November 15th, 2017

171115 roldo stokes forbes pov point of view

All this praise being heaped on Carl Stokes by the news media and many others is a bunch of bullshit.


Because it comes after he’s been dead more than 20 years and it doesn’t fit how he was treated when he was the first black mayor of Cleveland.

In other words, when it really counted.

At a press conference Stokes said:

There is hardly a place in this community where two or more persons join that their disgust in the two newspapers is not expressed. Rich people, poor people, black and white people. There is a serious erosion of confidence in the truthfulness, the integrity and he sincerity of the newspapers. And yet, what recourse do the people have as a source of news? None, really.

It’s a good reading of the media today, too.

I could tell him today what recourse he has.

Be dead for some 20 years.

The phonies come and maybe tell some of the truth about you. But they don’t know the truth because they didn’t tell it in the first place.

News media find telling the truth very difficult. First Amendment or not.

Stokes left town in disgust. Does anyone say that?

His press secretary Dick Murway told me at the time:

He felt (the corporate leaders) had deserted him and Cleveland, and they simply didn’t want conflict. With few exceptions Stokes felt that they were more concerned about not rocking the boat rather than seeking solutions. He became more and more conscious of his blackness and this disturbed the business establishment.

I wrote at that time in a piece in Business & Society Review about corporate responsibility in Cleveland:

Stokes has provided a safe trip through the late 1960s and into the 1970s in a city where urban eruptions had become rather common place.

It’s good to have a counter-history to the regular news media.

Before Stokes left, he laid the ground for an organized political structure that would empower black politics. It was called the 21st District Caucus where his brother Louis Stokes was the U.S. Congressman.

Do you see any structure here today that ensures black political power that translates into an organization that works for the mass of black people in this city?

I don’t think so. Nothing that comes close.

It’s the politics of self-interest. Get for those that got.

White ethnic politics but a shade darker. That’s today’s black politics. Just look at the debacle of the Quicken Arena deal. It tells the story of Cleveland Today. Bought and paid for by the local corporates.

I wrote about those days in my newsletter Point Of Viəw.

As in October 1973, quoting from Stokes’ book Promises of Power:

It was a difficult time for some of the Press reporters to adjust to.

Paul Lilley was the top investigative reporter at the Press and he was always close to City Hall; he knew most of the dirt. He had always been able to walk into the mayor’s office when he felt like it and get inside information in those ‘off the record’ conversation that so often compromise the integrity of both the politician and the reporter. He would tell those mayors things they didn’t know, and the mayor would reciprocate.

He had visited me early. He started to tell me how he expected to be treated, and I told him I wasn’t going to say anything to him off the record. I told him that he wasn’t going to hear anything from me in that office that I wouldn’t say in a press conference.

He looked at me and said, ‘Well Carl, it just looks bad in the newspaper when the story says, ‘When confronted with the accusation that a certain thing happened, the mayor had no response.’ I don’t want you to be in that position.

The conversation went on.

“I’m not trying to blackmail you,” Stokes quote Lilley as saying. How amusing.

Others tried to make scandals out of nothing. Sometimes, Stokes said, with the help of other politicians, naming Dennis Kucinich.

One reporter even asked Stokes in a public setting whether he was illegitimate. It was during his campaign for mayor.

Stokes wrote that in a loud voice, Doris O’Donnell, a Plain Dealer reporter during his winning campaign said in a public setting, “Mr. Stokes isn’t it true that the man buried under the name Charles Stokes is not really your father? That, in fact, Charles Stokes was married to your mother but she had you by another man.” Can you imagine?

Stokes said he would take this matter up with her bosses.

He called Tom Vail, PD publisher, the next morning and in a conversation with Tom Guthrie, a Vail assistant, was told that O’Donnell had reported the night’s previous encounter.

Stokes asked why she had made the confrontation.

Harder to imagine was Vail’s response, according to Stokes:

“Perhaps she is going through the change.” The PD publisher’s response.

A third editor, William Ware, when asked why she was attacking him, Stokes got this response:

“When a woman is going through the change anyone is subject to her wrath.” This from another PD editor.

These were the top decision-makers at the Plain Dealer.

You won’t read these things in the recap of the career of the first black mayor of a major city—Cleveland.

Too ugly for print. Maybe even too stupid today for top editors.

Vail later told Stokes he would get “this police thing out on the table.” Suggesting he’d expose the police bad behavior.

Stokes was having serious problems with a mostly white police force, which refused to accept black leadership.

Unbelievably, the team assigned by editors to examine police relations was headed by O’Donnell! The Cleveland cops friend. Where was the editorial honesty? Or even common sense.

O’Donnell was personally right-wing. After leaving the PD she went to work at the Tribune Review in Pittsburgh, owned by Richard Mellon Scaife, well-known billionaire backer of ultra-conservative causes.

She ended up actually being hired at Cleveland city hall by Mayor Ralph Perk. Her obit in the PD never mentioned her clash with Stokes.

The police series was a vendetta with an outpouring of anti-Stokes complaints by the police force’s haters and certainly not the promised “getting the issues on the table.”

It just poisoned any possibility of a police force dedicated to uphold the law without reference to race.

The Civil Violence Center at Case-Western Reserve on the Causes and Prevention of Violence charged the Plain Dealer with “opening old wounds.”

