The Best of Teaching Cleveland

Teaching Cleveland Stories

Tom L. Johnson, America’s Best Mayor video

“Cleveland: The City on the Hill 1901-1909” by Hoyt Landon Warner*****

Cleveland in the 1960s by Mike Roberts

Rockefeller in Cleveland by George Condon*

Confession of a Reformer by Frederick Howe (Tom Johnson chapter)**

Regional Government vs Home Rule by Joe Frolik

Cleveland: Economics, Images and Expectations by Dr. John J. Grabowski

Survival – Man and Boy. A story about Lorrenzo Carter from “The Cuyahoga” by William Donohue Ellis*

Making of a Mayor – The Election of Carl Stokes***

Mark Hanna Vs. Tom Johnson by George Condon*

Water by Brent Larkin

Success By Design: The Schreckengost Legacy (video)

Biography of Newton D. Baker by Prof. C. H. Cramer****

African-American Heritage Trail in Cleveland***

Cleveland’s Johnson: The Cabinet by Eugene C. Murdock*****

The Ohio Canal Movement by Harry N. Scheiber*****

The Power Brokers – Glory Days of the Political Bosses by Brent Larkin***

*from Cleveland Memory/CSU Special Collections

**from Kent State Press

***from the Plain Dealer


*****from the Ohio Historical Society

*****Ohio State University Press

Teaching Cleveland Stories

Cleveland 1912: Civitas Triumphant By Dr. John Grabowski

Mark Hanna: The Clevelander Who Made a President By Joe Frolik

Rockefeller’s Right-Hand Man: Henry Flagler By Michael D. Roberts

Cleveland’s Original Black Leader: John O. Holly By Mansfield Frazier

The Heart of Amasa Stone By John Vacha

Frederic C. Howe:  Making Cleveland the City Beautiful (Or At Least Trying) by Marian Morton

Bill Veeck: The Man Who Conquered Cleveland and Changed Baseball Forever By Bill Lubinger

When Cleveland Saw Red By John Vacha

Maurice Maschke: The Gentleman Boss of Cleveland by Brent Larkin

Inventor Garrett Morgan, Cleveland’s Fierce Bootstrapper  by Margaret Bernstein

How Cleveland Women Got the Vote and What They Did With It  by Marian Morton

One Man Can Make a Difference by Roldo Bartimole

The Election That Changed Cleveland Forever by Michael D. Roberts

Deferring Dreams: Racial and Religious Covenants in Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland, 1925 to 1970 By Marian Morton

Cyrus Eaton: Khruschev’s Favorite Capitalist By Jay Miller

Ray Shepardson: The Man Who Relit Playhouse Square By John Vacha

Bertha Josephine Blue By Debbi Snook

The Scourge of Corrupt and Inefficient Politicians: The Citizens League of Greater Cleveland By Marian Morton

The Man Who Saved Cleveland By Michael D. Roberts and Margaret Gulley

cover image by Moses Pearl. Use thanks to Stuart Allen Pearl.

The 10 Greatest Clevelanders Since 1796

This article ran in the Plain Dealer during the Cleveland Bicentennial Year celebration. If you disagree with elements of the list or wish to offer additions, please email us at and we can start the discussion.

Courtesy of The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH) – Sunday, July 21, 1996

To borrow from Shakespeare, some are born with greatness. Others achieve it. Some have it thrust upon them.
Greatness is highly subjective. It’s elusive to define and difficult to measure.

And it also can go unnoticed. Imagine how many tens of thousands who have been a part of this area’s rich past, the deeds of their ordinary lives combining to build a great city. They and their memories are as much a part of this Cleveland’s bicentennial celebration as are the leaders who occupy our history books.

But today, on the eve of the city’s 200th birthday, I have set about the difficult task of attempting to determine and rank the 10 greatest Clevelanders – those whose deeds have had the greatest impact on this city and, in some cases, the nation.

The list that appears below is mine alone. But it was compiled after consultations with some of the foremost experts on Cleveland history: John J. Grabowski, director of planning and research at the Western Reserve Historical Society; David D. Van Tassel, professor of history at Case Western Reserve University; Thomas F. Campbell, history professor at Cleveland State University; and George Condon, retired Plain Dealer columnist and the author of several books on Cleveland’s history.

Singling out only 10 Clevelanders (actually, three of the top 10 include, for reasons that will be obvious, two names) for greatness guarantees that many historic figures be excluded, which is a major reason why the list is followed by an honorable-mention section. Ranking them in order is an invitation to second-guessing.

Nevertheless, what follows is one person’s listing of the 10 greatest Clevelanders.

1. Tom L. Johnson (1854-1911): The mayor against whom all others are measured. Elected in 1901, Johnson left a legacy that includes the mall plan, cheap trolley fares, low taxes and, probably above all, the municipal electric system. Johnson was the central figure in planning the city’s development as an industrial power. A successful businessman, he used town hall forums to bring immigrant masses into the political mainstream by instilling in them hope and inspiration. Upon his death, 200,000 people lined Euclid Ave. for the funeral procession.

2. John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937): His family moved from a farm in upstate New York to Strongsville when he was a teenager. After high school, he took a job as an assistant bookkeeper. At 24, he decided to enter the oil business.

So was born the Standard Oil Co., which made Rockefeller one of the world’s richest and most powerful men. This industrialist and philanthropist gave away millions. He built buildings and bought parks here. Criticized by some for moving to New York City in the 1880s, Rockefeller continued to spend summers at his Forest Hills Park estate.

3. Alfred Kelley (1789-1859): Not nearly as well-known as some of the more legendary Clevelanders, in 1915, Kelley became the first president of the village of Cleveland. Back then, Cleveland wasn’t much bigger than any of the other surrounding lakefront cities, like Lorain, Vermilion, Painesville, and others. But Kelley was a man with a dream – a canal that would link Cleveland with the Ohio River and make his city a major industrial port. As a member of the legislature in the 1820s, Kelley dedicated his life to making the Ohio & Erie Canal a reality. When the canal opened in 1827, it secured Cleveland’s place as Ohio’s dominant lakefront city.

4. O.P (1879-1936) and M.J (1881-1935) Van Sweringen: They developed Shaker Heights and Shaker Square, and when they envisioned a rapid-transit system linking the suburb to downtown, a railroad line stood in their way. So, the brothers bought the Nickel Plate Railroad and eventually accumulated a railroad empire consisting of 30,000 miles of tracks valued at $3 billion. Their monument to Cleveland remains today as the city’s most symbolic building – the Terminal Tower. The 1929 stock market crash almost bankrupted them and they died several years later.

5. Marcus Hanna (1837-1904): He was the nation’s first political boss, a cunning and brilliant political strategist universally credited with engineering the election of William McKinley as president in 1896. Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1898, Hanna became a major advocate of an idea many scoffed at – building a canal across Panama. In Cleveland, Hanna was both a wildly successful businessman and the town’s most dominant political figure. His biggest setback in politics was the election as mayor of his longtime enemy, Tom L. Johnson.

6. Newton D. Baker (1871-1937): A protege of Tom L. Johnson, Baker made his mark as mayor of Cleveland from 1912 to 1916. He was responsible for enactment of the City Charter and for promoting passage of the Home Rule amendment to the Ohio Constitution. He made his mark upon the world a few years later. With the nation’s future threatened from abroad, President Woodrow Wilson needed someone to build and train a force of 2 million men to fight the first world war. The choice of Baker as Secretary of War proved outstanding, as Baker was widely credited with succeeding in the most difficult of tasks. Shortly after the war, Baker returned to the Cleveland law firm that still bears his name.

7. Flora Stone Mather (1852-1909) and Samuel Mather (1851-1931): The Mathers were both born into wealth, and through the formation of the iron-ore company Pikands, Mather & Co., saw their separately inherited fortunes grow to the point where they became Ohio’s richest couple. What set them apart from so many other affluent husband-and-wife teams was the vast sums they donated to worthy charities. Major beneficiaries of the Mather fortune were Old Stone Church, Western Reserve University, University Hospitals, John Carroll University and the Community Chest.

8. George Crile (1864-1943): In 1906, while practicing at St. Alexis Hospital, this surgeon and medical researcher performed the world’s first successful blood transfusion. In the Spanish-American War and World War I, he was a highly decorated war surgeon. But Crile’s major contribution to Cleveland came in 1921 when he joined with three others to form the Cleveland Clinic, which, along with the other first-rate hospitals that already existed, cemented Cleveland’s place as a world-class medical center.

9. Adella Prentiss Hughes (1869-1950): Music was her life and through her efforts she put the music made in Cleveland on the map. A philanthropist and the promotor of scores of musical presentations, Hughes formed the Musical Arts Association in 1915 to fund and promote her projects. Three years later, she was the instrumental figure in the creation of the Cleveland Orchestra.

10. Edward Morley (1838-1923) and Albert Michelson (1852-1931): Morley was a scientist at Western Reserve University, Michelson a physicist at the Case School of Applied Science. Their research on the speed of light, known as the Michelson-Morley experiment (1887), laid the foundation for Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. Michelson became the first American to win a Nobel Prize in science. He finished second in the Nobel Prize balloting for chemistry.

Honorable mentions (alphabetically):

Paul Brown (1909-1991): A football genius and innovator who built one of the greatest franchises in the history of professional sports. So deep runs the loyalty Clevelanders have for the Browns that not even Art Modell could dry up this reservoir of affection.

Charles F. Brush (1849-1929): Developer of the arc light, the forerunner of Thomas Edison’s inventions.

Lorenzo Carter (1767-1814): Cleveland’s first permanent settler and easily its most prominent early citizen.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881): Because he lived in and spent so much time in Mentor, not all historians consider him a Clevelander, which explains why he was not placed in the top 10. Nevertheless, the 20th president of the United States did have some Cleveland connections.

