. Her work in promoting civil rights helped gain the black vote that was the key to her election.

Like mayors before her, she intended city hall to be a stepping-stone in a political career that would spiral to a higher office, namely that of the governor. However, unlike most of her immediate predecessors, Campbell grew up in Shaker Heights, which was a political stigma that she would carry throughout her one term as mayor.

The city hall that Campbell inherited on January 1, 2002, was in turmoil. In Mayor Mike White’s last term in office, he had let government fall to ruin. City departments were barely functional, and the state auditor reported that city finances were in serious disarray.

Business leaders had lost faith in White. The momentum that he had generated for the city early in his term in office was petering out. Any thought of addressing the growing need for regionalism was remote as White had angered a swatch of suburban leaders.

Jane Campbell represented hope for a new day, but the task before her was daunting. The economy in post 9/11 years was feeble and for a time the city was ignorant to the deficits it faced. Plus, the political glow was beginning to dim over city hall.

When she campaigned, Jane, as she came to be known, liked to tell voters that one of her goals was to attract enough new residents to the city to bring its population back over 500,000. The 2000 census counted 477,459 people in the city, down 28,157 from ten years before. Cities with less than 500,000 population became ineligible for certain federal grants.

In that same period Cuyahoga County lost 18,295 residents, while each abutting county gained in population. If these statistics did not illustrate the spreading regional nature of Northeastern Ohio, nothing did. However, against this backdrop it had to be noted that the state lost 506,025 persons since the last census or a staggering 4.7 percent of its population.

For the past 20 years both the city and county government had worked to stem this flow and maintain Cleveland as a major metropolitan center. New stadiums were built, as well as a sports arena, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a new science museum adorned the lakefront.

Plans called for additional pieces to be added. A convention center was needed to replace one that was built in 1922. A plan to spend $200 million to refurbish Euclid Avenue was in place, and there was the omnipresent problem of the lakefront. No single issue bothered people in the region more than the condition of the lakefront.

The lakefront had been seized in the city’s early years by industrial interests, which created the port and the railroads, bringing wealth and jobs, thus propelling

Cleveland into the forefront of American commerce. But the industrialization of the lakefront marred the natural beauty of the lake. Over the years city hall paid lip service to the development of the waterfront, but aside from empty headlines little was done to change it.

Jane Campbell wanted her legacy to be the lakefront and she set out to plan for its future on a scale that had never been attempted. By the time the 2004 Waterfront District Plan was completed, some 5,000 people had participated in some 125 meetings at an expense of $2 million. In a city were secrecy in government was a way of life, the transparency in Campbell’s planning effort was refreshing.

Another issue confronting the public was that of the convention center. Studies had convinced the business community that Cleveland lost $150 million annually because of its antiquated convention center. The problem was that to build it, would require a tax levy passed and most politicians were fearful of voter repercussions.

The convention center involved the classic Cleveland conundrum. Was the use of public money to generate private wealth at the expense of the taxpayer good for the community as a whole? No politician wanted to be on the wrong end of that argument.

The issue also contrasted the difference a century could make in community spirit.

In 1916, community leaders decided there was a need for a convention center and sought the public’s view on the matter. Some 200,000 persons representing 116 organizations helped vote for a $2.5- million bond issue, which passed four to one in the largest turnout in the city’s history. The project they built was the largest in America and among the best in the world.

Amazingly, the Public Auditorium paid for itself in one year, attracting 162 conventions with 72,000 visitors generating $2.5 million in revenue.

Now, one hundred years later, there was no political leadership for the project; the business community was left to squabble over the site. It was a contentious issue that would cost more than one public official their jobs.

There was no consensus as to where to build a convention center. Forest City lobbied heavily to put it in the flats behind Tower City on land that it owned. Other suggestions included the Warehouse District, the Mall and the Galleria.

No one seemed to have a grip on the issue, Campbell said she did not oppose its construction, but the city’s fragile financial picture made it impractical as a priority for city hall.

But it was with the convention center, that Campbell began to show serious leadership flaws that would end her political career here. While she had experience in legislative and administrative government, she lacked the decisiveness of an executive.

And the convention center was an issue that needed careful shepherding through the thicket of self- interest that stood in its way. Supporters sensed that her ambition for higher office had made her cautious, measuring every move in political terms. In the end, she came to symbolize the status quo, which victimized her as well.

“She actually enjoyed ending a meeting where nothing happened,” said a former staff member. “She sank the convention center because her decisions were all political and not what was good for the community”.

If she would not engage in substantial issues involving the city, she did not shirk from its social life. Campbell could be found at every ribbon cutting, throwing out the first ball, and marching in the gay pride parade, reminiscent of the ethnic mayors who knew the city polka bands and neighborhood fairs better than they knew the city budget.

