More than 75 years after his death, memories of Maurice Maschke linger still in the minds of the precious few who remember a political boss whose power influenced almost every aspect of life in Cleveland.
“I was a young boy who grew up in his neighborhood,” Forest City Corp. executive Sam Miller recalled of the legendary Republican leader. “I remember well he was the person everyone went to if they wanted something done.”
Hall of Fame journalist Doris O’Donnell’s mother was a Democratic ward leader for party boss Ray T. Miller – Maschke’s longtime political rival.
“On Sundays, we had these large family dinners at our home in Old Brooklyn and invariably there would be talk about city politics, about Miller and Maschke,” said O’Donnell. “They were both very competitive – and very smart.”
Longtime Ohio Republican Party chair Bob Bennett cut his teeth in Cleveland politics during the 1960s. Back then, Bennett said the Republican old timers regularly spoke of Maschke in reverential terms.
“He set the standard for political bosses, for how to obtain power and use it effectively,” said Bennett. “He made things happen. And, most importantly, he knew how to choose the right candidates and win elections. After all, that’s what politics is all about.”
It is indeed.
And no one in Cleveland ever did it better than Maurice Maschke.
Born in Cleveland in 1868, Maschke grew up in the predominately Jewish neighborhood of lower Woodland Ave., a few miles southeast of downtown.
The son of a relatively successful grocer, Maschke was a bright young boy – so bright he was schooled at the prestigious Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and Harvard University near Boston.
Graduating from Harvard in 1890, Maschke returned to Cleveland where he studied to be a lawyer. While reading law, he landed a job as a clerk in the county courthouse, a place teeming with aspiring politicians.
It was around this time that Maschke befriended Robert McKisson, a rising star in city politics. Maschke signed on as a precinct worker in the McKisson political organization. In 1894, McKisson was elected to City Council. A year later, he was elected mayor.
That election increased Maschke’s stature within the Republican Party. And it enabled him to secure an important job in the county recorders office.
Maschke, it seemed, was on his way.
But McKisson soon clashed with Marcus Hanna, the Cleveland industrialist who in 1900 would engineer William McKinnley’s election as president. Hanna was, at the time, the nation’s most powerful political insider and McKisson’s falling out with Hanna contributed to his defeat in the mayoral election of 1899.
That defeat could have slowed Maschke’s political ascent, but by then the young East Sider no longer needed the support of a powerful political patron. He had figured how to advance on his own.
Maschke formed an alliance with Albert “Starlight” Boyd, the city’s black political boss, that served them both well. He also befriended Theodore Burton, an ambitious young congressman with a big Republican following.
In 1907, Burton unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Mayor Tom L. Johnson. But in early 1909, the legislature appointed Burton to the U.S. Senate. Maschke became Burton’s political eyes and ears back home.
Many now considered Maschke the city’s most powerful Republican operative. Later that year, he would prove them right.
After eight years in office, Tom L. Johnson had won the reputation as perhaps the nation’s greatest big city mayor. To this day, the progressive Democrat is revered for building an affordable, citywide transit system, providing low-cost electricity to residents through construction of a municipal light plant, and the opening of dozens of new parks.
But as the 1909 election approached, Maschke boldly predicted he had a candidate who could beat Johnson. Most regarded the claim as political puffery – especially when they heard Maschke’s candidate was Herman Baehr, the bland and inarticulate county recorder.
Nevertheless, Maschke was adamant. “Baehr will win,” he insisted. “Johnson has been mayor for eight years. That’s too long.”
True to form, Baehr proved to be a horrible campaigner. Johnson was so unimpressed by his opponent that, three days before the election, he left town.
He should have stayed. On Election Day, Baehr won decisively. Maschke, who became county recorder when Baehr vacated the job, was now the town’s preeminent political figure.
Next, Maschke would take his act to the biggest political stage of all.
At the 1912 Republican National Convention in Chicago, President William Howard Taft was challenged by former President Theodore Roosevelt. As the convention opened, it appeared Taft had squandered his incumbent’s advantage – losing 9 of the 12 statewide primaries to Roosevelt, including his home state of Ohio.
But 100 years ago party bosses had a greater say in the presidential nominating process than rank and file voters. And in Chicago that year, perhaps no party boss had more clout than the Republican from Cleveland. When the roll was called, Maschke played a key role in Taft’s nomination.
That November, Taft lost the general election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson, but not before he appointed Maschke to the coveted post as Northeast Ohio’s customs collector. It was Boss Maschke’s last public job.