Jane Edna Hunter (1882-1971): Daughter of a sharecropper, Hunter was a nationally known social worker and founder of the Phillis Wheatley Association.

Levi Johnson (1785-1871): A major figure in the growth of Cleveland as a large port, Johnson was a shipbuilder and real estate developer.

Garrett A. Morgan (1877-1963): Credited as the inventor of the gas mask and the traffic light, Morgan was a successful businessman and an early leader in the city’s black community.

Carl B. Stokes (1927-1996): The first black elected mayor of a major American city.

More Great Clevelanders
Florence Allen (1884-1966): Prominent suffragette; first female Chief Judge of a federal court.

Ernest Bohn (1901-1975): The father of U.S. public housing.

Linda Eastman (1867-1963): The first female head of a major library system (1918). She helped make the Cleveland Public Library into one of the nation’s best.

George Forbes (1931- ): One of the most powerful politicians in Cleveland history; as council president, he dominated government under three mayors.

Dorothy Fuldheim (1893-1989): The first female news anchorperson in the United States at WEWS.

Frederick H. Goff (1858-1923): Helped to establish the Cleveland Foundation, the oldest and one of the largest community foundations in America

Max Hayes (1866-1945): Union printer; launched the Cleveland Citizen newspaper in 1891; became a national voice of labor and socialist movements.

Martin A. Marks (1853-1916): Businessman; Developed models for philanthropic fund raising and management that ultimately became the United Way of Cleveland

Bishop Louis Amadeus Rappe (1801-1877): Cleveland’s first Catholic bishop; recruited priests and nuns from Europe and built churches, schools, orphanages and hospitals.

Bishop Joseph Schrembs (1866-1945): Cleveland’s fifth Catholic bishop; expanded charity work; used radio to evangelize.

Amasa Stone (1818-1883): Contentious man who built the first major railroad between Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. He was ruined when a bridge that he built collapsed in Ashtabula. His money helped to move Western Reserve College to University Circle from Hudson. His daughters (particularly Flora) and sons in laws, (John Hay and Samuel Mather) all had highly successful careers.

George Szell (1897-1970): In 34 years as musical director, this stern taskmaster from Vienna cemented the Cleveland Orchestra’s international reputation.

George V. Voinovich (1936- ): Mayor after 1978 default; improved city’s fiscal footing, Went on to become Governor of Ohio and US Senator. A power locally and nationally for over 30 years.

William O. Walker (1986-1981): Editor and publisher of the Call and Post; central figure in the rise of black political power here.

Cyrus Eaton (1883-1979): Highly controversial capitalist who mentored with John D. Rockefeller in Cleveland and then made his mark in the utility and steel industries. He lost it all during the depression, made it back post-depression and then worked on detente with the Soviet Union during the cold war.

William Stinchcomb (1878-1959): Father of the Cleveland Metroparks, today’s Emerald Necklace and one of the nations best free public park systems in a metropolitan area.

Abba Hillel Silver (1893-1963): Influential Jewish and civic leader in Northeast Ohio for nearly 50 years. Worldwide leader in the 1940s in the effort to create the State of Israel

Some of the Best of 2016

Joe Posnanski story on Cleveland Cavs and LeBron James 6.20.16 (NBC)

Some of the Best of 2016: Long Form Essays of Note (plus other content)

Drowning in Dysfunction: How the Cleveland Water Department is Failing its Community, Violating Rights (WEWS-TV5) 12/22/2016

Returning to Ohio How a small, Midwestern town has changed over the decades—and where it aims to go (Atlantic) 12/12/16

Tower Struggle. What Does Sale of Iconic Building Mean for Cleveland? 11.1.16 (Cleveland Magazine)

Silent Sanctuaries: In Pittsburgh, These Houses of God Stand Mute, Often Crumbling 10.31.16 (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Can’t You Hear the 1948 Whistle Blowin’ 10.27.16 (New York Times)

Cleveland Indians in 1948: A Story of Integration 10.24.16 (New York Times)

“Heart of Steel” Series from Plain Dealer About Steel Industry in Cleveland 10.16.16 (Plain Dealer)

Confessions of a Rust Belt Orphan (or how I learned to stop worrying and love Akron) by Jason Segedy 10.12.16 (Cleveland Scene)

Collinwood 1908: Bringing a Fire Back into History 10.6.16 (Belt)

“Voter Registration in Ohio” a Short History by Michael Curtin 9.25.16

“Louis Stokes Autobiography “The Gentleman from Ohio” Part 1 is here ( 8.29.16

“Louis Stokes Autobiography “The Gentleman from Ohio” Part 2 is here ( 8.30.16

Cleveland Metro Economic Performance is Mixed, According Cleveland Federal Reserve 8.25.16

Great Lakes Exposition: A World’s Fair to Remember Opened 80 Years Ago This summer: photos 7.28.16 (

In Cleveland’s Public Square, Rights are Exercised. Loudly 7.26.16 (New York Times)

The Challenge of Keeping Black Families From Leaving the Midwest 7.5.16 (Atlantic)

“Titles and Tears” an essay by Joe Posnanski 6.20.16 (NBC)

Go Hug a Tree. You Just Might Live Longer. Once Upon a Time, Cleveland was the Forest City. -Tim Kovach 4.30.16

Greater Cleveland Employment Trends: 2014 and 2015 -March 2016 (Cleveland State University)

“Viktor Schreckengost-The Exchange of Art with the Everyday” – winner of the 2016 Teaching Cleveland website award at History Day 3.5.16

New Images Reveal True Impact of Freeways on Cleveland’s Neighborhoods by Tim Kovach 2/25/16 FreshWater

Is Waterfront Development Paying Off? Nine Takeaways From LWV Forum: Steven Litt 2.15.16 (Plain Dealer/

How Local Media Coverage is Forcing Cleveland to Finally Fix Its Lead Problem 2.9.16 (Columbia Journalism Review)

Correcting For Bias: Mansfield Frazier 1.2.16 (Cool Cleveland)

Regionalism in Northeast Ohio-Material on the Subject from the past 10+ Years

Here’s another list of the “Best of 2016” from the Cleveland Scene

“The Scourge of Corrupt and Inefficient Politicians”: The Citizens League of Greater Cleveland By Marian Morton

The pdf is here

“The Scourge of Corrupt and Inefficient Politicians”: The Citizens League of Greater Cleveland
By Marian Morton

Cleveland’s self-styled enemy of “corrupt and inefficient politicians”1 was born in 1896, inspired by what its founders considered the disastrous state of local politics. For more than a century, fueled by righteous anger and empirical data, the league tackled big and small challenges, winning some battles and losing others.

The Cleveland organization, originally called the Municipal Association, took its cue, as well as reforms like municipal home rule and a professional city manager, from the National Municipal League. This organization, later the National Civic League, was established in 1894. Its concern: American cities, their governments designed for smaller, more homogeneous populations, were overwhelmed by rapid, unplanned growth and the difficulties of absorbing an enormous influx of European immigrants. The serious depression that began in 1893 exacerbated these problems, creating widespread unemployment and political unrest. The results: political bosses and machines, patronage, mismanagement, and disorder. The league’s founders included some of the Progressive era’s leading lights, including Teddy Roosevelt, later President of the United States, and Louis D. Brandeis, later U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Like other Progressive reformers, these men believed that professional direction and scientific principles could solve urban political problems. The association held its first national meeting in Cleveland in 1895.

Clevelanders quickly followed suit. Appalled and indignant at the open corruption and mismanagement of the mayoral administration of Republican Robert McKisson, a group of city leaders gathered in the office of Harry A. Garfield, son of the assassinated President James A. Garfield and professor of law at Western Reserve University. He had also served on the National League’s executive board. “It was obvious,” the group believed, “that the Augean stables, which was the government of the city, needed thorough cleaning.”2 The Cleveland Municipal Association was then organized, the second municipal association in the United States. It described its members as “nonpartisan … in the normal meaning of the phrase” – that is, they were both Republicans and Democrats but placed the interest of the city before that of party – and as “civic leaders of the community in the noblest sense of the term.”3

Almost all were businessmen like William and Samuel Mather, John Sherwin, or Tom L. Johnson, associated with the city’s leading industries or commercial establishments, plus a few professional men – academics like Garfield, H.W. Bourne, professor of history at Western Reserve College for Women, and lawyer Frederic C. Howe. The group also included a handful of prominent Jewish men: Rabbi Moses J. Gries, Martin A. Marks, and Morris A. Black, who became the group’s second president. All were white.

Quite logically, they believed that if political institutions operated like efficient businesses with well-informed men like themselves at the helm, all would be well. “To promote businesslike and efficient conduct” in government was their goal. 4Quite logically too, they were never critics of free enterprise capitalism and never endorsed even the mild “gas and water socialism” – that is, municipal ownership of utilities – advocated by reformers like Johnson and Howe, both of whom soon became disenchanted with the group.

1 The Citizens League of Cleveland, 1896-1946: Fifty Years of Critical and Constructive Service ( Cleveland: Citizens League of Cleveland, 1946), 3.

  1. 2  The Citizens League, 2
  2. 3  The Citizens League, 3
  3. 4  75 Years of Doing Good: The Citizens League of Greater Cleveland, 1896-1971 (Cleveland: The Citizens League of Greater Cleveland, n.d.), 7.


The Municipal Association’s first challenge was to defeat McKisson’s 1897 re-election bid. The association’s publications made no explicit recommendation, or condemnation, of his administration, but simply laid bare the facts, at least as members saw them. McKisson won. Two years later, the association took off the gloves and distributed thousands of handbills urging his defeat and charging, “City Government [Is] a Disgrace.” “A corrupt political machine is in power in Cleveland. The first duty of the voter is to crush it.”5 The association also staged a “splendid and enthusiastic” meeting at Gray’s Armory to rally the faithful to the cause of good government. Banker J.W.G. Cowles decried “machine” politics as “the voice of the devil.”6 McKisson lost.

