CLEVELAND—THE FINALE OF A 50-YEAR JOURNEY

February 14th, 2018

180207 young roldo old roldo

[PART I: 50 YEARS—FREE TO SPEAK WITHOUT RESTRICTION]

In 1965 when I came to Cleveland I gained what became a new insight into how a city operates or doesn’t. It wasn’t just about poverty as I found in Bridgeport. It was a calculated system of injustice, corruption and, most importantly the lesson of Who Rules.

I learned something about how cities are guided and directed by elites determining public interests, mostly for their own benefit.

Law firms, corporate powers, wealthy foundations and the offshoots they created such as the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, Cleveland Now, Cleveland Tomorrow, the Greater Cleveland Partnership and a host of other devices that comprise mafia-style enterprises.

Both secretively and not so furtively they promote and control rule.

Elected officials mostly simply ratifying the major decisions, as generally do the obedient news media.

These processes have taken different forms at different times, which demanding different tactics.

Clearly, the news media act like the street horses of old wearing those eye blinders to keep their sight under control as they move.

Guided thus not to see too much.

It’s difficult to cover 50 years of this criminal behavior. But let’s try at least some.

One ingredient has been Poverty. Cleveland’s poor, especially the black community, has been in an economic depression equal to the Great Depression of the 1930s as long as I have been writing.

It certainly shows up in the disgraceful conditions of today. Reaction has changed, however. Rather than disturbing rioting of the 1960s, we have inner directed violence that reveals itself in senseless killings, gun warfare and death by other means. No rioting. No burning of cities. Not even many irritating protests. The rest of the community can ignore the disorder. And mostly does.

The differing times have called for distinctive tactics of control by those who impose their will on cities and the use their resources.

In 1960s when I arrived on the scene corporate leaders and their actions were concerned with the danger that racial eruption would have on Cleveland. This, of course, would affect their businesses and give them a bad rep nationally. It was important to them to avoid this.

John Gunther, one of the best known and admired writers of that time, wrote, “Cleveland is probably the most civic-minded city in the country,” but he could have phrased it in my opinion, “as the most civically controlled cities in the country.” There is a difference.

Cleveland, of course, had passed through its Progressive Period early with Tom Johnson in the first part of the 1900s when Lincoln Steffens called it the best governed city in America. It also had great riches because of its lucky location on Lake Erie—a place where iron ore, shipping, access to coal came together to produce the steel that helped build New York City and other eastern cities. And produce, of course, wealth for some. Some of the wealth still sloshes around Cleveland and certainly does its legacy of institutions.

But Cleveland’s national reputation was being question in the 1960s as rioting and disturbances made headline nationally. Something had to be done.

Cleveland editors knew something was happening but didn’t quite understand how to cover it as a newspaper. I believe that’s why my application, revealing my urban coverage in Bridgeport, got me my job.

At the time the PD had only one black reporter—the late Robert McGruder—and he was in the U.S. Army.

Two major creations of control of the time were the Businessmen’s Interracial Committee on Community Affairs, headed by Jack Reavis, managing partner of Jones, Day Reavis & Pogue (today simply Jones Day) and the Inner City Action Committee), headed by Ralph Besse, a former lawyer for Squire, Sanders & Dempsey (now Squire Sanders) and head of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company.

Further, the Cleveland Foundation established the Greater Cleveland Foundation, destined to deal with racial matters that the main foundation found distasteful for its involvement.

Their reason for being: divert rioting and coop black activists. The funding was from foundations and corporations.

They were seen in the news as wielders of corporate responsibility. By me as far less charitable. Control was their goal. To represented it otherwise would be what today some might call “fake news.”

Sometime they were rather open about it.

Reavis told the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in 1965 at hearings here: “Tempers and tensions were very high indeed. I thought it quite possible that Cleveland would be the first of the northern cities where savage violence would break out.”

Later he was able to say: “The Negroes on this committee have behaved magnificently.”

I’m sure they appreciated the compliment.

This aptly described the elite outlook.

Besse, indeed, sponsored a secret payment to black nationalists in his effort to unseat then Mayor Ralph Locher. The $40,000 program was directed out of foundation offices and served as a model for a Cleveland Now! program during the Carl Stokes administration. That program was blamed for starting the 1968 shoot-out that caused the Glenville Riots. The co-oping didn’t always go as the elite desired.