“Other articles appearing in the Cleveland Plain Dealer fed suspicions that the newspaper was carrying on a vendetta of its own,” the report stated.

The report also referred to a PD headline: CORE ‘Bodyguards’ Freed by City Hall (Stokes) in Gun Case. What really happened was that the night Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, CORE national director Floyd McKissick was in town. He had been threatened and didn’t trust the Cleveland Police to guard him. Furthermore, the PD article was published months after having had knowledge of the incident, according to the Center’s report, quoting PD reporters. Yet it was played as a revelation months later.

None of these matters, however, have been used to indicate exactly what Stokes endured. The media simply heaped praise without their role in thwarting Stokes and what he tried to do.

None of this, I suspected, you would see in the Plain Dealer’s treatment of the city’s first black mayor.

The title of the police articles promised by Vail was What’s on their minds. It wasn’t hard to figure out.
So I used the same silly PD tactics in 1968 to ask, PD reporters—What’s on their minds.”

I don’t remember how much of it came from actual reporters.

However, I wrote to reflect the PD’s handling of the extremely volatile issue of police/community/city hall relations in this extremely tense community. How utterly stupid it was.

I wrote, reflecting the tone of the PD police series:

Reporters feel the inner city room tensions upset the staff. Morale suffers. Usually, reporters deal with the city editor. When someone interferes the chain of command becomes muddled.

The chain of command is by-passed and certain reporters are beyond the authority of the city editor. My solution is to stay away from the managing editor as much as I can.

Like a smoldering fire, tensions build.

I continued:

Yes, the discontent reaches to the highest levels. Reporters feel that in this time of trouble and upheaval, they are left to shift for themselves. Confidence in leadership slips.

I quote: “I wrote a story, using a familiar phrase from a well-known writer. The phrase is known even to school children, but the managing editor didn’t know it or understand what I was trying to say. He reads Newsweek and thinks he’s well-informed.

“The chain of command is by-passed and certain reporters are beyond the authority of the city editor. My solution is to stay away from the managing editor as much as I can.

I noted: “In the bitter words of one of its veteran reporters, words that utter from a deep well of hurt pride, ‘They don’t trust us.'”

It was all to reflect the treatment the PD handed out in these tense times to the Cleveland public. How one-sided.

When Stokes returned to Cleveland, as I wrote in my last piece, I believe he thought he could be a power broker.

However, the 21st District Caucus had become dormant.

The power had slipped to Forbes. He was the power broker. Others acquiesced. Sharing in the goodies.

There was one public confrontation between the two giants of local black politics in 1985.

Stokes was to appear before the Council’s Finance Committee, chaired by Forbes.

The face-off provided special drama.

Stokes had recently said of Forbes, “He has turned out to be a foul-mouthed, unregenerate politician of the most despicable sore and I think he should be out of office.”

Now, those were fighting words. And Carl Stokes was known to at times get involved in fisticuffs.

So the meeting held hints of a dramatic clash.

I noticed Stokes before the meeting placed a long cigar on the ledge of a window in the hall by the Council hearing room and then retrieve it, learning that Forbes just the day before had banned smoking at the hearings.

Here’s how I set the stage:

Forbes came to the table a half hour late.

Forbes came to the table quietly, looking more stern than usual, a tense frown.

He allowed his clerk Merce Cotner to open the meeting with the clerk of courts. Forbes’ brother Zeke accompanied the clerk. Forbes quickly disposed of them, no brotherly chatter. Unusual.

He continued grim, he “seemed unusually grave, tense muscles in his forehead revealing his intense unease,” I wrote.

Stokes was up next. No familiarity. Stokes called him “Mr. Chairman.”

Forbes called Stokes, “Sir.”

Forbes was in a hurry, “Any questions,” after the reading of basic figures of Stokes’s budget. Then almost immediately,

“You may leave, sir.”

It wasn’t quite that easy. Fannie Lewis broke in with a question and others followed. Stokes answered “politely, quietly and slowly, seeming to want to make his stay at the table longer,” I wrote at the time.

Stokes then extended his time, asking to speak to the body. He requested more bailiffs, which Forbes turned aside.

But it opened the stay for more questions.

Forbes got more irritated. “John, come on, let’s wind it up,” he told John Barnes. But Gary Kucinich asked another question with Stokes again eating up time in answering in concise language.”

Stokes seemed to get more comfortable at the table but it finally ended with no outburst.

Forbes, after Stokes left followed by the TV cameras, made a barb at Stokes’ expense.

The tenseness “evaporated into a jolly George Forbes” once

Stokes was out of the hearing room.

I scored it: “No knockout. Not even a knockdown… (but) Stokes by points, handily.”

Stokes had all the charm, political smarts and looks that had he come along sooner he would have been a natural for national office. He had the help in his 197 election run from the White House, particularly from Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

Nationally, Democrats had their eye on Carl Stokes.

Locally, he was treated less kindly. White racism was in full display with Council President Jim Stanton, later a congressman, and Dennis Kucinich, also later a congressman, playing racial politics against the first black big city mayor.

Cleveland may praise him today. Most didn’t when he could have give Cleveland what the Cleveland corporate community advertised in a full-page Wall Street Journal ad after his election: An old blue chip city with bright new leadership.

Too bad.

By Roldo Bartimole…

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