Defeating Tom Johnson was a different matter. Although Johnson had been a founding member of the association, his single tax ideas and belief in municipal ownership of utilities made him suspect when he ran for mayor of Cleveland in 1901: “[The association] cannot recommend Mr. Johnson because it is not prepared to advocate the theories advanced by him; and because, to the minds of some of its members, Mr. Johnson thinks less of Cleveland and its welfare than of the demonstration of a theory and the pursuit of higher political honors.” The association endorsed his opponent in 1903; did recommend Johnson in 1905; and in 1907, again endorsed his opponent, Theodore E. Burton. Johnson won every time. In 1909, Herman C. Baehr got the association’s nod for mayor and handed Johnson his final defeat.7 Johnson later described the Municipal Association as “… supposed[ly] … distinctly nonpartisan and above the influences of Privilege” and pointedly commented that “city government belonged to the business interests generally …. The campaign funds came largely from business men who believed in a ‘business men’s government,’ and who couldn’t or wouldn’t see that there was anything radically wrong with the system.”8

The association did not make another recommendation for a mayoral candidate until 1989 although it continued its policy of doing research, providing information, and making recommendations for candidates for city, county, and state offices, sometimes Democrats and sometimes Republicans. In 1909, for example, the association recommended seven Republicans and three Democrats for Cleveland City Council after reviewing the credentials of 63 candidates. Here are two recommendations: “[Democrat] THOMAS B. FLOWER, present member of the city council. Mr. Flower’s work in the council has disclosed that he is a man of ability and is qualified for the office. …. [Republican] THOMAS W. FLEMING, lawyer and proprietor of a barber shop …. Is regarded as intelligent and trustworthy and of sufficient ability for service in the council.”9 Fleming was the first African American to be elected to Cleveland City Council but in 1929 went to jail for corruption in office.

In 1910, Mayo Fesler became director of the association, a position he held until 1945 except for the years, 1917 to 1923. Under his direction, the association became the Civic League in 1913 and then the Citizens League in 1923. By 1971, it had become the Citizens League of Greater Cleveland, an acknowledgement that by then most of its members lived outside the city. (It will be referred to hereinafter as the CL or “the league.”) In 1913, Fesler organized the City Club of Cleveland, an organization still committed to free and open political debate. When he died in 1945, Fesler was eulogized as “one of the most ardent fighters for the cause of good government in Cleveland’s history.”10 On his watch the league would establish itself as a force for successful political reform.

Chief of these successes was home rule for the city of Cleveland, advocated by many Progressive reformers including Johnson. Johnson called it “the most pressing of all civic problems.”11 The league explained home rule as the right of cities “to frame their own charters and legislate for themselves in

  1. 5  75 Years of Doing Good, 3-4.
  2. 6  Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 29, 1899: 1.
  3. 7  75 Years of Doing Good, 9.
  4. 8  Tom L. Johnson, My Story (Kent, Ohio and London, England: Kent State University Press,1993), 171, 114.
  5. 9  Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 29, 1909: 4.
  6. 10  75 Years of Doing Good, 32.

11 Johnson, 148.


strictly local affairs,” free from the “constant interference from the state capitol” that had made local governments “pawns in the game of state and national politics.” State governments, sometimes corrupt, passed “unintelligent and irresponsible legislation” for cities, the league charged.12 Home rule, in contrast, would bring the city’s government closer to its citizens and more accountable to them.

Fesler had come from St. Louis, which had home rule, and aided by Newton D. Baker and A.R. Hatton, a political science professor at Western Reserve University, Fesler prepared and distributed a pamphlet, “Constitutional Home Rule for Ohio Cities.” The men then helped to organize the Ohio Municipal League in 1912. Their lobbying of the General Assembly got a home rule amendment on the ballot, and it was approved by Ohio voters in September, 1912.13

The league put together a slate of candidates to re-write Cleveland’s charter. Baker, then mayor, was named the group’s chairman, and Fesler, its secretary. The new charter provided for a mayor-council form of government, both to be elected on a non-partisan basis for two-year terms. The CL sponsored meetings around the city to educate voters, and the new charter, approved in July 1913, also included initiative, referendum, and recall, all popular Progressive reforms. In 1914, Cleveland’s became the first municipal home rule charter in Ohio. 14 The league proudly took credit: “Municipal Home Rule Is Citizens League Baby,” crowed the league’s history.15

In 1916, the CL became a forceful advocate for a city manager form of government. This appealed to the league and other Progressives because it placed important administrative responsibilities in the hands of an efficient nonpartisan expert instead of a partisan mayor likely to distribute jobs to his political cronies. Cleveland voters approved the city manager plan in 1921. In 1924, city council chose William R. Hopkins as city manager; he was replaced in 1930 by Daniel Morgan. In 1923, the city experimented with the first of five elections to city council by proportional representation, another structural reform that was supposed to make council more representative and less corrupt.

By the 1920s, Baker had parted ways with the CL, which in 1916 had recommended a “no” vote on a bond issue to support Baker’s signature achievement as mayor – a municipally owned light plant. A legacy from Johnson’s administration, the plant began operation in 1914. The league argued that since financial reports for 1915 and 1916 had not been made available, there was no way for a voter to know whether or not “the plant is a paying investment.”16 Baker, however, claimed that the public facility had expanded its customer base and saved Clevelanders money in its first years of operation.17

Moreover, according to Baker’s biographer, C.H. Cramer, Baker had come to believe that party responsibility, not nonpartisanship, was essential to good government. Consequently, he had little faith in proportional representation or the city manager form of government. “Baker was certain that it was personnel who were important, that good government came from good men rather than by experimentation in the forms of government.”18

Baker seemed to have won the argument, for neither the city manager nor proportional representation ended corruption. Republican boss Maurice Maschke and Democratic boss W. Burr Gongwer found other ways to divide up the city jobs,19 and it was business as usual at City Hall. In addition, proportional representation voting was complicated, and vote-tallying was confusing and time- consuming.

  1. 12  Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 21, 1912: 11.
  2. 13  75 Years of Doing Good, 12.
  3. 14  David D. Van Tassel and John J. Grabowski, eds., Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (Bloomington and London, Indiana University Press, 1996), 534-5.

15 16 17

75 Years of Doing Good, 11.
Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 26, 1916: 3. Van Tassel and Grabowski, 717.

18 C.H. Cramer, Newton D. Baker: A Biography (Cleveland and New York: World Publishing, 1961), 60-61. 19 Van Tassel and Grabowski, 801.


Cleveland politicians and voters were disgusted and dismayed, and the league had to fight off efforts in 1925, 1927, 1928, and 1929 to repeal one or both reforms. The economic and political disorder of the Depression was the last straw, and voters repealed both the city manager and proportional representation in 1931.20 Cleveland returned to a popularly elected mayor and ward-based voting.

The league had found an unlikely ally in its battle for city manager and proportional representation: the League of Women Voters (LWV). “Unlikely” because the Municipal Association, and then the Civic League, had expressed no interest in or support for woman suffrage although individual members like Baker, Howe, and Johnson counted themselves suffragists. In 1894, Ohio women had won the right to vote for and sit on school boards, and the association, and then the league, advised women what men to vote for but seldom recommended women for office. “The law enabling women to vote at school elections had for its purpose the introduction of a purifying element in the election of school officials,” the association reminded Cleveland women, urging them not to vote for a candidate “backed by the worst class of politicians … and professional ward workers.”21 In 1902, an angry woman protested that “the Municipal Association is a self-constituted, self-perpetuating body of men whose opinions do not count for any more than any other good citizen’s opinion.”22 Even though the CL did campaign for constitutional amendments such as home rule, it did not endorse the woman suffrage amendments on the Ohio ballot in 1914 and 1917. (Both amendments lost.) Although women were allowed to go to “splendid and enthusiastic” public meetings sponsored by the league, they were not permitted to attend the league’s annual meetings until spring 1920, as the 19th (Woman Suffrage) Amendment was on the verge of passage by the states.23 In 1923, the league rewrote its constitution, now encouraging “competent men and women [italics in the original] to stand for public office.”24

Despite this cavalier treatment, the LWV, founded in 1919 to persuade women to become educated voters, generally found itself on the same side of most issues with the Citizens League. One major difference: LWV never endorsed candidates.

During the first decades of the twentieth century, the farsighted CL championed many reforms later achieved: a smaller Cleveland City Council, voter registration, and lowering the voting age to 18. The league also lobbied the Ohio General Assembly for civil service laws for local, county, and state offices and protested an apportionment system that advantaged rural over urban counties.

Much of its success derived from its Governmental Research Institute, established in 1943. Its publications over the next five decades hammered home the league’s familiar structural reforms for the city and county. The institute’s financial support from local government, foundations, and individuals also raised crucial funds for the league. Publications included “Civil Service Personnel in the City of Cleveland” (1949), “Voting Machines for Cuyahoga County” (1948), “The Sewerage Problem in Cuyahoga County” (1952), “Of Time and Traffic and How to Move About More Easily in Cleveland” (1956) , and “Ohio’s Apportionment and Subdistricting” (1963).