The reporters covering her administration sensed something else that was different about Jane. She may know about the city, but she was really a product of Shaker Heights, and people in Cleveland wanted a native ingredient in their mayor. In one publicized incident, Campbell appeared on a national television show for a beauty makeover. The performance was disdainfully regarded in the city’s poor neighborhoods.

The publicity that her lakefront plan garnered irked the county commissioners, who had long sought increased representation on the city-county port authority. City hall appointed six board members, but the county appointed only three. Citing the exodus of population from the city, the commissioners wanted more seats on the board.

Part of the reason the commissioners wanted more control of the port authority was that it would consolidate the planning process. As it was, the city, through the port authority, could make plans for the lakefront, but had no financial wherewithal to execute them. But always in the background, was the issue of patronage.

The port authority had been created during the Stokes administration and was visionary in that it represented one of the first elements of regional government.

When she was a commissioner, Campbell supported a transfer of seats, but as mayor she reversed her position creating friction between her and the county. She had little choice because City Council President Frank Jackson was adamantly opposed to the realignment.

After the anger of the Mike White years, Campbell seemed refreshing and accessible. She sorted out the city’s tangled finances, used her consensus skills to bond with city council and spoke of overcoming the economic and educational problems that paralyzed the city. However, halfway through her term political observers began to wonder whether that she was too busy with small things to accomplish the larger tasks.

As she danced away from leadership on the convention center, the business community changed its tune. Two business groups, Cleveland Tomorrow and the Growth Association, that had actively supported Campbell’s lakefront plan, dropped it in favor of the convention center.

For all of its hail and hype, planners were beginning to question the lakefront effort. For one thing, it had taken on massive proportions and had embraced input from thousands of citizens making its scale so grand that it was impossible to achieve. After spending millions of dollars, and thousands of hours of manpower the plan was unmasked for what it had become.

The plan had evolved into nothing more that a public relations platform for Jane Campbell’s city hall. Like every waterfront plan in the past it was quietly relegated to a dusty shelf and with it the political ambitions of its architect, Jane Campbell.

Other events were in motion that would play a role in shaping the area’s political future. At first they went unrecognized, dismissed as business as usual, but slowly the elements took shape and gathered into the perfect storm.

As the business community fretted over an unresponsive city hall, federal investigators were in the midst of a probe into corruption allegations of the Mike White administration. At the same time, the Cleveland Bar Association was sponsoring yet another in depth study into the merits of regional government.

While the two incidents were seemingly unrelated, they were the beginnings of profound change in the way Cuyahoga County would be ruled. The publicity generated by each would alert the public that all was not well with the way they were being governed.

While the U.S. attorney’s office prepared to prosecute a number of people with connections to city hall, including Nate Gray, Mike White’s best friend, those running the bar association study were attempting to find a way to put regional government on the ballot. To be successful the issue needed the support of the black political community.

There was no enthusiasm among black leaders for such a change and they offered no help. Despite that setback, the bar association managed to present its case to the public through a series of meetings and a report. This sparked interest in the community regarding the quality and cost of its government.

In April of 2004, City Council President Frank Jackson gave an unusual speech at the City Club. He called for the adoption of regionalism to support all public schools. He called efforts to change the way we are governed was destined to lead to “alienation, divisiveness and doom.” These were ironic words for a man who would have an opportunity later to help make a change, but failed to act.

In 2005, Nate Gray was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in jail after having made a reported $13 million through corrupt practices tied to city hall. Others were convicted and sent to jail. It was, in all probability, the single largest such case in the city’s history.

Meanwhile, Jane Campbell’s tenure as mayor was becoming increasingly shaky. When it became known that black ministers, formerly Campbell supporters, were now pushing the administration to put more blacks in leadership positions in the safety forces, she was embarrassed.

Campbell’s next blunder occurred months before a vote for a convention center tax, when she refused to support the issue, throwing the business community and the county commissioners for a loss. She attributed her decision to polls that said 65 percent of the public was against the tax.

Then an accord she made with City Council President Jackson erupted into a conflict in which he charged that she failed to keep the council informed on matters regarding a nagging city deficit as well as layoffs and a plan to raise the income tax for the schools. Jackson told the media he could no longer trust Campbell.

Slowly, she alienated nearly everyone.

Meanwhile, the debate over regionalism heightened and the business community issued a report calling for the establishment of gambling casinos to give some life to downtown and provide revenue for a struggling school system.

The political tension between Mayor Campbell and Council President Jackson heightened as well, when in November of 2004, speculation began that he would run for mayor in the next year’s election. It did not take Jane Campbell long to react to the emerging challenge.

