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What Happened In Cleveland?
(The author, a senior in North House, has been active in Cleveland politics for several years as a member of U.S. Congressmen Louis Stokes’ staff. He recently returned from Cleveland where he spent ten days working for the black Independent candidate, Arnold Pinkney.)
As if anyone of needed further convincing, the recent Cleveland mayoral election illustrates the rapid demise of that city from “The Best Location in the Nation” to “The Mistake on the Lake.” Through a strange concatenation of events which made the political prognosticators cringe with shame, law-and-order candidate Ralph Perk became Cleveland’s first Republican mayor in 35 years by winning an election dominated by the Democrat who was leaving office.
Responsibility for Perk’s victory must lie with Mayor Carl Stokes’ unsuccessful political maneuvering, maneuvering which only heightened already existing anti-black and anti-Stokes sentiment in the city. For in his bid to gain nationwide political power by demonstrating his ability to weld a citywide coalition of blacks and liberal whites, Stokes committed the cardinal sin of permitting his political vision to become obscured by ego considerations. Stokes grossly overestimated his ability to manipulate the black vote, and his success during the primary in personally crushing his chief tormentors ultimately resulted in the defeat of his chosen successor.
To comprehend the results of the election, it is necessary to understand some of the underlying factors which have made Cleveland politics so volatile and unpredictable. The infamous Cuyahoga River, distinguished by its ability to catch five, dividers the city east-west, black-white. Some 40 per cent of Cleveland’s eligible voters are black, and almost all of them reside on the East Side. There is very little interaction across the river in this polarized community. In 1967, and again in 1969, Stokes was elected mayor in close two-man races by carrying a solid 95 per cent of the black vote as well as 18 per cent of the white vote. But despite the fact that three-fourths of the City Councilmen were Democrats, most of them were white who consistently voted against the Mayor.
Stokes was confronted by two white Council Presidents who were determined to demonstrate that they, and not the Mayor, were the most powerful men in the city. The first was James Stanton, now a U.S. Congressman, and the second was Anthony Garofoli, stanton’s protege. For three years Cleveland’s political scene was dominated by the personal struggle between the egos of Carl Stokes and Jim Stanton. The feud sometimes took the form of confrontations over concrete issues, such as public housing on the West Side, but more often than not the differences were personal rather than political. Stanton was able to maintain a solid majority of white Democrats and Republicans in Council who followed a policy of opposing and embarrassing the Mayor on every issue. Strokes in turn lost no opportunity to accuse Stanton and his cohorts of blatant racism.
Despite the fact that it was Stanton’s unrelenting struggle for power which was most responsible for the stalemate that thwarted progress. Cleveland’s citizens began to turn against the Mayor. However, Stokes must shoulder a large amount of blame for his decline popularity. Unwise administrative appointments and scandals in several departments caused widespread resentment. Possibility the worst move of all was the appointment of a new Police Chief who was forced to resign nine days later when strong evidence revealed he was linked to the Detroit Mafia. Scandals in the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Weights and Measures contributed to a growing feeling among whites that Stokes was getting rich off the city. A gut feeling that someone is a crook cannot be destroyed by factual evidence, and the power of rumors of Stokes’ supposed financial misdeeds was incredible. In addition, white paranoia manifested itself in widely-circulated stories of Stokes’ alleged relations with white women.
But it was the issue of law and order which inspired the bitterest the Mayor and the Police Department had been bad ever since the Glenville riots when, after several policemen had been killed, stokes ordered all patrolmen out of the area. The move was successful in preventing more deaths, but the wholesale looting that followed the withdrawal of law enforcement officials angered many whites. The deep-seated antipathy between white policemen and blacks which has now become the norm was increased. During the 1969 election non-uniformed uninformed policemen with guns dangling openly at their sides served as challengers at the polls in black wards in an obvious attempt to intimidate black voters.
