Roldo on Ralph Locher, a dose of 1960's history
Jul 08, 2004 20:03 PDT
From: "Roldo" <email@example.com>
To: "Jim Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thu, 8 Jul 2004 20:45:29 -0400
Ralph Locher, a Dose of 1960s History
Or Why Cleveland Mayors are Expendable
By Roldo Bartimole
In the mid-1960s former Cleveland Mayor Ralph Locher, who
died recently, ran into stormy political times that likely
no mayor could survive. He was as much victim as culpable in
a historic Cleveland election in 1967.
The political battle between a white ethnic mayor and an
African-American challenger was followed by an election
between the victorious challenger, the great grandson of a
slave, and a Republican with a historic name, the grandson
of a President.
Shrouded in the backdrop of this momentous election were
civic machinations by business leaders, desperate to revive
Cleveland to its former glory, but caught up in mounting
racial conflict. A crisis for the Establishment often means
civic and business elites have to take the stage publicly.
Events force the "invisible government" of private interests
to show their faces, if you look critically enough. That
happened in the 1960s, as we shall see.
Having run unopposed in 1963 and having survived re-election
barely in 1965, Locher wasn't able to overcome the
charismatic and charming Carl Stokes and hopeless poverty,
urban renewal disaster, civil strife and the undermining of
the business community. But we get ahead of the story.
Locher faced a hostile business and legal community that
wanted him out, but not necessarily Stokes in. The times
they were a trying.
Indeed, Locher, as the hated Dennis Kucinich later, became
the victim of a business cabal. Corporate Cleveland, as it
does today, used wealth, civic power, the press, foundations
and other front groups as weapons to dominate the public
Cleveland, at the time, still had major corporate
headquarters here and prominent law firms that served them.
However, Cleveland had serious and long-standing festering
An article I wrote in The Nation in June of 1967 with Murray
Gruber, a social scientist at Case Western Reserve
University, told of the city's plight:
"Between 1960-75 the number of poverty families in every
Negro planning area increased, and the median income
slumped. In Hough, median income skidded from $4,732 to
$3,966, and two other areas, with 60,000 Negroes, had median
incomes lower than Hough's.
"Unemployment in March reached 15.6 percent for Negroes in
poverty areas, with 58 percent of the young males jobless,
or earning below poverty level wages.
"Negro unemployment in general hovers around 9 percent while
the community rate is 2.3 percent.
"The building trades remain impregnable, with only 13
Negroes among 11,500 workers in the five major construction
"Only 43 Negroes were among the 1,350 apprentice trainees in
the five major construction trades."
We also wrote, "In April, 1966, the (U. S.) Civil Rights
Commission ripped away Cleveland's carefully nurtured façade
of social progress. Hearings gave the ghetto a chance to
speak (in Cleveland), and even it was shocked by the
cumulative findings. in July Hough erupted in five days of
rioting that took four lives."
Cleveland seemed an ungovernable hellhole.
How bad was it? "Symbolizing police contempt, Police Chief
Richard Wagner rode into Hough during the riots armed with
his personal hunting rifle, which he used against snipers.
When a woman, searching for her children, was killed by
gunfire, Wagner remarked, 'There was a similar occurrence in
the Chicago riots. They sacrifice one person and blame it on
police brutality," The Nation piece read.
Cleveland's "ostrich compulsion gave way to a billy-club
mentality," we wrote.
Locher faced long-standing problems. He was unfortunate to
be mayor when the civil rights movement crested in anger. He
didn't handle it well as his police chief's views attest.
His strategy for re-election was obvious: Get all the white
votes you can, as whites outnumbered blacks at the time.
Other political currents were less obvious. The business
community in the late 1950s pushed City Hall into massive
urban renewal projects, that era's dream to revitalize a
once vibrant Cleveland. Plans went seriously awry. The
renewal triggered mass movement of people, primarily black
and poor, from the central areas of the city into Hough.
Whites then moved massively out of Hough. Ghetto housing
became overcrowded. Adding to problems, purposeful school
segregation led to serious protests. The death of the Rev.
Bruce Klunder, run over by a bulldozer at a protest site,
added to community passions.
