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Issue Date: December 2002 Issue


The 30 People Who Defined Cleveland – 1972-2002


Michael D. Roberts
No one could hurl a chair or toss a reporter like George Forbes.

No one has survived more controversy here in the past 30 years. And no one has that much time serving the public. Today, Forbes, who held the post of Cleveland City Council president for years, remains a formidable and powerful figure in the city.

Forbes’ greatest contribution to Cleveland came while serving with Mayor George Voinovich to create a Cleveland revival that garnered national news. They joined together, men of opposite parties and personalities, to bring hope back to a city that had suffered through default.

Forbes took the political lightning while Voinovich managed City Hall out of its financial quandary.

At 71, Forbes is as cunning and controversial as ever, ready to combat anyone who challenges him. Headlines seem to follow, whether about his opposition to the Ku Klux Klan’s 1999 rally in Cleveland or his questioning of why a high-scoring black candidate was passed over for the Parma police department earlier this year. As head of the local chapter of the NAACP, Forbes remains the top black leader in town.

As he sometimes explains, he makes his living chasing ambulances. He also advises some of the most powerful businesspeople in town when it comes to politics and race relations. He has played a major role in bridging the differences between the races and easing the tensions in many issues that have divided the city.

Forbes was born in Memphis, served a tour in the U.S. Marines, came to Cleveland and studied at Baldwin-Wallace College. He originally considered the ministry before opting for politics, and teaches Sunday school to this day.

He is one of the last active black leaders to play a role in Cleveland’s stormy civil rights movement. His sense of humor can only be matched by the toughness that he displays when his ire is raised.

Forbes’ chair throwing made news on at least two occasions. Once when he flipped a folding chair at a fellow councilman; another when he hefted a stuffed chair at Mayor Mike White. Forbes also physically threw social critic/journalist Roldo Bartimole from a meeting in a celebrated protest against the First Amendment.

Yet his sense of humor cost him more politically than his legendary outbursts of anger. In the 1970s when Forbes hosted a TV talk show, a lot of white Clevelanders objected to his views on race even though his expressions were meant as humor.

This came back to haunt him in 1989, when he against Mike White for mayor and lost.

Cleveland would have been a far more interesting place with Forbes sitting in the mayor’s office. Of course, they would have had to bolt the chair to the floor.


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