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Issue Date: April 1972


The Revolving Door of the Mayor’s Office


by Estelle Zannes
It is no secret that the winner takes all in American politics, but there is some question about the prize when the game is played in the mayoral division. These days the chances are that the winner gets a bankrupt city.

In the sixties he won other things: riots, unemployment, problems of welfare and schooling, rising crime, auto-immobility and the additional bonus of having the opportunity to rule by crisis. Many mayors weary of the task. The president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Terry D. Schrunk, said that in 1968, 39 mayors were designated to sit in places of leadership in the organization. In 1969, half of them were out of office or going out . . . “most of them by their own decision not to run again.”

Yet, in Cleveland, every two years, a goodly number of candidates stand in front of Tom L. Johnson’s statue on Public Square to have their pictures taken while they announce their candidacies.

Not only are many politicians, civic leaders and average citizens ready to run for mayor but there are always people ready to listen to them. Lincoln Steffens came to Cleveland a doubter and went away a devotee. He wrote, “There is something good in Cleveland. The citizens know how to vote here. They have a public opinion and they make it count.” A local philosopher more recently observed that Cleveland is the campaigningest city on earth!

That’s a major part of a mayor’s job—campaigning. There are some critics who claim that in Cleveland, government is one continuous campaign. General Benjamin 0. Davis, who was Safety Director under Mayor Carl Stokes for a brief time, observed that the campaign started the day after election and he could not sanction that kind of life for himself.

Others have found it exciting. Carl Stokes, former mayor, is the eternal campaigner. In 1967 he admitted he loved to go before an audience. “I draw something from an audience. I get a kind of sustenance.” He told one reporter it was like going to church. Judge Ralph Locher, another ex-mayor, recently expressed a little sorrow over the fact that no one had run against him in his judge’s race. “I was looking forward to campaigning,” he said wistfully. Mayor Ralph Perk campaigned three times for the mayor’s position.

Locher, Stokes, and Perk, three completely different personalities, as observed by the local media, all worked hard for the job of mayor during what The New York Times, described as the slum decay of the sixties, when the winds of Cleveland, irregular at best, had become turbulent and bitter. Neighborhoods were reduced to ashes, and the smoke above the skyline was not the emblem of a prosperous industry. Yet Locher and Stokes will stand by their records today, and Perk, as recently as February 26, expressed confidence that he can solve the city’s financial problems. “It’s only a one-year problem,” he said.

Besides the ability to campaign, then, clearly optimism is a valuable asset to bring to the job of mayor of a large city, But after the campaign is over, the optimism has been justified, at least this one time, by victory, what does the job require of a man? When it has finished with a mayor, Cleveland tends to consign him to limbo. Many Cleveland mayors have attained some measure of acceptance and success for a time while they were in office, but the recent ones have all been made to look like losers in the end. Some have gone on to other office, but in recent years it has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to leave the City Hall stage with the audience crying and clamoring for more. What manner of man, if any, could succeed in the sixties and seventies? What manner of man would it take to sit in the Mayor’s office for two or three terms and then be propelled into a larger constituency and a bigger job in government? Or, alternatively, to make the Mayor’s office really his, so he could be confident, term after term, of being reelected and becoming an in¬stitution in his own city, in his own time? If Socrates himself came to us today, would we, too, wind up handing him the cup of hemlock?

The people who founded this city had to be stubborn to survive. Is it this inherited stubbornness mat presents the problem? Is it the structure of the city and how it grew; is it the rules we play by or the leaders we produce that eventually bring deflation or defeat to our mayors?

Possibly we shall never know for certain, but a look at the rules of city government in Cleveland, and at the diverse personalities and characters of our three most recent mayors suggests that, while the opportunity is there, it is a rare man indeed who can put a lock on the job because of its complexity.

It doesn’t appear that the rules—the City Charter—can be blamed. Like many other cities of its size, Cleveland has a strong mayor/weak council type of government.

Its modified federal form of govern¬ment, in which the functions of the legislative, executive and judicial are theoretically separate, is fairly typical. The mayor and the judicial officers are elected at large, but the 33 members of Council are elected by wards.

Four-fifths of American cities of more than 500,000 population are managed by a mayor-council government. With each city the strength of the mayor varies, although the strong mayoralty is the general rule. In New York the mayor is restricted in his powers by a Board of Estimate, which contains the five borough presidents. In Chicago the power of the mayor is diluted because of the many agencies involved in deci¬sion making. Yet Mayor Daley, be¬cause of his control of the party machine, has a strong hold not only in the city but on state and federal officials as well. In Los Angeles some city depart¬ments have control of their own bud¬gets and are left independent of the Mayor. In Minneapolis, the only office the mayor can fill without the approval of council is that of his own secretary. People there elect a total of 49 officials and the mayor can remove only the police chief and the director of civil defense.