The league’s “Analysis of the Cleveland Municipal Electric Light Plant” (1964) advised Mayor Ralph Locher that the plant was wasting tax payers’ money, that its rates to customers should be raised, and the money funneled into the city’s general fund. Locher argued, as had Baker and Johnson, that the public facility provided a necessary “yardstick” by which the rates of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating

20 Marian J. Morton, “It Was the Worst of Times, It Was the Worst of Times: Cleveland and the Great Depression,” was-the-worst-of-times-cleveland-and-the-great-depression-by-marian-morton

  1. 21  Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 24, 1900: 5.
  2. 22  Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 12, 1902: 2.
  3. 23  Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 12, 1920:13.
  4. 24  75 Years of Doing Good, 19.


could be measured. The league remained un-persuaded and urged the city to sell the public plant to the private utility.25

During the 1950s and 1960s, the institute did the research on city finances for Mayors Anthony Celebrezze, Locher, and Carl Stokes that underpinned their requests to the voters to raise city taxes. Its 1964 study of tax policies pointed out that Cleveland’s upper and middle classes had left the city, taking their tax dollars with them, leaving a population in need of greater services and a city with fewer funds to provide them. The study suggested an income tax on money earned in the city, regardless of where the taxpayer lived – that is, a regional income tax such as is now in place. Simultaneously, the institute suggested ways that the city might save money, becoming “a watchdog for economy,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.26

In 1967, one-time league president and long-time supporter of its reforms, Seth Taft mounted an historic campaign for mayor of Cleveland. Republican Taft, grandson of U.S. President William Howard Taft, faced off against Democrat Carl Stokes, narrowly losing the race that made Stokes the first African American mayor of a large American city. Taft then served as Cuyahoga County Commissioner, 1971-1978, a reminder of the league’s still-viable political presence.

Both Democrats and Republicans valued CL endorsements because of its nonpartisan reputation and its large membership: it claimed 5,200 members in 1975.27 Dennis Kucinich, then a league member, got its recommendation in his 1967 run for councilman in Cleveland’s Ward 7 when he was still a 21- year-old student at Cleveland State University. When he was elected mayor, however, Kucinich, ran afoul of the league. In 1978, It again urged the sale of Cleveland’s Municipal Light Plant.28 Kucinich’s refusal to sell drove the city into default and nearly cost him a recall election.29 (The election had been made possible by the CL’s “baby,” home rule.)

Perhaps with Kucinich in mind, CL executive director Blair R. Kost later said, “You would have to hold your nose for some people we’ve preferred [the league did not use the term “endorse” although it was commonly understood that’s what “preferred” meant] … There are times when a candidate only
has a few qualifications but is the best in the race.” Regardless, the league’s “preferred candidates” won about 90 percent of the time.30

According to a poll done for the county Democratic Party, voters rated the league endorsement as the second most influential factor in picking the mayor. In 1989, the league broke an 80-year precedent and “preferred” County Commissioner Tim Hagan and City Council President George Forbes over several other candidates in the nonpartisan mayoral primary. One of the not-preferred candidates, then-State Senator Michael R. White, responded angrily: “It is a sad day in Cleveland that the Citizens League could endorse a political scoundrel like George Forbes. I’m sure the founders of the Citizens League are turning over in their graves.” White beat Hagan in the primary to run against – and beat- Forbes in the general election for mayor.31 At least in this case, the league endorsement had lost its influence.

The Research Institute continued to provide policy-makers with valuable data. As Cleveland attempted to repurpose itself as a “come-back city” and a tourist destination, the institute published “Public Opinion About Public Affairs in Greater Cleveland, 1988-1990:” Greater Clevelanders were optimistic about the city’s future, they liked the new downtown projects such as Tower City and Gateway, they believed that the city’s image was improving but realized that the city’s public schools

  1. 25  Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 30, 1964:7; November 12, 1964: 6.
  2. 26  75 Years of Doing Good, 30-31.
  3. 27  Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 20, 1956: 6.
  4. 28  Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 3, 1978:135.
  5. 29  For the decades-long, politically divisive conflict between Cleveland Electric Illuminating and the municipal light plant, first called Muny Light and now Cleveland Public Power, see Van Tassel and Grabowski, 717-719.
  1. 30  Plain Dealer, May 23, 1982: C1.
  2. 31  Plain Dealer, September 12, 1989: 1.


were a serious problem.32 The George Gund Foundation and the Cleveland Foundation funded the institute’s 1992 report and recommendations on the Cleveland public schools’ financial emergency. 33After a disastrous primary election in June 1992 that triggered investigations by the F.B.I. and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, among other agencies, the institute was asked to assess the county’s Board of Elections and make recommendations; the institute produced a bulletin, Reforming the Elections Process in Cuyahoga County (1992), that advocated hiring a director who would “run the office as a business and not as a patronage hiring hall for the local political parties.”34

The league’s most enduring battle was county-wide metropolitan government, or what the league initially called “county home rule” for Cuyahoga County, a restructuring to replace the hodge- podge of dozens of suburban governments, that fostered the league’s sworn enemies, inefficiency and corruption. “Cities, villages, and school districts have developed in great numbers about the rim of the larger cities until there is confusion of authority, absence of direct responsibility in administration and a great waste of public funds,” proclaimed its January 1917 Bulletin. “No Man Is An Island” became the League “clarion call.”35 Although the specific plans for county reorganization have varied, in general, the league has advocated the “consolidation of various jurisdictions into a scientifically managed regional government” that would be stronger, more efficient, cheaper, and free of corruption.36

The league failed to get the necessary county home rule amendment on the state-wide ballot in 1917, but undismayed, lobbied the Ohio General Assembly for an amendment in 1919, 1921, 1923, 1925, 1927, 1929, and 1931. In 1933, the league got the amendment on the ballot by petition, and the amendment was approved by voters in the fall. An elected commission drew up a charter approved by a county-wide majority in 1935. Fearing for their jobs, elected officials took the charter to the Ohio Supreme Court, which declared it unconstitutional because it had not received a majority in all the areas outside of the largest city and in a majority of the municipalities and townships.37 Votes on a charter commission failed in 1936 and 1941.

As suburban outmigration accelerated after World War II, however, the time seemed ripe for another effort. Voters approved a charter commission in 1949 but turned down the charter itself the next year, defeated, according to the league, by county officials, the mayor of Cleveland, and “provincial-minded suburbanites.”38 Throughout the 1950s, the league organized supporters, did studies, issued reports, and drew up its own version of a new simplified charter for county government. A more complicated charter was turned down by the voters in 1959.39 City voters were told that the new county government would raise their taxes; suburban voters feared loss of their autonomy. Efforts at reforming county government failed in 1969, 1970, and 1980. Cleveland’s ethnic and racial groups feared they would lose hard-won political power.40 In the meantime, however, there was movement toward centralization as Cleveland turned over its hospitals to the MetroHealth System, its zoo to the MetroParks and its transit and sewer systems to regional authorities.

In 2002, Brent Larkin, Plain Dealer editorial director, celebrated the league’s achievements: “It brought home rule to Ohio, successfully championed one-man one-vote apportionment, fought for open government, secured election law reform and was the first group to call for reduction of the size of

32 Citizens League Research Institute, Public Opinion About Public Affairs in Greater Cleveland, 1988- 1990,(Cleveland: Citizens League of Greater Cleveland, October 1990), 1.
33 Citizens League Research Institute, Responding to the Cleveland Public Schools Financial Emergency: A Report to the Cleveland Board of Education and Superintendent” (Cleveland: Citizens League of Greater Cleveland, June 1992).

  1. 34  Plain Dealer, January 5:1993:6B.
  2. 35  75 Years of Doing Good, 19.
  3. 36  Van Tassell and Grabowski, 850-852.
  4. 37  75 Years of Doing Good, 20.
  5. 38  75 Years of Doing Good, 20
  6. 39  75 Years of Doing Good, 20
  7. 40  Van Tassell and Grabowski, 850-852.


Cleveland City Council from 33 to 21 members.” But he also lamented its diminishing influence and ailing finances as its research institute competed less successfully for funds with local universities. The league’s acting executive director conceded, ‘We need to have a better idea of what we want to be.” Larkin advised the league to find a “charismatic” leader and a “compelling cause.”41

Instead, the CL in 2004 made still another stab at reforming county government, allied this time with the county Republican Party. The newest plan called for replacing the three county commissioners with a county executive and an 11-member council. The alliance failed to collect enough valid signatures to put the issue on the ballot, local business leaders withdrew their support, and the drive collapsed. So did the Citizens League; it had failed to pay its executive director for months.

In July 2008, FBI raids on the Cuyahoga County Administration Building, the homes of public officials, and the offices of private companies uncovered the most corrupt administration in the county’s history. The scandal spread outward into suburbs, courts, school systems, the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, and MetroHealth Hospital. Although dozens of smaller fish got caught in the federal net, the real targets were top county officials: County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora (Public Official 1) and County Auditor Frank Russo (Public Official 2), both also powers in the county Democratic Party. Both subsequently went to jail.

After months of subpoenas, arrests, trials, and imprisonments, disgusted voters in November 2009 did approve a new county government with a chief executive and 11 elected representatives, similar to league’s latest plan. And although defunct, or at least dormant, during this period of county crisis, the CL, the self-styled “scourge of corrupt and efficient politicians,” might have claimed a hollow victory in having said – for decades – “We told you so.” More positively, when Cuyahoga County government was re-constructed, the league might have taken credit for its decades of laying the groundwork for change.

In spring 2010, even as the wide-spread corruption continued to make headlines and the new county government took shape, the Citizens League of Greater Cleveland was reborn: new leadership, same goals – “integrity and efficiency” – achieved the same way: candidate evaluation and structural reform. 42

Talk of the kind of structural reforms that the CL has long urged – eliminating the duplication of public services and governmental entities – is still in the air. Its advocates now call it regionalism and point out that it would be efficient and save money. This is the argument used by the CL for decades, and should be an appealing one, since in 2014, Cleveland and the county’s suburbs and cities are strapped for funds, thanks to the collapse of property values in the recession of 2008 and a General Assembly in Columbus that is reluctant to share public funds. But as Joe Frolik has pointed out, the league’s proudest creation, the home rule amendment that gives autonomy to Ohio cities, towns, and suburbs, is the mightiest obstacle to regional government, the league’s most cherished cause. 43 And as it has for decades, voters’ deep loyalty to place or political position may well count for more than promises of a more efficient, less expensive government.

41 Plain Dealer, August 4:2002: 4.


Cleveland Business Hall of Fame -Inside Business (good list!)