Besse also tried to usurp city hall functions by offering a former general from his ICAC creation to head the city’s urban renewal program. Locher declined the effort to take over a government department. Huge headlines in the Plain Dealer expressed the rejection with a critical top of page one headline: “Besse’s Inner-City Group Quits Locher.” I called it “sabotage.” Locher reaction: “I have not yet seen any real constructive action taken by the committee.” Besse responded that maybe the word “action” shouldn’t have been in the unit’s title. Besse had another reason for attacking the city: his CEI had long sought the city’s electric power system.

What these and other actions of the time taught me is that there was a vast network of corporate-created front-groups, automatically fed financially by foundations, and automatically accepted by news outlets as “good and proper,” that distorted governance and the typified the way a city was ruled by outside forces.

Cleveland was troubled at the time, no doubt. Locher was not an elected mayor but was elevated to the job when as law director he replaced Mayor Anthony Celebrezze who was chosen for JFK’s cabinet.

The Cleveland Development Foundation, another creation funded by 83 Cleveland corporations and $5 million from the Hanna Fund of the Cleveland Foundation, helped cause Cleveland’s major problem by pushing the city into more urban renewal acreage than any other city.

The leadership, under a former SOHIO executive, however, paid no heed to the movement of mostly black and poor people out of the Central area with no place to go. Hough became a dumping place as housing deteriorated. It became such a mess that a federal official told me that Cleveland was its Vietnam. They like to get out but didn’t know how.

Edward Sloan, former chairman of Ogelbay-Norton and CDF, likely made it clear that the urban renewal plans were not to help the city as much as industry. “It would be a mistake,” he said, to think that the foundation had as its main concern housing… (T)he main thing was to make land available for industrial and commercial use.” It ended up providing land mostly for institutional use.

Indeed, one trustee fretted that CDF was being perceived as too oriented to blacks and was hurt by the image of its being an “ambivalent Santa Claus.” Tom Westropp, a banker and member of the City Plan Commission, said he wished he could say these plans were accidental but couldn’t. They had ignored the needs of residents.

Indeed, Cleveland became a test-tube city during a period of racial uprising in the 1960s. The Ford Foundation worked hand-in-hand with the Cleveland Foundation and its creation—the Greater Cleveland Foundation—to guide these efforts in Cleveland.

Ford Foundation President McGeorge Bundy at the time warned that if blacks burn the cities (as was happening) “the white man’s companies would have to take the losses.” He was quoted by Robert Allen in Black Awakening in Capitalist America, that “White America is not so stupid as not to comprehend this elemental fact.” Bundy said to the Urban League, “Something will have to be done about urban problems…”

The election of the first black mayor of a major American city in Cleveland followed with the direct aid of foundations, top business and legal leaders. The Ford Foundation, along with Cleveland foundations, helped fund the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. who came to Cleveland with his Southern Leadership Conference to help register black voters for Stokes.

The blame for the city’s turmoil had to be diverted from the forces that set the city’s agenda.

At the time, Squire-Sanders’ managing partner James C. Davis blamed white ethnics for the plight of blacks. He gave a major speech, followed by the publication of his speech via a widely-distributed pamphlet, accusing Cleveland whites with the problems endured by black citizens. He choose to center his critical assessment on “White ethnics,” omitting any blame of the city’s powerful corporate/legal community, about 100 percent white.

What was my lesson?

Certainly, that civic responsibility often hid the self-interest that moved it. A lesson, if ever learned in conventional newspaper reporting, is avoided as one would not touch a red hot stovetop. You are working for a corporation that has ties to local business and the same interests, and you pay attention—whether consciously or subconsciously—by habit.

The times, however, do change. With the change come new tasks and moves by those with power.

The rise of Carl Stokes as mayor in retrospect was a brief interlude in Cleveland’s history. It did open city hall and other political routes to black employment, business and law offices.

But Stokes was followed by Republican Ralph Perk, Dennis Kucinich, and then George Voinovich, a return to white ethnic rule. However, a good deal of power was left in the hands of Council President George Forbes and the active black voters.

But Cleveland during Perk’s years revealed in a different respect the weakness of city government. The consequence of a failing urban renewal program downtown along with a squeezed city budget made it necessary for Perk—back by the secret private government—to begin to sell off city assets: the transit system went regional, the city parks went to the state, sewers went regional, and the city’s port went to a separate authority. He wanted to sell the city’s electric power system too.