Cleveland’s mayor has powers of ap¬pointment and removal of all subor¬dinate directors and commissioners, plus the power of appointing most of the members of various policy boards and commissions. Although the latter are appointed to serve designated terms, the mayor may remove anyone “for cause.” Furthermore, the mayor has a right to attend all council meetings, to initiate legislation, and to participate in all discussions of the council. He also has veto power over acts of the council. Under this strong mayor form of government the legislative branch may either become a “rubber stamp” for the mayor’s policies or act as adversary. While council has the au¬thority to initiate legislation, this power is not used to its fullest extent by most Cleveland councils because of the dif¬ficulty of finding time to act as a fact-finding body and to avail themselves of expert advice or researchers.

Cleveland’s mayor, meanwhile, has considerable powers of reward and punishment in addition to his duly constituted powers. Bronis Klementowicz, Law Director during the Locher administration, observed that the mayor has a lot of “green stamps to give, from school guard jobs up to the top.” Therefore, negotiation between the exec¬utive and individual members of the legislature usually favors the executive, who has more to bargain with, such as services and projects for the council¬man’s ward. If a councilman won’t support the mayor’s legislation, he runs the risk that the potholes will grow deep and the garbage will be piled high in his ward. But every Monday night on the council floor, he has the chance to become the mayor’s public adversary and inform his people that the fault lies not with him but with the admin¬istration.

Ralph Locher conceded that “Councilmen, like Congressmen, must always be yapping and they’ve got to pick on the administration. They can’t say the administration position is great and expect to become re-elected. We just ought to expect that. I did and that’s why it didn’t bother me.” It has bothered other mayors, espe¬cially when the rhetoric became divisive. Before his last term was finished, Stokes walked out of council meeting one Monday night, never to return while he was Mayor. But it is generally agreed that the rhetoric at council meetings during the Stokes administration was more personal, more divisive and more image-destroying than at any other time in the history of the city.

Though Locher faced fewer con¬frontations with his council, he had more than his share with the com¬munity and the media. And clearly a mayor’s job extends beyond his au¬diences with council and his cabinet. He must walk out of City Hall and into the sun, though in the sixties he was more often greeted by threatening clouds. In the sixties Clevelanders were caught up in the social changes of the era and they feared for the future of their city. Cleve¬land was part of a much bigger scene, and while Locher was busy balancing his budget the distant thunder of Birmingham shook the foundations of the nation and the vibrations were felt in Cleveland.

“Black Power,” Locher recalled re¬cently. ‘It was not to be denied. It was extremely potent, as I found out. There were confrontations then that you couldn’t gloss over but which I am pleased now that I handled the way I did. I feel that to have capitulated and to have just caved in would have been shockingly wrong. I tried to be fair— fair but firm.” And Locher went into his office and hung on the wall the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Those who give up essential liberty and purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Nonetheless, Locher, who had won in the past on the basis of his un¬challenged honesty, faced a divided community and a critical press. Thomas Vail, publisher of The Plain Dealer, said in 1967: “It was my feeling that Locher had come to the end of his real usefulness as far as a leader in the community was concerned.” Out-of-town reporters became harsh and spoke of failures at City Hall. John Skow, writing in the Saturday Evening Post, called Locher an amiable and ineffective time-server. But Skow did not interview Locher for this article and it was accepted that national re¬porters picked their clues from the nation’s capital.

And that is still another extension of the mayor’s role—national politics.

Locher thought that in Washington Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Robert C. Weaver and President Johnson were in communication with candidates Carl Stokes and Frank Celeste and with Ralph Besse, president of Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co., a powerful figure in local politics.

Locher said: “I did feel that the Weaver-Humphrey—in some degree, Johnson-Stokes, Besse-Celeste camaraderie brought about a political move out of Washington which, I think, was reprehensible but which really wasn’t as severe as it was made out to be. It did cut off some further downtown funds and some in the Hough area, but it was done purely as a political move. They were playing 1968 politics in 1967.”

Locally, a political writer for The Press agreed that Washington was playing politics: “It was put to Stokes bluntly. Run as a Democrat and we’ll support you,” wrote Richard Maher.