Cleveland's Establishment - operators of more Fortune 500
corporations than any cities but New York and Chicago in the
1960s - was in a quandary about how to handle civil unrest.
First, business leaders didn't know with whom to deal since
established black leaders were not attuned to new demands of
The question was HOW to deal with these new problems.
The WASP Cleveland business community, though it did not
want a black mayor, was willing to aid Stokes to dump
To do this the business community played a two-timing game
against Locher and temporarily for Stokes. Unlike the 1965
election when Stokes ran as an independent, in 1967 he ran
as a Democrat with the promise of help from President Lyndon
To undermine Locher the business community formed various
entities to spew negative material against Locher. The
Little Hoover Commission was established to "study" city
government. Of course, final reports were all essentially
negative and embarrassing to Locher's administration. I
personally got one of my first tastes of how the business
establishment worked here. I was assisting the late Don
Sabath covering urban renewal efforts.
Locher was vulnerable on a stalled urban renewal program. We
were called to the offices of Edward Howard & Co., still the
town's elite public relations firm, to be given the "scoop"
(over the Cleveland Press) on what Little Hoover said about
Locher's handling of urban renewal. It wasn't pretty.
In a sidebar to the main story, I wrote: "All six of
Cleveland's urban renewal programs are lagging behind
schedule and riddled with problems, according to the Little
Hoover Commission report disclosed yesterday."
Then President Johnson's Housing and Urban Development
Secretary Robert Weaver took unprecedented action by denying
Locher federal renewal funds due the city. Stokes later
wrote: "Locher's loss of federal funds gave us a chance to
attack him at a most vulnerable time. When those attacks
were coupled with my frequent and visible trips to
Washington, it began to seem to people that President
Johnson wanted Carl Stokes to be mayor of Cleveland. A
federal urban renewal official was blunt to me, "Cleveland
is our Vietnam. We'd like to get out but we don't know how."
Typically, however, the expert Little Hoover studies failed
examine what forces pushed these massive urban renewal
programs upon a city with obvious inadequate resources. Nor
did they examine the cheerleaders for these efforts - the
Plain Dealer - now critical of the failures and Locher.
The Cleveland Development Foundation (CDF), which propelled
the disastrous urban renewal program, was given a media free
pass, indeed, commendations. CDF promised cures for the
city's problems. It was funded, it said, to eliminate "slum
and blight." Some 80 corporations gave $1 million to CDF and
another $5 million came from the Hanna Fund of the Cleveland
Foundation. Edward Sloan, a CDF member and chairman of
Oglebay-Norton, inadvertently told the truth about the true
corporate aims. "It would be a mistake to think that the
foundation (CDF) ever had as its main concern housing. The
main thing was to make land available for industrial and
commercial use," Sloan said. The CDF got such good press
that Sloan worried it would be seen as an "ambivalent Santa
Claus" for aiding the black community.
A valid assessment of business efforts came from Thomas
Westropp, president of Women's Federal Savings and a city
planning commission member. Westropp said: "For some the
urban renewal program has worked very well indeed. Hospitals
and educational institutions have been constructed and
enlarged. So have commercial and industrial interests and
many service organizations, all with the help of urban
renewal dollars. With respect to housing, however, the urban
renewal program has been a disaster. I wish I could believe
that all of this was accidental and brought about by the
inefficiency of well-meaning people - but I just cannot. The
truth, it seems to me, is that it was planned that way."
Locher paid the price for these self-interested decisions of
At the same time the Little Hoover Commission was doing a
job on Locher, another tool of the Establishment was getting
prime recognition from the news media. The so-called
"liberal" press more likely is a corporate press slanted to
amplify the views of wealthy interests.
Ralph Besse, chairman of Cleveland Electric Illuminating and
a former partner in Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, formed the
Inner City Action Committee. Here came another corporate
entity that purported assistance to Locher and the city's
renewal efforts. After a series of meetings with Besse's
group, a Locher aide wrote, "All in all, I was not
encouraged to believe that the position of the business
community represented by Mr. Besse would be willing to offer
any real assistance except on its own terms." Besse wanted
Locher to fire his urban renewal director and replace him
with a retired U. S. General on Besse's staff. (Besse was
quite a leader. He encouraged his top executives at CEI to
read German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel's biography and
apply its war philosophy to the company's business tactics).