Inside Business Cleveland Business Hall of Fame Issue: October 2006 Issue

Posthumous Inductees to Inside Business Cleveland Business Hall of Fame

Samuel Andrews arrived in Cleveland in 1857 and helped oil supplier Charles Dean’s company become the first to refine kerosene from petroleum. In 1863, he co-founded Andrews, Clark & Co., which became Standard Oil Co. Andrews went on to fund local education institutions, such as Brooks Military School.

Samuel Austin built The Austin Co. into one of the largest construction firms in the United States. In 1911, Austin constructed a research facility in East Cleveland — the core of today’s Nela Park. With help from the Ford Motor Co., Austin designed and built a $60 million, 600-acre factory in the Soviet Union.

Newton D. Baker came to Cleveland in 1899 and was eventually elected mayor in 1911, a title he held for two terms. Baker was also a confidant of President Woodrow Wilson and secretary of the war in 1916. Baker returned to Cleveland and founded the law firm known today as Baker & Hostetler LLP.

In 13 years as managing partner at Ernst & Ernst (now Ernst & Young), Richard T. Baker pushed the firm to achieve a national presence with 135 offices. He also served on the boards of directors for companies such as Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc., General Electric Co., and the National Broadcasting Co.

Louis D. Beaumont and his brother-in-law, Col. David May, bought Cleveland’s E.R. Hull & Dutton Co. in 1899. Beaumont transformed the store into the May Co. and it went on to become the nation’s largest retail department-store chain.

From 1959, Jess Bell led his father Jesse G. Bell’s company, Bonne Bell Inc., to become one of the country’s top cosmetics manufacturers. Jess Bell is also known for his healthy lifestyle, a value reflected in his company, which offers in-house fitness centers and incentives to employees who exercise regularly, lose weight or quit smoking.

In 1912, Leon A. Beeghly formed the New York-based Buffalo Slag Co. whose blast-furnace slag was widely used in highway construction. Two years later, he opened Standard Slag Co. in Youngstown, which grew rapidly and expanded to 25 plants. Despite the Depression, Standard Slag grew, acquiring sand plants and limestone quarries.

In 1928, Italian-born Hector Boiardi sold packaged takeout dinners from his restaurant, Giardino d’Italia, near East Ninth Street. Despite the Depression, Boiardi’s operation outgrew three processing plants. As a marketing strategy, he spelled his name phonetically, making Chef Boy-ar-dee a household name.

Alva “Ted” Bonda returned from the U.S. Army in the mid-1940s and accepted a request that he manage an Avis Rent-a-Car franchise. Bonda became national chairman of the rental-car giant in 1968. He left to run the Airport Parking Co. of America (APCOA). By the time APCOA was sold in the late 1980s, it was the largest such company in the world.

In 1853, Alva Bradley and Ahira Cobb founded the shipyards of Bradley & Cobb on the Vermillion River. Bradley moved to Cleveland in 1859 and bought out Cobb. The business, later known as Cleveland & Buffalo Transit Co., amassed a fleet that captured much of the early iron-ore shipping on the Great Lakes.

Joseph M. Bruening’s company, Bearings Inc., distributed antifriction bearings and power-transmission components and built its success on commitment to service. By 1977, the company’s annual sales reached $200 million and eventually went on to become the largest bearings distributor in the world.

In 1879, Charles F. Brush improved electric arc lights with his patented open-coil dynamo (a precursor to the modern generator), making Cleveland the first city in the world to illuminate its streets extensively with electric lights.

H. Peter Burg began his career at FirstEnergy Corp. (then Ohio Edison) as a financial analyst trainee in 1968 and quickly moved up the ranks, serving as treasurer, vice president, senior vice president, and president and COO in 1996. He was named president and chairman in 1999.

As Cleveland’s first permanent pioneer, Lorenzo Carter settled near the riverbank in 1797 and became the city’s first leader, innkeeper, shipbuilder and policeman. Carter bought lots from the Connecticut Land Co. and by 1802, he owned much of what is now the East Bank of the Flats.

Part banker, part real estate mogul, in the  mid-1800s, Leonard Case Sr. led efforts to move a medical college from Willoughby to Cleveland and helped launch Cleveland University. After Case’s death, his son, Leonard Jr., donated $1 million to found the Case School of Applied Science, now part of Case Western Reserve University.

Henry Chisholm helped establish Cleveland’s reputation as a steel leader. After working for the Cleveland & Pittsburgh Railroad in the 1850s, he joined Jones & Co., which rolled iron rails. He served as an investor and later as manager and president. The firm, renamed Cleveland Rolling Mill, introduced the Bessemer furnace.

Moses Cleaveland ventured to the mouth of the Cuyahoga River on July 22, 1796. As director of the Connecticut Land Co., Cleaveland led the first surveying expedition of the company’s newly acquired property. A lawyer by trade, Cleaveland served in the Connecticut legislature and was also a general in the Connecticut militia.

After working for the Cleveland Iron Co., Jacob D. Cox Sr. entered a partnership with C.C. Newton in 1876 and began manufacturing the twist drill in Dunkirk, N.Y. He moved the company to Cleveland where it become a major part of the city’s industrial economy.

Frederick C. Crawford began working at Steel Products Co. sorting scrap for only 35 cents an hour. By 1933, he was president of the company, renamed Thompson Products Inc. (now TRW Corp.). Under Crawford, Thompson expanded its aircraft-parts manufacturing and helped launch the Cleveland National Air Races.

After testing tree-care concepts in a cemetery, tree preservationist John Davey published “The Tree Doctor in 1903,” detailing a municipality’s neglect of its trees and plant life. The Davey Institute of Tree Surgery (now the Davey Institute, which is part of Davey Tree Expert Co.) was created in 1909 to provide educational resources for its employees.

James C. Davis joined Squire, Sanders & Dempsey in 1946 and initiated the firm’s national growth by opening offices in Washington, D.C., and maneuvering the merger with McAfee. Davis was active in Cleveland’s civic affairs, supporting a visit by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and speaking against racism to the Cleveland Bar Association.

A leader in the modern mall movement, Edward J. DeBartolo established DeBartolo Realty, creating shopping centers such as Boardman Plaza, Southern Park Mall and Randall Park Mall, and developments such as a Seven-Up bottling plant and residential homes for veterans in the 1940s and ‘50s

As Cleveland’s first industrialist Nathaniel Doan was elected one of three highway supervisors during the township’s first elections. He laid out the course of what became Detroit Avenue. He also managed a tavern and operated a baking-soda plant.

In 1900, Cyrus S. Eaton was given a job acquiring electric power franchises. He went on to finance and lead businesses including Republic Steel Co., The Sherwin-Williams Co. and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. In 1960, Eaton was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize for promoting understanding between the capitalist West and the communist East.

In 1952, Henry F. Eaton and graphic designer John Dix left Industrial Publishing to form Dix & Eaton. Their advertising agency metamorphosed into a public relations firm in the 1970s, gaining a reputation for serving public companies.

In 1911, Joseph O. Eaton Jr. created Torbensen Gear & Axle Co. with Viggo Torbensen in Bloomfield, N.J. In 1915, Eaton moved Torbensen Gear to Cleveland, where it became Eaton Corp., one of the world’s most important automotive parts-makers.

In 1902, Alwin C. Ernst and his brother, Theodore, opened the accounting firm Ernst & Ernst where Alwin revolutionized accounting by packaging data into reports and analyses, providing business managers with information on marketing and business efficiency.

Thomas L. Fawick built a touring sedan, believed to be the first American-made four-door automobile and in 1936, organized Fawick Clutch Co. Fawick clutches were used by major automakers and in the landing gear of naval craft during World War II.

When Harvey Firestone glued rubber to the wheels of carriages from the Columbus Buggy Co., he knew that he had something. Firestone incorporated the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. in 1900 and partnered with Henry Ford soon after, making tires for his $500 automobile.

John D. Rockefeller’s enthusiasm for the oil business infected Henry M. Flagler, who became a partner in the Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler oil company. Recognizing its potential as a winter vacation spot, Flagler built the 642-mile Florida East Coast Railroad to connect his string of hotels.

Claud H. Foster created the Gabriel Co. in 1904 to manufacture the Gabriel Horn, a car horn he’d invented that was powered by exhaust gases. Foster then created the “Snubber” shock absorber and became well known for his expertise on how cars handled road shock.

In 1929, Tom M. Girdler helped create Republic Steel Corp. and became its first president and board chairman. Under his leadership, the company became a major producer of light alloy steel.

As president of Cleveland Trust from 1908 to 1923, Frederick H. Goff instituted policies and procedures that enhanced the bank’s reputation and financial status. He developed the concepts of the living trust and the community trust and established The Cleveland Foundation in 1914.

In 1882, Caesar A. Grasselli took over his father’s sulfuric acid plant, which moved to Cleveland to be closer to the oil-refining businesses that bought its products. The company built new plants, bought competitors and expanded into other chemicals to become the country’s second-largest producer of zinc.

After living in poverty in Austria-Hungary, Anton Grdina came to Cleveland and opened Grdina & Co., a hardware store in 1904. He helped organize the Slovenian Building and Loan Association and established the North American Building & Savings Co.

George Gund II took over his father’s business in 1916, the Gund Brewing Co. During the Depression, he strengthened his wealth by purchasing high-quality stocks at bargain prices. Gund became director of Cleveland Trust Bank in 1937, its president in 1941 and served as chairman of the board from 1962 to 1966.

In 1891, brothers Salmon P. and Samuel H. Halle purchased a hat and fur business, which they named Halle Bros. By the end of 1910, sales reached $1 million and the store became known for their benevolent and generous attitude toward employees.

In 1832, Truman P. Handy came to Cleveland to oversee the revival of the Commercial Bank of Lake Erie. Handy helped put the bank into receivership during the Panic of 1837. He was also an investor for several rail lines, helped reorganize Western Reserve College and incorporate the Case School of Applied Science.