By 1920, Maschke had formally taken charge of the entity he had, in actuality, controlled for a decade – the county Republican Party. He had also established a law firm, that would eventually make him a wealthy man.
In 1924, Cleveland switched to a city manager form of government – with the job being filled by William Hopkins, Maschke’s close friend. Hopkins was charismatic and visionary. He championed construction of a huge stadium on the lakefront and purchased land from Brook Park to build an airport.
But Cleveland’s population was changing. A steady influx of European immigrants added to the Democratic Party’s growing numbers. And Democratic Party chair Ray T. Miller, who doubled as county prosecutor, was shrewdly taking advantage of that growth.
Compounding Maschke’s political problems were corruption charges – and some convictions – of Republican party operatives. Maschke himself was charged for his alleged role in a scandal involving county government. But the case against him was weak, and Maschke was acquitted.
Nevertheless, criticism of the chairman was growing – even from some Republicans. Near the end of the 1920s, Maschke’s power at home was waning.
But on the national stage, Maschke summoned up one more grand performance. In 1928, he was a leading supporter and valuable political strategist to Herbert Hoover’s successful presidential campaign.
Once again, Maschke had a friend in the White House. At home, however, problems continued.
But by the late 1920s, Maschke and Hopkins had a huge falling out. Some speculated Maschke resented Hopkins’ popularity. Another theory held Maschke thought Hopkins didn’t do enough to support Maschke’s friends, the Van Sweringen brothers, during construction of the Terminal Tower.
Whatever the cause of the rift, Maschke, as usual, prevailed. In 1930 members of City Council, saying Hopkins had become power-hungry, fired him. Not long after, during an appearance at the City Club, Maschke said he had merely “put Hopkins back on the street where I found him.”
It is fair to wonder how Maschke, a Jew in a city where Jews represented only a fraction of the population, was able to dominate city politics for more than a two-decades-long period. The answer requires some educated speculation, but the answer is probably a combination of some or all of these factors:
Maschke’s religion was probably unknown to many, as it was hardly a common Jewish surname. What’s more, at the time, Republican rank and file were viewed as more progressive and open- minded than their working class Democratic counterparts.
And since Maschke never sought high office, his religion and ethnicity was never really a factor with the electorate. Had he run for congress or mayor, voters might have paid more attention to his background and beliefs.
Then, as now, results are what matter most to candidates and party operatives.
Maschke, however, was hardly the first political boss who was intelligent and understood how to win elections. What differentiated him from the others was his civility, honesty, perhaps even a sense of decency.
On that night of Maschke’s death, Roelif Loveland, considered one of the two or three greatest Cleveland journalists of all time, wrote of Maschke:
“To think of him – and we who knew him are not likely to forget him in a hurry – to think of him is to think of a man who was kind and gracious; who loved this city and his family and his party and truth and personal decency. To be sure, he gave the city about what its citizens wanted. If they wanted the town cleaned up, it was cleaned up. If they wanted it less rigid, it was less rigid.”
For all of Maschke’s endearing traits, what differentiated him from so many in public life was the well-rounded nature of his life. In the very first paragraph of an editorial following his death, the Plain Dealer noted his enormous political accomplishments, but also noted Maschke was a cultivated gentleman with many friends, lover of the classics, expert at bridge, devotee of golf – a polished, suave and delightful personality.
Maschke was hardly Cleveland’s last successful political boss. Nor is he the most renowned. That title probably belongs to Marcus Hanna.
But, for a time, Maurice Maschke probably accumulated and wielded more political power than any local leader before or since.
When he died of pneumonia on Nov. 19, 1936, the Plain Dealer’s coverage included 10 front page photographs and an obituary that started on Page One and ran for five pages inside.
In his tribute, Roelif Loveland recalled that during tense moments on election nights Maschke would seem to sometimes growl at his assistants.
“They pretended to be frightened” wrote Loveland. “But they weren’t.” Why?
Brent Larkin joined The Plain Dealer in 1981 and in 1991 became the director of the newspaper’s opinion pages. In October 2002 Larkin was inducted into The Cleveland Press Club’s Hall of Fame. Larkin retired from The Plain Dealer in May of 2009, but still writes a weekly column for the newspaper’s Sunday Forum section.
by Philip W. Porter retired executive editor of the Plain Dealer 1976
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.