Squire-Sanders lawyers wrote the first tax abatement bill at the end of the 1960s for the state and that started a process that hasn’t stopped of taking much of downtown real estate off the tax roles for years. This followed the Park Investment case in the 1950s that in effect lowered taxes for commercial buildings to equal the homeowner rate.

Perk was spending beyond the city’s ability, using bond money for city operating costs. He had expected to recoup the loss, I believe, by selling the city’s electric system to CEI. Kucinich, however, used the issue to bludgeon him. The sale was deterred and Perk was defeated in a primary. Democrat Kucinich had backed Republican Perk for mayor in 1971. Now he defeated him in 1977.

The city’s electric system, Muny Light, had been being sabotaged by Besse’s CEI. CEI forced Muny to buy larger quantities of power when the city required a smaller back-up. CEI surrounded Muny’s area of service thus only it could provide backup. The CEI tactics caused debt by the city equal to its default later.

In 1978, however, CEI was judge as violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. “… CEI appears to be behaving like a spoiled child caught cheating and declaring it will use any trick it can get away with in order to get even,” testified a federal official.

A Federal Energy Regulatory Power Commissioner testified that this monopoly power made the city, “Extremely vulnerable to financially devastating impact…over Muny Light (now called Cleveland Public Power.)

Squire-Sanders, representing both CEI (at $1 million a year) and the city, had given bad testimony to damage the city’s electric system ability to borrow via bonds. A further damage by CEI to the city’s system.

Eventually, the city sued CEI and two federal court cases before Judge Robert Krupansky, as biased a judge as CEI could find, ended with a hung jury (one holdout, suspicious) and a trial defeat (Krupansky ruled out damaging info allowed in first trial) of a $325 million law suit.

This followed a pattern of corporate chicanery by corporate interests against government that I’ve observed for 50 years. Coverage of this period and the court cases can be found in Cleveland State University’s Memory site devoted to Point Of Viəw. It reveals just how dirty the corporate community can act toward government.

Despite the increasing poverty and the spreading deterioration, business leaders continued their desire to force a Renaissance centered in downtown. Business leaders wanted to take advantage of a Mayor upon whom they could count.

As the Fortune magazine article put it, “Cleveland’s CEO conspiracy led the economic as well as the politics1 turnabout,” resulting in a new Cleveland mechanism, Cleveland Tomorrow, “a formal conspiracy” said Fortune, that brought together the top 50 corporate leaders to push economic development in Cleveland.

In the 1980s article entitled “How Business Bosses Saved a Sick City,” the business magazine succinctly described Cleveland—and likely every other city—method of ruling. The article called this takeover by business leaders as “a benign conspiracy of top executives.” It was more like business as usual to me. The casual use of the word “conspiracy” was a truth revealed.

This was, however, only the beginning of the new period.

At first Voinovich was sensitive of Kucinich’s constituency. He avoided new tax abatements for a time (actually three major downtown office buildings were built during Kucinich’s term without abatements).

But soon abatements again flowed, along with grants from a new federal program—Urban Development Action Grants. Major benefactors were Forest City and the Jacobs Brothers with hundreds of millions of dollars in abatements plus UDAGs on the same buildings.

The abatements were overly generous. Voinovich and Forbes typically fashioned them as 20-year loans at zero interest rate and not a penny payable until the end of the 20 years. Deals that dealt out the city treasury. But the Cleveland civic/corporate machine was humming at its best.

The set the stage for new taxes for sports facilities. In the 1970s a property measure advanced by Republican County Commissioner Vince Campanella got shot down handily by voters.

However, the usual corporate interests worked to advance a sin tax proposal for Cuyahoga County to finance the Gateway project—a baseball stadium and basketball arena downtown. It lost in the city but won in the suburbs. Most of its promises: no tax abatement, funds for the schools, financial aid for seniors and a host of other incentives pushed by corporate interests and Mayor Michael White were completely ignored. The tax, now in its third iteration, cost taxpayers $240-million, $130-million and an expected $260-million in the latest voted extension.

Further, White and County Commissioner Tim Hagan, with corporate help, lobbied the state to legislation full tax exemption for all sports stadia/arena in perpetuity.

But it never ends.

This past year private interests with public officials pushed for a $140-million bond issue to expand the Quicken Arena. What is most amusing and corrupt about this issue, voted by both the County and City Councils and backed by Mayor Frank Jackson and County Executive Armond Budish, is that the county and city are STILL PAYING for bonds from the original early 1990 arena construction. This despite the sin tax revenue.