And it seemed that the media in Cleveland fell into line with the movement for change and with the national trend. Although Locher’s relations with reporters were excellent, and included such things as daily, informal press conferences and occasional outings to ball games, in the end this cut no ice with the editors and publishers when they decided if was time for a change at City Hall.

An unsympathetic press at any level is to be reckoned with by mayors of big cities. Arthur Naftalin, ex-mayor of Minneapolis, chose not to run after the press failed to endorse him in his previous election. He felt that while the electronic media were needed for presenting the personality to the public, the newspapers were needed to keep the citizens informed and to support the mayor’s proposals, or at the least, present them to the public. Klementowicz claimed the newspapers did not present Locher’s program to the people, at least not during the 1967 election. Alexander Ostrow, Stokes’s public relations man, agreed with Klementowicz that Locher presented an excellent defense of his administration but the papers didn’t print it.

But a great deal depends on how a story is told. Locher’s record of accomplishments, even today, is a sheaf of mimeographed pages stapled together—very different from Stokes’s well-designed and illustrated 40-page magazine. That was part of Locher’s problem—public relations techniques. Mayors in major cities today face audiences who are fed messages through many media. Where Locher simply wrote the names of the buildings in Erieview, Stokes added pictures. Both claimed the Erieview projects and, in truth, both administrations contributed to their completion. Actually Erieview, not yet finished, was conceived in the late fifties by Mayor Harold Burke.

That’s another dimension of the mayor’s job—not to obstruct the dreams of other administrations, to carry through when government moves slowly, to persevere. The task was easier for Locher than for other mayors because he was part of a dynasty that had begun with Mayor Frank Lausche and there were relatively few cabinet changes. “We were a family,” said Klementowicz, who served as Councilman, Utilities Director and Law Director during those years.

“The dynasty of Crown and Klem had the lowest rates in the city of Cleveland and was the most dependable utility in the whole nation,” Klementowicz recalls. “Fewer outages than gas companies, telephone companies. No strikes. We made money and we paid our bills. And we had a cabinet. If Edward J. Knuth told Locher or Celebreeze that ‘this will not be done because I don’t have the money’ that was the end of the discussion. That simple.”

That was the job, according to Locher. A full day at the office, evenings in the community, sometimes a ball game with the press. No strikes, except the ones he hoped the Yankees would make. No overdue bills. “Perseverance and honesty,” said Locher and no one ever challenged him or denied him those words.

But a mayor has another obligation to the job: he must have good timing and he must be a man of the times. During the years when emotional rhetoric resounded from coast to coast, policy debaters gave way to the men who had style. It was the era of the Kennedys, the Reagans, the Lindsays. Onto this stage stepped Carl Stokes. “We had the man and the moment,” said Thomas Vail, astutely, in 1967. Charisma was the key that opened the door between the liberals and conservatives in Cleveland. And no matter what history decides happened in the Stokes administration, it will always record that Carl Stokes was the first black mayor of a major American city and Cleveland was that city.

Another part of the mayor’s job is to build the city’s image. The simple fact that Cleveland elected a black mayor improved its image nationally. Carl Stokes could sell the city to the nation. He was at his best on a platform, before a television camera, in the political arena. By his own statement he is revitalized before an audience, especially a friendly one. Also by his own admission, he is no administrator. At a luncheon at Cleveland State University for Julian Bond, then a young, black southern politician on his way up, Stokes arrived late. He immediately apologized and began to charm the audience. Bond remained reserved. The talk turned to the presidency and the two men were asked whether they aspired to it. Bond shook his head. Stokes said he did not seek it. Besides, Stokes said he felt a black woman would have a better chance.

“Not me,” he laughed, “I’m no administrator. When I was elected in ‘67 I didn’t know what to do first.” It was said in a joking manner, but the truth of the statement gave the audience pause.

Thomas Guthrie, editor of The Plain Dealer, remarked that things would have worked if only Stokes had had Perk on Stokes: His tax maneuvers left the city poor and made the Board of Education rich — a political adviser, a strong administrator as his right hand man to take over when he was out of town. Certainly part of the eventual dissatisfaction with the Stokes administration was that the men in key positions constantly embarrassed their boss, or, frustrated in their inability to work with him, simply left him. Locher had one police chief;

Stokes had four. The turnover at City Hall caused one politician to remark that every day was amateur day there.