After managing Theodore Roosevelt’s and William McKinley’s presidential campaignsMarcus A. Hanna took over his father-in-law’s coal business. The renamed M.A. Hanna Co. became a mining and shipping empire. Hanna was also appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1897, 1898 and 1904.

Under the leadership of H. Stuart Harrison, Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co. increased its ore production fivefold and its earnings per share eightfold, expanded into foreign mining and became the first company to lessen the impact of inflation by tying iron-ore royalties to a price index.

In 1892, Willliam A. Harshaw formed the Cleveland Commercial Co. By 1900, he acquired partners and united his enterprises under the name Harshaw, Fuller & Goodwin Co. During Harshaw’s tenure, the company offered catalysts, ceramics, synthetic crystals and metallic soaps, and was the principal source of refined manganese ore during World War I.

For 40 years, former LTC Corp. chairman and CEO David H. Hoag was influential in the company’s growth and success, and his sales and marketing skills helped save the company from bankruptcy.

Liberty E. Holden bought The Plain Dealer in 1885. Holden’s family owned the paper until 1967, when his heirs sold it to the Newhouse family of New York. Today, it is Cleveland’s only daily newspaper and Ohio’s largest.

Allen C. Holmes is credited with major advancements in corporate law. A national expert in antitrust law, Holmes began his practice in 1944 at what is now Jones Day where he was named managing partner in 1975.

The W.H. Hoover Co. had specialized in leather horse collars until William Henry Hoover developed his vacuum cleaner in response to a friend’s asthma condition. In 1908 Hoover incorporated his Electric Suction Sweeper Co. and by 1919, the vacuum business was flourishing.

George M. Humphrey gave up his $300,000 salary as chairman of Cleveland’s M.A. Hanna Co. for the job of secretary of the Department of the Treasury for $22,500 in 1953. Humphrey also pushed for the creation of National Steel Corp., which grew into the country’s sixth-largest steelmaker.

After selling Pump Engineering Service Corp., William S. Jack and Ralph M. Heintz wooed 25 Cleveland machinists to California to start a company that made airplane starters. Jack & Heintz Inc. moved back to Cleveland and sales leapt to $120 million by 1943.

Influenced by Henry George’s “Social Problems,” former businessman Tom L. Johnson ran for public office in 1885 and was elected to the U.S. Congress twice in the 1890s. He was elected mayor four times before his death in 1911.

In 1819, Alfred Kelley was a state representative and chief proponent of a canal linking Lake Erie with the Ohio River. Kelley was instrumental in reviving Cleveland’s banking business and bringing railroads to the area.

In the 1940s, billionaire Fred Lennon met Cullen Crawford, an engineer who developed a pipe fitting dubbed the Swagelock. With a $500 loan, the two founded The Crawford Fitting Co. in 1947. The company, now called Swagelok, has about 3,000 employees and more than 25 facilities on three continents.

Alfred Lerner took over Equitable Bancorp. in 1981, which was acquired by Maryland National Bank. Under Lerner, the bank’s credit card division became MBNA and, in 1991, he took Maryland National Bank public. He and Carmen Policy also brought the beloved Browns back to Cleveland in 1999.

With money he earned building an electric motor for Herbert Henry Dow’s cement mill, John Lincoln started Elliott-Lincoln Electric Co. In 1907, James Lincoln joined his brother as a salesman for the renamed Lincoln Electric. John was also instrumental in establishing Reliance Electric Co.

Under Elmer Lindseth’s 22-year presidency beginning in 1945, Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. grew from serving 357,000 customers to 620,000, and from generating 4.25 billion kilowatt hours of electricity to 12.3 billion. The company accomplished this growth through an aggressive marketing campaign, including a slogan that promoted Cleveland as “The Best Location in the Nation.”

Samuel Mather began his career as an apprentice in his father’s mining firm, the Cleveland Iron Co., which became part of the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co. Mather pioneered the concept of steel-industry integration and bought into steel companies and shipping fleets. When he died in 1931, he was the richest man in Ohio.

Under William G. Mather’s leadership, Cleveland-Cliffs diversified into iron ore-related industries, building charcoal blast furnaces and providing electricity to mining operations. Mather made his greatest contribution to Cleveland’s metal industries in 1930 when he and Cyrus Eaton formed Republic Steel Corp. by combining several steel companies in Youngstown.

Mark H. McCormack, founder, chairman and CEO of Cleveland-based International Management Group, transformed an entire industry and created modern professional sports management in 1960. Today, with 70 offices in 30 countries, IMG is the world’s largest athletic representation firm.

As a Navy officer during World War I, C. Bert McDonald was assigned to Cleveland and fell in love with the city, where he helped build McDonald & Company Investments in 1949. Today, the company still operates under its former chairman’s high ideals: extraordinary responsiveness, reliability and superior customer service.

Ruth Ratner Miller was the first female community-development director of Cleveland’s Department of Health in 1996. She was a civic leader, community advocate and heir to Forest City Enterprises. When Forest City purchased Terminal Tower, she headed the renovation into The Avenue at Tower City.

In 1913, Garrett Morgan organized the G.A. Morgan Hair Redefining Co. to market his hair-straightening compound, which he stumbled upon while mixing a solution to better lubricate sewing-machine needles at his sewing-machine shop. He also patented products such as the gas mask and the three-color traffic light.

In 1888, Liberty Holden loaned George Myers $2,000 to open a barbershop in the Hollenden House Hotel, a hub for the rich and powerful. Myers was a well-known political player. When Marcus Hanna needed votes for a Senate seat, Myers bribed Cleveland legislator William A. Clifford and procured an illegal victory for Hanna.

Charles A. Otis Jr. was known as “Mr. Cleveland” for contributing to the city’s growth in the first half of the 20th century. A steel salesman, Otis joined Addison Hough in 1895, then created the Otis & Hough partnership, an independent sales representative for large steel companies.

After one bankruptcy, Arthur L. Parker built Parker Appliance Co. into the world’s largest manufacturer of airplane parts. Parker died in 1945 and his widow, Helen, recruited S. Blackwell Taylor and Robert W. Cornell to help rebuild the company. In 1957, Parker Appliance acquired Hannifin Manufacturing Co. and Parker Hannifin Corp. was born.

Pat Parker’s insatiable curiosity led him to innovations, ideas and opportunities that allowed him to build Parker Hannifin Corp. from a $197 million mid-level manufacturer to a $2.5 billion global industrial maker of motion and control technologies by the time he retired in 1994.

Lionel A. Pile emigrated from Barbados to the United States in 1900. When Pile’s brother-in-law, O.H. Lewis, became ill, Pile took over his bakery, Hough Bakery. By 1927, he began adding one store each year for the next 20 years.

Leonard Ratner and his brothers Charles, Harry and Max bought a lumberyard called Buckeye Lumber in the 1920s. Renamed Forest City Materials Co., the company turned the lumberyard into home-improvement stores. Max and Leonard moved into the development business on their own before turning Forest City Enterprises over to their children in the 1970s.

During John W. “Jack” Reavis’ tenure at Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, the firm grew from 50 to 173 lawyers, and established its national reputation and scope in the 1960s. Reavis founded the Interracial Business Men’s Committee to defuse violence and racial tension and earned the Cleveland Medal for Public Service and the NAACP’s Human Rights Award.

After the three Richman brothers took over their father’s factory at East 55th Street in 1893, Richman Bros. became the first garment maker to sell “direct from the factory.” Their first retail store opened in 1903 and in 1907, the brothers opened additional retail outlets selling factory-produced men’s clothing directly to the customer.

J. French Robinson headed East Ohio Gas Co. when, in 1944, an explosion caused by ruptured liquefied-gas tanks killed 131 people. Robinson and his company earned the community’s respect for their willingness to fairly settle the claims arising from the disaster. During World War II, Robinson oversaw the allocation of natural gas for the Petroleum Industry War Council.

Larry Robinson took over his father’s business, J.B. Robinson Jewelers, when he died in the late 1950s. At its height, the chain included almost 100 stores in 12 states.

John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co. was the most powerful business organization in the country in the 1890s. He also made a lasting impact on Cleveland. The Rockefeller building was the city’s first skyscraper. The Rockefeller family made numerous gifts of money and land to Greater Cleveland, including Rockefeller Park and Forest Hill Park.

Maurice Saltzman, president of Bobbie Brooks Inc., founded Ritmore Sportswear Inc. in 1939. Bobbie Brooks grew to become one of the country’s largest clothing makers in the 1950s and ’60s. Its 120-person sales force went directly to 6,000 small-town shops and sold the company’s clothing line.

Jacob Sapirstein founded the Sapirstein Greeting Card Co., in 1932. In 1952, Sapirstein took the company public as American Greetings Corp. Today, American Greetings is the largest publicly held manufacturer of greeting cards and related gift items in the world.

In 1870, Henry A. Sherwin, Alanson T. Osborn and Edward Williams opened Sherwin-Williams & Co.’s first headquarters at 126 Superior St. They developed the world’s first reliable ready-mixed paint. By 1890, the company had enjoyed its first million-dollar sales year.

Bernie Shulman bought the 41-store Standard Drug chain in Cleveland for $2 million in 1962 and converted it to a self-serve, discount concept he developed with several partners, later known as Revco drug stores. In 1975, he opened Bernie Shulman’s, possibly the nation’s first “deep-discount” drug store.

Harry C. Smith helped found The Cleveland Gazzette in 1883 before serving three terms as a state representative and becoming the first black candidate for Ohio governor in 1926. As a legislator, Smith successfully sponsored The Ohio Civil Rights Act of 1894 and the Mob Violence Act of 1896.

The Smith brothers were the children of Dr. Albert W. Smith, who helped found the Dow Chemical Corp. Kelvin, the youngest, and Francis Nason developed the first compressed-air applicator in 1928. Older brothers Kent and Vincent brought their chemical-engineering and law degrees to the ventures. The result: Graphite Oil Products, later renamed The Lubrizol Corp.

