George Forbes, not any mayor, was the most powerful political figure of our era. He ruled at a time when public money flowed to major developers. He was the grease that made it flow.
Forbes clearly dominated Cleveland politics for most of two decades – 1970s and 1980s – that coincided with my time at City Hall. He was a figure who commanded attention. He so controlled civic affairs that he had to be the central focus of any reporter’s work in this period.
He became what he would consider a target of my coverage. My means of comment was a small bi-weekly newsletter. He became a central theme. So much so that when he decided not to run again he let me know that it would affect my ability to make a living. “Sheeeet, you won’t be able to eat now,” he said in his pithy street talk. Meaning: Losing him as a target no one would want to read me. Actually, I lasted a decade without him.
But he never totally left my sights.
Forbes – a Democrat by party but a Corporatist in ruling – maintained a dominant hold over big decisions at Cleveland City Hall. What made it crucial was the fact that most major public building projects here were constructed in Cleveland. Legislation had to pass through City Council. Forbes stood at the door. You had to have his pass to move. And everyone knew it.
He is/was the kind of Democrat that unfortunately has given government – because of attention to special interests instead of the needs of most people – a bad name. His kind of special interest politics, as with the County corruption officials, sours many on government.
He may have changed Cleveland history. He took office in 1974 and served through 1989. It was the city’s steepest decline in this era. The city’s population went from 750,000 in 1970 to 505,000 in 1990. We can’t blame him alone for that but along with the city’s elite he was a contributing factor.
Had Carl Stokes remained in town, Cleveland politics may not have taken such a corporate turn. Stokes, who left the city for New York City after his second term (1971), was not enamored with the Cleveland corporate community, especially at the end of his tenure. Stokes exhibited a progressive and civil rights attitude toward issues.
Forbes, in contrast, went into business with those who often needed favors from city hall. He was a partner with James Carney, a mayoral candidate and millionaire Democratic party boss in the 1970s; Pete Boyas, the refuse king (Forbes once eliminated an entire city department to rid Boyas of Lisa Thomas who gave Boyas problems); Jim Stanton, a former Council President; and the Rzepkas, Fred, Peter and Harry. His law firm represented GSX, the tenants at a public housing project and even the city’s Board of Education.
He directed two super subsidy gifts to Dick Jacobs worth more than $250 million, though one was never completed. He came later to represent Jacobs. (Jacobs showed up before Forbes with one project worth $120-million in abatements with a model carried in a black garbage bag. Exiting the meeting Jacobs dodged reporters Continue Reading »