Indeed, the county & city paid some $8.8 million to bondholders last month to increase the total paid on arena bonds to $173 million with six years more to pay. The new bonds won’t be paid until starting in 2024 because of the old bonds on the arena.

The taking never, ever stops.

This second set of Quicken Arena bonds did incite some public protest.

Activists, led by the young new group: The Greater Cleveland Congregations—made up largely of religious groups—helped to gather more than 22,000 signatures. The effort should have placed the issue of public financing of the arena before voters.

Cleveland Council President Kevin Kelley, in a incredible dishonest and deceitful act, turned away the petitioners.

The amazing effort was quashed by the same mafia-like interests that bind this community in bondage.

Corporate pressures, with political assistance from county and city elected officials and even some black ministerial flunkies, refused the petition.

In a series of moves, the Congregations group was hijacked and bowed to the usual special interests by withdrawing the signatures, thus the wishes of some 22,000 citizens likely opposed to the continued theft of public monies for private interest. In this case, as usual, the tax gifts were for a billionaire owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers—Dan Gilbert, a creepy private hood.

Another ugly chapter in Cleveland civic history but one that like a small stone tossed into water will not resonate here.

Having the nerve to call themselves leaders of the business community, a number of them petitioned to have the signatures dumped. They called the petition circulators, not active citizens but “disgruntled petition circulators,” in the language of our mafia-types. The included some top corporate people: Toby Cosgrove, Cleveland Clinic, CEO; prime civic manipulator Al Ratner, “pillar” of business community who helped milk Cleveland via Forest City Enterprises; Beth Mooney, CEO of Key Corp., cheesy Joe Roman of the Greater Cleveland Partnership; Sandy Cutler former boss of Eaton Corp., which left the city and the country for tax favors. You get the picture.

Creeps who pushed out people that signed a petition to vote on whether to give more tens of millions of dollars to one of their buddy billionaires.

Democracy be damned by Cleveland’s top corporate thieves.

That’s how it works I’ve found over my years in Cleveland.

We have upstanding business people who in reality are low life immoral cheaters.

The merry-go-round keeps circling and with each passage they grab more of the public’s resources for themselves.

This town is a cesspool of self-interested individuals posing as civic leaders and civic benefactors.

They are nothing but well-dressed thieves.

The ugly act of submission on the Q deal was followed by a serious decline in voter participation in both the primary and final election of Mayor in November. Mayor Frank Jackson was re-elected to a historic fourth term, cementing the continued subjugation of a declining, but growing impoverished Cleveland.

But then they don’t want people to vote. Why take a chance.

I leave my 50-year sojourn with one bit of advice to young people.

Don’t compromise. It’s not worth it and it’s not as much fun or as rewarding at the end. Challenge. Bend as little as possible. Make the bosses bend. They’re not that tough.

By Roldo Bartimole…

6 Responses to “CLEVELAND—THE FINALE OF A 50-YEAR JOURNEY”

  1. Jeff Hess says:

    Roldo,

    In case you didn’t catch it, an anonymous commenter—sputteringwithoutrage—said this about you in Sam Allard’s post:

    I worked for many years at The Cleveland Chamber before it went completely over to The Dark Side… I was also a Point Of Viəw subscriber… I was a witness to how Roldo’s research and his rhetoric could drive the corporate class into conniptions… And always, not because he got it wrong, but because he got it right… It takes real heroism to do that work for 50 years and remain not just a critical independent voice, but a dogged and capable getter-after-the-facts… He’s already won every conceivable local journalism award…Let’s write him in for a Pulitzer…

    I often think that the only evaluation that matters is that a person makes a difference for the good and that you do my friend, that you do.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  2. That’s a recommendation I’ll treasure.

    Thanks for finding it Jeff and thanks for all
    your help through the years.

    Roldo

  3. Gail says:

    Roldo, you have kept all of us on our toes. Thanks for doing that for 50 years.

    Perhaps something (and you know there will be something) will outrage you so much in the future that we will hear from you again.

    Gail

  4. Roldo, light it up! Fire in the hole. What happened in Cleveland, happened in Columbus, and likely most other big cities. It’s tale worth telling. It will fall on deaf ears, however, until the public understands the power it holds, that it has yet to use.

  5. I’ll be checking your stuff with my extra time. Thanks for writing,

    Roldo

  6. Gail: I missed your comment. You are predicting what should not happen. One shouldn’t go back on one’s word – unless there are reasons that cannot be ignored.

    I don’t expect any,

    Roldo

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