Andrew Squire formed the world-class law firm of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey in 1890. Squire incorporated Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. and what would become Union Carbide Corp., among other concerns.

In 1850, state Rep. Alfred E. Kelley asked Amasa Stone to build the Cleveland-to-Columbus link of the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad. Stone did the building and became president of the line. He subsequently built and headed the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula and the Chicago & Milwaukee lines.

Though his father, Jacob Sapirstein, started American Greetings Corp., it was Irving I. Stone who suggested the company could accrue more profit by printing and distributing its own line of cards. Stone helped expand the fledgling enterprise’s sales efforts and helped his family grow the company into the international greeting-card giant that by 1940 recorded sales of $1 million.

“It means a lot when a downtown is alive,” said Herbert Strawbridge, former CEO of the Higbee Co. This philosophy inspired Strawbridge’s Cleveland business ventures, including the success of Higbee’s, and what became the modern-day Flats in the 1970s.

Vernon B. Stouffer opened the first of a chain of restaurants called Stouffer’s Lunch with his father. Joined by his brother Gordon in 1925, Stouffer elevated the family lunch-counter trade into a national chain of restaurants, motor inns and food-service operations. In 1954, Stouffer’s opened a production plant in Solon.

Machinists Ambrose Swasey and Worcester R. Warner shared a fascination for telescopes and optical equipment and set up their own machine-tool business in Chicago in 1880. They came to Cleveland in 1881 and in the next 100 years, their company, Warner & Swasey Co., became known worldwide for its turret lathes and telescopes.

George Jackson “Jack” Tankersley served as chairman of East Ohio Gas Co. in 1973 and chairman of Consolidated Natural Gas, East Ohio’s parent company. Tankersley increased the company’s gas production, automated services and stepped up gas and oil exploration at CNG. During the energy crisis of the mid-1970s, he spoke out on the need for price deregulation and energy conservation.

Frank E. Taplin founded Cleveland and Western Coal Co. (later renamed North American Coal Corp.) with his brother, Charles, in 1912. As his company acquired mines, Taplin began using railroads to ship his raw materials. He purchased the Pittsburgh & West Virginia line in 1923.

In the late 1800s, Sophie Strong Taylor, widow to John Livingstone Taylor, ran the William Taylor & Son Co. Her religious convictions guided her management for 44 years. She insisted the store be closed on Sundays and carry Bibles in every language that was spoken in Cleveland’s melting pot.

The Taylor Chair Co., founded by William O. Taylor, dates back to Bedford Township chair-maker Benjamin Fitch. In 1816, Fitch started making a “splint-bottom chair.” Taylor started working with Fitch and in 1844 began the W.O. Taylor Chair Factory.

In 1905, Charles E. Thompson bought controlling interest in the company that would later be known as TRW Inc. At the time, what was then Cleveland Cap Screw Co. was a modest operation specializing in welding automobile chassis and bicycle parts. Thompson infused the company with his technological vision, making TRW a world leader in precision-engineered automotive and aerospace components.

After he entered the Ohio Bar in 1827, David Tod’s first major business investment was to build a canal connecting the Ohio and Erie Canal with the Ohio River, breathing life into Mahoning Valley. Tod was elected president of the Cleveland and Mahoning Railroad, became postmaster of Warren and was elected to the Ohio Senate and appointed minister to Brazil by President Polk.

Richard Tullis moved to Cleveland in 1956 to become vice president of Harris Intertype Corp. (now Harris Corp.). During his tenure as chairman, president and CEO, the company grew from $41 million to $2 billion in sales.

Creators of Shaker Heights and the Terminal Tower, brothers Oris P. and Mantis J. Van Sweringen reshaped Cleveland and started the march to the suburbs in the late 1800s. They bought lots in the Shaker area and built their own streetcar line into the new community.

In 1854, Jeptha Wade negotiated a merger that consolidated telegraph routes covering the five states north of the Ohio River into the Speed & Wade Telegraph Lines. The company became the Western Union Telegraph Co., providing the first consistent long-distance communication. Wade moved to Cleveland in 1856 to serve as the system’s general agent.

Raymond John Wean created the Wean Engineering Co. in 1929, and became an influential powerhouse in the production of steel. The mill equipment Wean Engineering developed and manufactured helped revolutionize steel production in America. His name appears on more than 25 patents, and his machines helped combine and improve mill processes.

A giant among the city’s technological wizards, Samuel T. Wellman patented his open-hearth, iron-melting furnace charging machine and launched a new era in steel making. In 1896, Wellman, along with his brother Charles and John W. Seaver, formed the Wellman-Seaver Engineering Co., later the Wellman-Seaver-Morgan Co.

In 1935, the Westropp sisters were the co-founders of what was to become the Women’s Federal Savings Bank, the first savings and loan association in the world to be created, managed and staffed almost entirely by women.

In 1900, Rollin White’s company, the White Motor Co., produced its first car — the White Steamer — and first truck. After his father died in 1914, White left the company. Two years later he organized Cleveland Tractor Co., designing many tractors himself, while running the company.

Thomas H. White invented a hand-operated, single-thread sewing machine and, in 1866, brought his White Manufacturing Co. to Cleveland for better access to materials and machining skills. Within 10 years, the company became known as White Sewing Machine Co. and Cleveland had become the world center of the sewing-machine industry.

Alexander Winton made Cleveland the center of the American automobile-manufacturing industry. By 1898, the Winton Motor Carriage Co. was cranking out the first standard-production cars made in America. To assuage public doubt about his vehicle’s safety and reliability, Winton drove from Cleveland to New York in 1899 and made the first coast-to-coast automobile trip.

Bart Wolstein’s imprint is all over Northeast Ohio. Through his real estate development companies, Wolstein not only built more than 100 shopping centers nationwide, but is responsible for the Renaissance office building in Cleveland, Barrington Golf Club in Aurora, Glenmoor Country Club near Canton and the Bertram Inn & Conference Center in Aurora.

In 1834, George Worthington came to Cleveland from Utica, N.Y., planning to tap the new market for hardware that Ohio Canal construction was creating. Worthington quickly became a millionaire supplying the construction workers’ needs. The company’s growth was entirely internally generated: Worthington didn’t believe in mergers.

The third African-American to receive a degree from Antioch College, J. Walter Wills Sr. became a partner in the Gee & Wills Funeral Co. in 1904. When the partnership dissolved, he opened J.W. Wills & Sons and moved to East 55th Street, calling it the House of Wills. Wills also helped organize the Cleveland Board of Trade, the city’s first organization of African-American businesses.

“Ward 6” By Jim Rokakis

The pdf is here
Essay from “Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology”, edited by Richey Piiparinen and Anne Trubek. Courtesy of the editors

“Ward 6” By Jim Rokakis

June 1977. My first official campaign stop was at Merryman’s Hall: a tired, two- story red brick building located at the corner of West 14th and Denison Ave. The club was nothing more than a small bar and ten tables. No food. Just cheap booze. Once a club for the Polish immigrants, it had now become a hangout for the sons and grandsons of the founders, but also for Appalachians who had worked their way north for the jobs at the mills and plants. The most recent wave of immigrants to the neighborhood, the Puerto Ricans, were not welcome here— not yet, anyway. When the membership rolls dropped to levels so low that the club could not pay the light bills, the membership criteria were loosened so anybody could join, as long as you had cash.

I had my one and only campaign staffer with me that night: Dave Krischer of Skokie, Illinois. Dave was a junior at Oberlin College. I can’t think of anyone who had less in common with the average Ward Six resident. He was Jewish. In fact next to blacks, Jews were probably the least favorite ethnic group in that neighborhood. Dave knew this. In fact he had some fun with it when the topic came up. “You a Greek like Rokakis?” I once heard him being asked. “Oh no,” he’d reply. “I’m Russian. My ancestors were from Pogrom, Russia.” I don’t think anybody ever caught on.

The steps leading up to the hall on the second floor were long and narrow. Like every other public space in the neighborhood the most overwhelming feature of the room was smoke. There were about fifty people in the room. At twenty-two years of age I was the youngest by about twenty years. When I entered, it got quiet, heads turned. I got anxious. My throat dried.

I stopped at the sign-in table and let them know that I wanted to speak that night.The club secretary asked if I wanted to join their organization.

“Yes,” I said, and gave her three bucks. She asked if I had a door prize.

“Of course,” I replied and handed her a bottle of wine I brought, complete with a tag that read “Compliments of Jim Rokakis.” I forgot who told me to do that. I would like to thank them anyway. The sentiment was a lesson that would guide me through Cleveland politics for the next thirty years.


The meeting began like all meetings did in the neighborhood: with the Pledge of Allegiance. After the reading of minutes, the club president suddenly turned to me, saying: “We have a special guest here tonight, a young man named Jim Rokakis. It says here on the sign-in sheet that he is running for City Council here in Ward Six. He wants to say a few words to us.”

Oh shit, I thought to myself. I felt I was going to get sick. I got up. “Thank you for the chance to speak with you this evening,” I stumbled. “My name is Jim Rokakis. I’m one of your neighbors—I live on Garden Ave. I am here to announce to you that I am running for Cleveland City Council here in Ward Six. I have lived in this neighborhood all of my life, but I am unhappy with the direction that it is taking.”

I continued, my tone as about as deliberate as the sound of tiptoeing: “I am really unhappy with the crime problem in this neighborhood—“

Just then I was cut off. There was a voice in the hallway, shouting: “I’m coming up. I’m coming up. Coming up babies, don’t nobody come down the stairs— Sophie’s coming up!”

Peals of laughter rippled throughout the room. Heads turned toward the doorway to see an enormous woman named Sophie enter. She wore a billowing white dress that was sleeveless and exposed big white arms. Her legs were trunks right down to the feet.