But the election of Stokes motivated the black community to participate actively in local government. The record shows that there were more blacks at City Hall during the Stokes administration than at any time in history. The opportunity for blacks to elevate themselves through civil service examinations was greatest at that time. Two hundred sixty men and women with salaries over $10,000 a year made more than $3,000,000 . . . dollars that were poured into their neighborhoods, dollars that improved the tax duplicate and raised the economic position of the black community. The successes and failures of the Stokes administration were detailed in newspapers and magazines. They are too involved to be reviewed quickly here. There was bitterness near the end of his term and the man who was supposed to be so good at public relations seemed not to care.

The turning point was the shooting in Glenville between black militants and police. It put an end to many things, especially to a project called Cleveland: Now! This project originally proposed an investment of $90,000,000 in neighborhood housing rehabilitation, $60,000,000 in accelerated urban renewal construction, the creation of 16,000 jobs, aid to small business, 20 welfare and child day care centers, recreation programs for youth and the construction of Camp Cleveland for disadvantaged youth. A grant of $10,000 of Cleveland: Now! Money given to Ahmed Evans by the Hough Area Development Corporation later backfired and destroyed the whole project when Evans was convicted of murder. The money stopped coming in and, worse, the stigma of mismanagement was attached to the project.

The mayor and the militants were constantly discussed. Stokes tried to explain that there was a difference between one black nationalist and another. He argued that black nationalism wasn’t any different from white nationalism. He argued this in a city where 33 Councilmen represented as many different wards and cultures.

Like so many others in the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Stokes decided not to run again. As Locher had been defeated by social changes, so an embittered Stokes found his diminished leadership inadequate to the task of solving the city’s financial problems.

Perk having campaigned on the promise not to increase city income taxes, not only inherited Stokes’s financial problems, but some observers feel he has locked himself in. Perk, however, sees it this way: “The three per cent increase for police and firemen didn’t amount to that much. Don’t forget that this city operated the year 1971 with an operating deficit of $27,400,000. They’re in debt $462,000,000 and $21,600,000 of that money is in the general funds that pay the salary of the police and firemen. The reason is that Carl Stokes, in an effort to get more money out of the taxpayers by submitting an income tax increase, submitted at the same time the argument that he was dropping the 5.8 mill tax renewal, which the people had been paying for years and probably would have voted to continue. By submitting the increase in the income tax and dropping the 5.8, the Board of Education picked it up and sold that 5.8 mill levy to the people . . . transferred in effect $18,000,000 of income from the city over to the Board of Education. While it made the Board of Education rich it made the City of Cleveland poor.”

In these changing times, not all problems are transferable from one administration to the other. While Perk claimed that Stokes’s gamble with the 5.8 mill levy left the city with a large deficit, he did not feel he was left with a polarized city.

“Now we’ve come to a point where the problem of polarization is disappearing, I think,” he says now. “I believe that when Carl Stokes announced that he was not going to run for Mayor that the city began to unpolarize itself. The blacks began to get friendlier with the whites. The whites became friendlier with the blacks. I cannot tell you why.”

Although that is an optimistic view, a recent article in the National Observer asserts that confrontation politics is fast losing ground to the legislative process in government. There is a quiet about the country today—a weariness perhaps. Government by crisis cannot long endure. The people get tired of it—

It denies them the right to be rational.

And the mayor’s job in the last analysis is determined by the people he represents, because as President Andrew Johnson said many years ago, “The people are the source of all power.”

In Cleveland today, a mayor’s job includes being a legislator, administrator, and campaigner, it extends beyond City Hall, where he sits and where he must have lines of communication to the press, the nation, the political parties and to all segments of the community. It is a complex job and the images of our past mayors have indicated that they were complex men. Which was the real Carl Stokes, the man romping in Lake Erie with young people or the marcher with militants? Was Ralph Locher the fumbling mayor unable to operate during the crisis years, or was he the efficient administrator and honest politician? Will Ralph Perk tend to housekeeping, or will he, too, have dreams for future mayors to bring to fruition?

One thing is certain. As Locher recently stated, “The city of Cleveland will never regain the clout that it once had.” When the ring was drawn around the city and the suburbs grew, it became just a fraction of the county. It began to lose its tax base every time the court of tax appeals reduced taxes on businesses downtown. Every time hundreds of buildings were razed and demolished because they’d been gutted and vandalized, every time the people moved farther out, it lost power and subsequently its leadership. The present mayor of Cleveland is no longer the strong, strident voice that the mayors of Cleveland once were. Years ago, said Locher, “When you spoke for Cleveland you did speak for the whole county.

Nonetheless, one thing is certain: there will always be men who covet the mayoralty in Cleveland, and when election time rolls around again, the line-up will be large. In a city where the numbers and bingo thrive, certainly the game of politics will have many takers. It’s a gamblin’ town.


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