To smooth out relations between himself and the Police Department, Stokes appointed as Safety Director retired General Benjamin O. Davis, the highest ranking black in the Air Force. Davis proved to be one of the few law-and-order blacks in the country, and constantly sided with the police. Six months later he resigned, charging that Stokes and his Administration had given aid and support to “enemies of law enforcement.” When pressed, Davis produced a list containing the names of several black militants and black organizations. He also fingered the weekly newspaper of the black community which had committed the grievous crime of printing a picture of Davis with the caption: “Benjamin O. Davis–Safety Director?” The fact that $10,000 of the funds in the “Cleveland Now” program, funded by business and private contributions to aid community development, ultimately was used to stock the arsenal of the black organization most responsible for the Glenville riots destroyed any hope for further community cooperation. The Stokes Administration’s failure to insure basic protection became an over-riding issue from then on.
When Stanton left Council at the end of 1970 to assume his duties as Congressman, he maintained control through his handpicked successor, Garofoli, Stanton would come to Cleveland every Monday morning and spend a couple of hours with Garofoli planning strategy for that night’s Council meeting. Garofoli, whose eyes were already on the Mayor’s job, kept up the running feud with Stokes. The situation became so bad that the Mayor and his Cabinet walked out of a Council meeting last spring and didn’t return for a month. Stokes felt that Council was not according him the respect he deserved, and city business was placed in a state of suspended animation as a result.
With four years of controversy and frustration behind him, and facing the distinct possibility that he might lose, it was not surprising when Stokes announced late in the spring that he would not seek re-election. He recognized as well as anyone that the city could no longer move forward under his direction, since the forces arrayed against him were too great. But as he withdrew, he made it clear that he would play a major role in the selection of his successor. His favorite was Arnold Pinkney, the black School Board President who had served as Stokes’ administrative assistant. Because most of Cleveland’s black political leaders, led by the Mayor and his brother, U.S. Congressman Louis Stokes, had withdrawn from the county Democratic Party because of the absence of blacks at the policy-making level. Pinkney chose to run as an Independent. The feeling prevailed that he would stand a much better chance in a three-man race where the white vote would be split.
The struggle for the Democratic nomination was between Garofoli and James Carney, a multi-moderately liberal leanings. Stokes and Carney were very close, since the latter had been a major financial backer in the Mayor’s previous campaigns. All indications pointed to a runaway victory for Garofoli in an election to be decided by white Democrats. But Carl Stokes saw an opportunity to personally defeat Garofoli (and Stanton), and to get back at those who had been his bitterest opponents, the men who had refused to accord him “basic respect.” Over the last weekend of the primary campaign, a taped message from Stokes was mechanically telephoned from Carney headquarters into the home of every black voter in the city, instructing the residents to go to the polls and vote for Carney. The message didn’t even have the familiar “This is a recording” tacked on at the end, with the result that many blacks thought they were speaking directly to the Mayor. It was not too difficult to stir up the anger of blacks against a man who had attempted to water down the city’s strong equal employment opportunity clause because he felt it was costing too much money to insure that blacks were working on city-leased contracts. Strokes’ effort won the primary for Carney as 50,000 blacks flocked to the polls and gave their overwhelming support to the millionaire.
The seeds of Independent Pinkney’s defeat were sown at the same time Stokes was rejoicing at Carney’s victory. Immediately after the primary, Stokes elatedly proclaimed that the way was now cleared for a race between “two gentlemen.” And in words that would come back to haunt him, he added, “I am discounting the man who raised our real estate taxes, Mr. Perk.” For despite every effort to switch black votes back to Pinkney, including two letters and another recorded message from the Mayor, the inroads that Carney had made in the black community could not be counteracted. Stokes badly underestimated the resistance of black citizens to his efforts at manipulating them, as well as the problem of logically explaining to people why they, should vote for a candidates in September and against him in November.