“Hi’ya Sophie!” somebody shouted. “Come over here, we saved a seat for you!”

She slowly worked her way over to a wooden folding chair. She sat. I stared at the chair, worried about its integrity. Sophie glared in my direction. My concentration was shot. I tried to pick up where I left off.

“People just don’t feel safe anymore in this neighborhood. As I go door to door I hear stories of break-ins, cars being stolen—”

I was cut off again by a man in the front row. “I caught a nigger in my driveway last week,” he began. I was floored. The man went on, “I asked him what he was doing, said he was looking for somebody named Maurice, you know that was bullshit. He was looking for a house to break in to.”

I turned to the club president, hoping that he would rule the man out of order for his racist remarks. Wrong. Instead he picked up the conversation where the bigot in the front row left off.

“What day did you see him? Was it Monday or Tuesday?” “I’m sure it was Monday because I was off that day.”


“Was he with anybody? Because I saw two of ‘em in a station wagon, cruising and looking up and down driveways.”

The conversation went on for another couple of minutes with people in the room joining in. Then someone raised their hand, pointed to me, and the club president apologized and asked me to continue. I didn’t get far.

Rita LaQuatra raised her hand and asked: “Mr. Rokakis, what’s better—governor or senator?”

I didn’t get the question, so I asked to her to repeat it.

“I said, what’s better, governor or senator?”

I stammered. “Well, they are very different jobs—both important but very different.” I then ventured into the differences between the legislative and executive branches of government. After about three minutes, folks weren’t paying attention. I then struggled to get back to my prepared speech.

At this point Howard Lorman of Library Avenue got up and turned to face the audience. Mr. Lorman was in his early eighties, rail thin, neatly dressed. He didn’t live in that neighborhood but somewhere along the way he found this group, or they found him—or they found each other more likely.

“I would like to say something about voting,” he said. “It was 1932. We use to vote in those metal sheds. Do you remember those metal sheds?”

People nodded in the smoke.

“Well, it was the primary. I asked for my ballot and looked for the name of Herbert Hoover, but couldn’t find it. They told me I had asked for the wrong ballot and wouldn’t give me another one. You know what I did? I wrote in the name of Adolf Hitler.”

The room burst into laughter. Not long after the crowd quieted, I thanked them for the opportunity and sat down. I was drenched in sweat. I had been speaking for forty-five minutes, and it seemed I had gotten nothing across. I was disappointed. I lost control of the group early and never regained their attention.

But the evening was not a total loss. I learned a valuable lesson about neighborhood politics: Expect the unexpected. This lesson was reinforced by the fact that Ted Sliwa, the incumbent Ward 6 Councilman and a legend in Cleveland politics, would be a no-show that night, as he was all summer. I thought it was because he was confident and secure in his position. Only later did we learn that he had had it with local politics.


I consider that evening at Merryman’s–my first public appearance–the night in which I was thrown to the wolves. But as difficult as the evening seemed, it paled in comparison to the experiences awaiting me less than a year away as a member of Cleveland City Council. They were the beginning of the most tumultuous two years in the city’s history—Dennis Kucinich’s short-lived tenure as mayor. The time would also present me with one of the toughest days I ever had in public life.


When Sliwa dropped out of the race I became the front runner. That much was clear. Our youth and enthusiasm had created “buzz” in the neighborhood. One problem: money wasn’t coming in. Campaigns cost money, and I was broke, as were my folks. A fundraiser was needed.

My first fundraiser was a “Greek” affair at the UAW Hall on Chevrolet Boulevard in Parma. We had a Greek band, the Pyros Brothers, and Greek food. The event raised a few grand, but it only lasted us until July, and we thought maybe we’d go bigger with a neighborhood event. So we hosted a beer and sausage event at the VFW hall at West 49th and Memphis. I was worried it would be a bust, but also hopeful that my relentless door-to-door campaigning would somehow pay off.

Rick Morgan, my right hand man at the time, printed up some cheap fliers and delivered them door-to-door. We had hoped for 100-125 people. A day before the event a man named Chuck Sayre, whom I had met on the campaign trail, asked if he could provide the evening’s entertainment. Chuck was a blue-collar guy: a former boxer, then a fight promoter, then an organizer of third-rate musical acts. Talk about Rust Belt Chic, well, Chuck was it.

The night of the fundraiser came. I was petrified I would arrive to an almost empty hall. I had spent the entire day campaigning and had gone home to shower. Around 7:30 the phone rang. It was Rick, and I could barely hear him. “You better get up here,” he shouted. “The crowd is huge and they are asking about you.” I was stunned. I headed over to the hall immediately.

When I got the parking lot I was shocked to see cars overflowing. Adrenaline rushed. I parked a block over and ran into the hall. As I worked my way to the door people began to shout out my name, “Jim,” “Jim, how ya doing,” and “Jim, good luck!” I was shaking hands. Hugging and kissing old ladies. Smoke filled the room. Drinks flowed. In the back Chuck had a microphone and was introducing one of his acts—an Elvis impersonator in a sequined suit—to the crowd. “Hound Dog” played and ended. Chuck then took the mic from Elvis’ hand and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, the man we all been waitin’ for. The guest of honor: JIMMY ROKAKIS!”


The crowd erupted. It felt like a dream. I worked my way to the head of the room and took the mic. I don’t remember what I said. But I do remember closing with a question: “Are you with me?” The crowd roared yes.


To say that I expected to be a politician growing up wouldn’t be the truth. The streets of my neighborhood weren’t particularly nice. They weren’t as tough on the Near West Side or East Side of the city, but as the years passed it was safe to say most of my neighbors were not there by choice. In fact growing up I didn’t so much focus on how to lead as much as I did on where I didn’t want to follow. So much youth around me was doing time, and dying young. Like Jerry Wallace: the best athlete in the neighborhood died of cirrhosis of the liver at 30. Luckily, my family and my drive kept me away from being on the terribly wrong side of life. And so the neighborhood that grew me eventually became the neighborhood that voted me to the forefront when it was their time to be represented.

But politics is not just about public recognition, it is also about public pain, and I learned this early with the murder of an eleven-year-old girl named Maxine Penner not a half year into my first term. I was sick when I got the news. I remember meeting her and her mother, Ruth Penner. They lived in a small frame house directly across from Riverside Cemetery. The media was all over this tragedy. The headlines blared: “Young girl murdered on the west side.”

I remember going to a meeting with a group of neighbors the night after the murder. They were angry. They were scared. The meeting was about ten doors away from the murder scene. I could barely look at the house where it happened when I drove by. The lights were on. The shades were drawn.

Nobody greeted me when I entered the home where the meeting was taking place. No handshakes. No smiles. The anger was thick. I remember a large heavyset man standing in the corner who charged at me, coming within inches of my face and screaming, “You ain’t done shit in this neighborhood. This neighborhood has gone to hell since you became councilman!” There were shouts of approval from others in the crowd. I remember thinking this was a verbal assault I would have to take. I had no choice. I represented authority and order. And what occurred was the opposite of that: horror, disorder. When I finally responded I was brief. I told them that I would work day and night to make sure the killer(s) were caught. I reminded them that I lived in the neighborhood and shared their risk. I promised a greater police presence. I asked them to share any information—to work with me even if they didn’t care for me. I asked them to say a prayer for Maxine. I stayed until almost midnight. It was and still is my hardest day in public life.


The next morning I compiled a list of potential suspects based on what I knew of neighborhood problems and what the neighbors shared with me. The neighborhood didn’t have a gang problem in the classic sense. Just a bunch of mean, hard-scrabble kids from the lower west side: Hispanic, Appalachian, and first-generation ethnics. Most abused drugs and had done time in some JV facility for relatively minor offenses. This murder was something else. And if they were the perpetrators, they had grown up: they were killers now.

I submitted the list to homicide detectives that morning and they politely accepted it. But they didn’t have much to say. It was too early in their investigation. They became annoyed over the course of the next few weeks as I pressed them for answers. These weren’t the days of crime labs and DNA analysis. The investigations were methodical, slow. I was afraid that they would never make an arrest.

The evening of the visitation I became sick and vomited just before I left. I knew the job of councilman wouldn’t be easy but dealing with the murder of a young girl was something else. When I went to the funeral home I was scared I’d become emotional when I’d meet Mrs. Penner: not exactly the image of a strong leader I was meant to project. I knew I had to keep my emotions in check.

The funeral home was crowded. The people parted for me as I walked to the mother of the victim. I remember holding her and the two of us walking to the casket, where Maxine lay. The casket was open and I remember her saying something about how they had done a good covering the cuts on her neck. That’s all I remember. I didn’t cry. I went directly to my car and headed south on Pearl Road into Parma, Parma Heights, and then all the way into Medina County. I turned around and it was dark when I got back. I stopped at my parent’s house on Garden Avenue before I returned to my empty apartment. I took an aluminum folding chair from the porch out to the backyard where I had grown up. I sat alone listening to the sounds of the neighborhood: the barking dogs, the television sets, the country music, and I cried.

A couple of months later one of the boys on our list admitted to a juvenile detention counselor that he had some information on the murder. They arrested Curtis Richmond and charged him with rape and aggravated murder, though he served less than eight years after being allowed to plead down to manslaughter. Other juveniles admitted to being accomplices but didn’t serve much time. They all said it was a botched break-in and panicked and killed her. Shortly after the funeral, Mrs. Penner left Cleveland and I never saw her again.

Maxine would be forty-six years old if she were alive today. I have not forgotten her. I never will.


JIM ROKAKIS was born and raised on Cleveland’s Near West Side. He ran for Cleveland City Council in 1977 at the age of 22. He expected to lose and begin law school that Fall. He won and spent 33 years in public office – nineteen years in Cleveland City Council and fourteen as the Cuyahoga County Treasurer. He spends his time now as the director of the Thriving Communities Institute, organizing land banks and raising money to knock down 100,000 houses in distressed urban Ohio.


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