MASCHKE, MAURICE (16 Oct. 1868-19 Nov. 1936), leader of the CUYAHOGA COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY for 35 years, was born in Cleveland to Joseph and Rosa Salinger Maschke. He received his A.B. from Harvard University in 1890, returned to Cleveland, studied law, and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1891. While reading law, he worked searching titles at the CUYAHOGA COUNTY COURTHOUSE, and eventually became an authority on title law. In 1914, he became a partner in the law firm of Mathews, Orgill, & Maschke.
In 1897 Maschke was a precinct worker for Republican Mayor Robt. E. McKisson, being appointed deputy county recorder after McKisson’s reelection. Maschke formed a political alliance with ALBERT “STARLIGHT” BOYD† and worked with Republican congressman THEODORE BURTON†. He served briefly as county recorder in 1910. In 1911 he was appointed collector of customs by Pres. Wm. Howard Taft, serving until 1914 when he became the head of the county Republican party organization, the peak of his power being 1914-28. He was elected Republican national committeeman 1924-32. Maschke initially supported the appointment of WM. R. HOPKINS† for city manager; however, as Hopkins’s influence over city council grew, Maschke’s support turned into opposition and he was instrumental in persuading council to remove Hopkins in 1930. With the ascendancy of the Democratic party in the 1930s, his influence began to wane, and he retired as county Republican chairman in 1933. Maschke married Minnie Rice in 1903, and had 2 children, Maurice, Jr., and Helen Lamping Hanna. He died in Cleveland.
I don’t know much about editorial opinion or what constitutes a great public servant or a fair-to-middling one. But I do know something about people, as all reporters do who have been in the racket for more than a year.
You get so you can spot the phonies, and the average guys, and the better than average guys—and every so often you run across a fellow who grows with acquaintance and who never lets you down. And you are inclined to call them great guys, and sometimes you call them great men.
You can kick a heel around, and his bellows will fill the air, guilty or not. You can kick an average guy around, and he’ll smack you the first chance he gets. But when you kick a great man around, and he takes it, unconvinced of his error, but grinning, you’ll know he’s a great man.
A Man Kind and Gracious.
We all booted Maurice Maschke around—and he held no bitterness against us. Why did we kick him around? God only knows. Maurice Maschke was the symbol of party bossism. Maurice Maschke this, Maurice Maschke that. Maurice Maschke wore horns a foot long. So what?
To think of him—and we who knew him are not likely to forget him in a hurry—to think of him is to think of a man who was kind and gracious; who loved his city and his family and his party and truth and personal decency. To be sure, he gave the city about what its citizens wanted. If they wanted the town cleaned up, it was cleaned up. If they wanted it less rigid, it was less rigid, I do not attempt to claim that Maurice Maschke was a Boy Scout.
I can see him as he sat in a court room. Flash bulbs exploded all about him. One exploded. and the glass hit him in the face. Maschke was mad. Not mad about the bulbs, but burned up because he was being kicked around. He was acquitted.
Chatting With Foe’s Wife.
I can see him on a platform in Public Hall, graciously trying to make conversation with the wife of one of his political enemies. The lady looked scared to death until Maschke began to talk with her. Only a gentleman to his shoetops could have done it.
I can see him in his office going over the proof of the history of his life which he wrote for the Plain Dealer. A comma out of place was a matter of moment for him. He would consider the break of a paragraph for minutes. He liked words, and he fished for them diligently, until he had the right one. He had a lot of fun. I do not recall that most of the gross Tammany bosses ever gave a comma or a paragraph a thought.
I recall him on election nights, with his hat on his head, and his glasses on his forehead, looking up and pretending to growl at his assistants. They pretended to be frightened by the growl, but they weren’t, because they loved him. And I really believe he knew he wasn’t scaring anybody.
Eyes That Then Were Happy.
And I remember that night, not so long ago, when Maurice Maschke marched down the aisle of the former Women’s City Club where, on the eve of the greatest Democratic victory in history, Republicans had gathered to honor him. The hall was packed. Maschke’s scarf was flying free from his coat. His face was flushed. His eyes were happy, and a little moist. He did not seem to be very strong.
One by one, they got up, great and small, and told Maurice Maschke of their regard for him.
His heart was full—full almost to bursting.
It is a comfort today to those of us who booted Maurice Maschke around, to know that he bore us no iIl will. He never quite understood it—and neither did we. It was wicked to be a party boss, in spite of what Lincoln Steffens said on the subject. And Maschke let it go at that. Let it go at that, and took us into his confidence and, whether he knew it or not, sometimes into his heart.
And what we saw there was shining silver and pure gold.
For Maurice Maschke, diabolical party boss, was one of the kindest and gentlest and finest gentlemen I have ever known.