Sensing the growing momentum in the business community for casino gambling, Campbell, in an uncharacteristic move, announced her support and reopened the dormant convention center proposal. She also initiated a study on the future of the Lakefront Airport. The airport was a thorn in any planning of the lakefront’s future.

But it was too late.

Frank Jackson was 58 when he decided to run for mayor. A sitting councilman had not been elected mayor since 1867, and it had not been Jackson’s ambition to seek that office. He said he had no choice because the city was struggling under a person who avoided difficult decisions by looking through rose-colored glasses.

Almost on cue, Campbell backed off another difficult decision, seeking a tax increase to aid the struggling school system which had failed to pass a levy the previous fall. The community chastised the decision and accused the mayor of putting her own future ahead of that of the school children.

As a politician, Jackson was somewhat enigmatic. His speech was slow and sometimes awkward, and he had a demeanor so retiring that he sometimes appeared not to have enough energy to deal with a city. Those who knew and worked with him described his character as honest and contemplative. For a man in his position, ambition and ego were hardly evident. Conversely, some worried about the depth of his drive and spirit.

The offspring of bi-racial parents, Jackson grew up in the city, attended its school system, its community college, served in Vietnam, and took three degrees at Cleveland State University, emerging as a lawyer. He was elected Ward 5 councilman in 1989 and became council president in 2002. If Jane Campbell knew the city theoretically, Jackson knew it practically.

In truth, the campaign for mayor in 2005 held little drama. Eight candidates vied in the primary for the two runoff positions which were won by Jackson and Campbell. It was the first time an incumbent mayor finished second in the primary in 26 years.

The turn out was light, some 52,000 voted, and Jackson overwhelmed Campbell with 38 percent of the vote to her 29 percent, while the rest was scattered among the other contenders.

Then a month later, Jackson would win the general election with 55 percent of the vote.

The election that fall of 2005 returned Tim Hagan as a county commissioner. He had served for 16 years before retiring in 1998. Over the years Hagan had become a perennial political candidate running for mayor and governor and losing. Voters liked him as a county commissioner.

The business community had been so angered at Commissioner Tim McCormack’s negative stance on the convention center that it threw its money and resources behind Hagan. It was presumed by some businessmen that Hagan would take the lead on the convention center issue. He, along with commissioners Jimmy Dimora and Peter Lawson Jones, would have much to say about its future.

Elsewhere a series of events were unfolding that would have a profound effect not only on the future of city hall, but of the region as well. Part of it would reveal that the Nate Gray case was not an isolated incident, but an example of systemic corruption throughout the region’s political subculture.

The problem with the county political system was there was only one viable party, the Democratic Party. The fragmented Republicans could hardly assemble enough votes to win a county-wide office. And the death of The Cleveland Press in 1982 had removed an essential check and balance from the community. By 2005 the county was so riddled with corruption and larded with patronage and inept leadership that it was a government in name only.

The county commissioners spent $45 million on the vacant Ameritrust Tower as a new administrative building only to find it was unsuitable. This came about after the commissioners paid a consultant $3 million to locate appropriate office space. It was puzzling, and The Plain Dealer began to call for more transparency in county business.

The commissioners responded angrily, especially Dimora who, in one meeting, ordered reporters ejected. To add to the tension, citizen groups were actively organizing, continuing to cry for a regional government that would replace the commissioners.

In the past, the Democratic Party had shrugged off attempts at reform. Reform of any kind was anathema to the entrenched office holders whose friends and family enjoyed political largesse. But political observers sensed there was something different at work.

Meanwhile, a tax increase to pay for the $465-million convention center was turned down by voters. In response, the commissioners unilaterally levied a .75 percent increase on the county’s sales tax to meet the cost. To accompany the project, a medical mart was proposed that would house medical suppliers and in turn attract conventions.

The plan was bold, but controversial for it involved the participation of a private company.

MMPI, a Chicago trade show company that managed marts nationally were hired by the commissioners to oversee the construction of both complexes and manage them. At the head of MMPI was Chris Kennedy, a friend of Commissioner Tim Hagan, and the son of the late Robert F. Kennedy.

Then on July 28, 2006, federal agents, in a stunning raid of the offices and homes of top county officials, produced search warrants that indicated that they were looking for evidence of government corruption. In the succeeding weeks, it became clear that the county was in the midst of its biggest scandal in history.

Among those who followed the day-to day events of the area, there was a feeling that The Plain Dealer had not covered government as closely or as impartially as was warranted. Certainly, Mike White’s years as mayor deserved more scrutiny, but the scope of the county corruption case far overshadowed it and that, too, had gone undetected by the media.

In fact, the media was beginning to have problems of its own. The internet was becoming such a phenomenon that it was cutting into the revenues and readership of newspapers and eroding television news and advertising. News staffs were reduced and the size of the newspapers drastically cut. The internet presented the greatest challenge to the traditional media in its history.