The ultimate beneficially of Strokes’ miscalculation was Perk, the man whom the Mayor “discounted.” Perk would not have stood a chance against Garofoli, since the latter would have carried traditional Democratic areas. With Carney as an opponent, however, Perk could count on a large Democratic crossover. He was able to equate both of his opponents with Carl Stokes, and therefore capitalized on the white backlash. The anti-Stokes support that would have gone to Garofoli now gravitated to Perk. While both Pinkney and Carney were unfolding detailed plans to help cure the city’s financial problems. Perk based his entire campaign on a law-and-order, anti-corruption, anti-Stokes platform. In a city beset by critical problems of health, housing, and unemployment. Perk had the gall to stand before the City Club four days before the election and announce that his number one priority was improving recreation facilities. He and Carney spent the campaign throwing mud at each other, and Perk’s aim proved better. Carney accused Perk of gross negligence in his capacity as County Auditor. The charge was valid, since Perk was in charge of the recent tax reappraisal which was so badly run that it generated 48,000 complaints. But Perk, who had stated at the time the reappraisal was begun that he assumed full control and responsibility, responded by saying that he had no control over the process. Perk shot back by dredging up a twenty-year old scandal involving Carney and his brother John, the County Auditor before Perk, and casting doubt on the methods which Carney employed to amass his fortune. Time and time again Perk accused Stokes of manipulating the election by putting up two candidates, while emphasizing that he, Perk, was his own man.
Carney was compelled to act like two different people in order to implement his strategy of running second everywhere and winning. His ads on black radio stations which carried the message “Jim Carney may not be a brother, but he’s got soul” were aired at the same time he was pandering to anti-black sentiments on the West Side. As it turned out Carney-West, with the result that the combined effort was a dismal failure. A scant three days before the election, the Cleveland Plain Dealer predicted that Carney would edge out Pinkney, with Perk finishing a poor third. What actually occurred was that Perk won handily with 38.7 per cent of the total, beating Pinkney by 16,000 votes. Pseudo-brother Carney finished third with only 28.7 per cent. Carney took 20 per cent of the black vote, but lost to Perk by a 3-2 margin in white areas. Pinkney’s efforts on the West Side, which took up a large portion of his campaign, proved futile as he received an abysmal 3 per cent of the white vote. The racial polarity within Cleveland is documented by the elections returns. In West Side wards, where Perk polled 4,000-6,000 votes and Carney polled 2,000-4,000. Pinkney received such impressive totals as 148, 153, and 160. In the black wards on the East Side, where Pinkney garnered 4,000-7,000 votes, Perk was held to under 500, Carney consistently received 1,000-2,000 votes in the black wards, attesting to the failure of Round 2 of Stokes’ eleventh-hour manipulations. Carney’s strong showing in the black areas and his dismal showing in the white ones, coupled with an unusually high turnout on the West Side and in East Side ethnic wards, turned a supposedly tight Carney-Pinkney race into a stunning Republican upset.
It seems fairly obvious that in a race between Pinkney, Perk, and Garofoli. Pinkney would have pulled close to 95 per cent of the black vote as well as a good number of liberal white votes. Since the two conservatives would have competed for the same anti-Stokes votes. Pinkney would have won. In politics you win some and you lose some, but this was one that shouldn’t have been lost.
Hopefully, something positive may emerge from the despair that surrounds Cleveland’s black and liberal camps. The present county Democratic Party (from which the black leadership withdrew a year and a half ago) is dead, and a new one which will not commit the fatal error of ignoring black political strength, will have to arise if the city is to recover from what will surely be two years of regression. Carl Stokes’ political star is badly tarnished, and what role he will play in future national affairs is anybody’s guess. The lesson he learned about permitting ego gratification to obscure political vision will be noted across the country, as will the hazards inherent in attempting to manipulate blocks of voters. In addition, the black power structure in Cleveland will be forced to reassess its position and remedy some weaknesses, since it is now clear that something more than inertia is necessary to maintain power.
As I rode the rapid transit on the way to the airport November 3 with a crowd of West Siders on their way home from work. I happened to catch a glimpse of the headlines of the Cleveland Press, which said it all: “Perk Vows Safe Streets”. A series of unique circumstances compounded by Stokes’ political myopia permitted the backlash to overwhelm the forces of progress in Cleveland.
The damage is doubly severe since from now on Cleveland’s mayoral elections will be non-partisan. The top two vote-getters in the primary will face each other in November, precluding the election of a Mayor by 39 per cent of the vote. Regaining control of City Hall can only be accomplished by the formation of a new majority coalition, and one can only hope that this coalition can be constructed in time to prevent Cleveland’s problems from reaching an incurable level