Despite the internet, story after story of bribery and deceit played out on a daily basis in the newspaper with a new zeal. Page one was dark with headlines outlining the betrayal of the public trust by a coterie of Democratic office holders led by County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora and County Auditor Frank Russo.

Day after day, The Plain Dealer hammered at the corruption until the very foundation of the sitting government was an issue in doubt. There were some who thought the newspaper’s coverage had lost its objectivity. Others countered that there was no objectivity to display, the situation had lost any sense of fairness or balance.

A citizen’s group, formed out of the earlier interest in government reform, was launched in an attempt to put a charter change on the county ballot. Passage would streamline government and be a step toward regionalism. The main problem again was getting support from the black leaders. They were reluctant to give up their hard-earned political base.

Events were moving fast. The federal investigation mounted with each week and the newspaper devoted more and more space and resources to the story. There was no topic discussed more in town than the extent of probe, which touched on more than 100 persons.

The citizen’s group was successful in putting the charter change on the November 2009 ballot as Issue 6. But Democrats and labor leaders countered with Issue 5 that called for the creation of a commission to study the situation. Given the circumstances and the mood of the community, it was a tired tactic aimed at confusing the issue of reform.

Only one black political leader, Nina Turner, supported the charter change and she was castigated by her community. It was a critical moment for black leaders, especially Frank Jackson, who could have used his support to barter for possible concessions to aid his beleaguered school system. He did nothing.

On November 9, 2009, voters passed the charter change with a decisive 66.18 percent of the vote while Issue 5 went down hard, losing by 72.03 percent. It was truly an historic moment. The voters slammed the door on the past with vengeance.

The charter called for a county executive and an 11- member council that would eliminate the three county commissioners and eight other elected offices. The first election of the new government was held in 2010 and Lakewood mayor Ed FitzGerald was elected to the executive’s office.

FitzGerald, a former FBI agent who ironically opposed the charter change, wasted no time in reforming a bloated and unresponsive government. He cut $20-million in payroll and expenses. Some said he moved fast because he wanted to run for governor. Just the thought was an indication of how the new government had superseded city hall in political importance.

At times, Jackson’s stewardship at city hall was unremarkable. A new lakefront plan developed by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga Port Authority under the mayor’s direction floundered, wasting a million more dollars to say nothing of time. City hall announced yet another plan, but the lack of money and leadership most likely will doom it, too.

One of the big blows was Jackson’s failure to convince Eaton Corporation to follow through with plans to build its new headquarters on the lakefront. Instead, the company opted to build it in Chagrin Highlands.

City Hall continued to have housekeeping issues. The water department, full to the brim from years of patronage, was having such difficulty in billing and service that suburbs were talking of opting out of the system. The fire department had workforce problems that led to a criminal investigation, and the mayor’s expensive plan to create energy out of waste appeared beyond the horizon.

Finally, the city got its casino in the spring of 2012 and it became an immediate attraction in the old Higbee Co. building on Public Square. Businesses surrounding the casino experienced an immediate lift.

Late in his second term, Jackson began to focus on the agonizing problem of a broken school system. His efforts to confront the problems of a school system that long ago had been severely damaged were admirable. The question remained, though, how effective will the restructuring of the teaching system be? It desperately needed an operating levy passed.

The city seemed to be left to its own devices, no longer the political focal point it once was. It had been relegated to the status of another suburb.

In a sense, both the county and the city were at a cross roads. They shared similar problems and for both it was essential that they begin to think as a region rather than yet another subdivision.

The sprawl that had drained population from the central city since the 1920s, was now impacting the city and county in another critical way. By 2010 there were only 2,000 acres of agricultural land left in the county which soon would be the first in the state to be totally built upon.

On study tracing the migration away from cities showed that between 2000 and 2010 some 100,000 people moved from Cleveland, Akron and Lorain. Adjoining counties acquired 40,000 new residents.

The nature of government in some of these counties precluded the ability to levy income taxes making those areas attractive to those who want to leave areas of urban sprawl. Dismally, the study reported that by 2037 there will be another 75,000 houses abandoned in Cuyahoga County.

Ironically, the urban reported say that downtown Cleveland is the key to the region’s salvation. It has to find ways to regenerate its economy and entice people back into the city, reversing the trend that sprawl caused which only resulted in a rolling decay across the region.

Every indicator for Northeastern Ohio shows the need for government to abandon the past reorganize itself and adopt new taxing policies, redevelopment strategies and inducements to revitalize the region’s core.

The 21st century in the region has to be a time of innovation, leadership, and, above all, necessity.


Teaching Cleveland Digital