Locher rejected Besse's offer and Besse severed relations
with the Locher administration. The play of the story by the
Plain Dealer represented a serious blow to the already
beleaguered Locher. It was all out of proportion to its
importance. The paper's front-page banner headline read:
"Besse's Inner-City Group Quits Locher." Besse had a direct
financial interest ignored by the Plain Dealer. CEI wanted
to take Muny Light from the city. Stokes, who during the
campaign said he would sell to CEI, changed his mind when he
learned the city electric system's value.
Other corporate leaders got into the act. One went after
Locher's base. Squire-Sanders managing partner James C.
Davis in a speech before the Cleveland Bar Association
blamed the white ethnic community - not Cleveland's leaders
- for the city's racial problems. Thousands of copies of the
speech -"Cleveland's White Problem - A challenge to the bar"
- were distributed free.
Stokes took advantage of the corporate hostility to Locher.
He wrote in "Promises of Power" that the power structure in
early 1967 catered to him. "In the Spring and Summer of 1967
when the power structure was grooming me as the man to back
in the mayor's race, I was invited to the most exclusive
clubs in Cleveland to talk to them about myself and what I
hoped to do for Cleveland."
Cleveland's corporate leadership also used tactics that
today would be considered underhanded and invite press
In one important effort unreported at the time except in
Point of View, corporate interests paid black militants
weekly to keep Peace for Carl in the ghetto that summer. The
payments were made each Saturday at the Call and Press
newspaper. The importance of this $40,000 summer program
sponsored sub-rosa was its ability to help maintain peace in
1967. Another outbreak that summer would have severely
damaged Stokes' candidacy.
Most telling was the duration of the under-the-table
program. It ended on the weekend of the Democratic primary.
That indicated to me that business leaders were interested
in helping Stokes only in the primary not in the upcoming
general election when he would oppose a Republican.
In the general election, Republican corporate lawyer, Seth
Taft, a partner in Jones, Day, Cockley and Reavis, ran
against Democratic primary victor Stokes. At the time
because of the population make-up, the belief was any white
candidate would win in a head-to-head election with a black
There was more unusual activity to split the Democratic
white vote and assist Stokes. Taft's Jones-Day law partner
and top civic leader Jack Reavis helped financially support
a third candidate in the Democratic primary. The business
community funded former Lakewood Mayor Frank Celeste, the
father of Dick Celeste. The aim was a second white candidate
would draw from Locher's vote. Both Frank Celeste and Taft
moved into to Cleveland from suburbs to run. Reavis
contributed $3,000 to Frank Celeste and three other
foundation members $5,000 more, considerable sums in a
mayoral primary at the time, particularly for Republicans to
a Democrat. Stokes won by more votes than Locher and Celeste
Some church leaders at the time wanted to bring Saul
Alinsky, the famed community organizer, here to help
Cleveland's impoverished community. I called Reavis for
comment. His response was, "I think it (Alinsky in
Cleveland) would be a tragedy." Besse told me, "We don't
need an agitator in Cleveland." Activist help for grassroots
people was not in the business leaders plan.
In contrast, the Cleveland business and foundation community
poured money into the Cleveland ghetto that summer in a
major attempt to buy off the black community against its own
interests. The city was staged, I believe, for a national
test to divert black street anger into conventional politics
by Cleveland and national foundation leaders.
The Ford Foundation funded the Greater Cleveland Associated
Foundation (GCAF), a subsidiary of the Cleveland Foundation.
GCAF was formed to insulate elite Cleveland Foundation
members from personally having to deal with ghetto issues.
The Cleveland Foundation and GCAF staffs, however, were the
same. Ford also gave $175,000 to Cleveland's Congress of
Racial Equality (CORE), $127,000 to a businessmen's group
headed by Reavis and $200,000 to GCAF for programs involving
Surprisingly, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., having
trouble organizing in Chicago, came to Cleveland during this
summer. To headlines, he announced he would register 40,000
black voters. It was not news that Stokes wanted, fearing
King would generate white voter anger and registration.
My studies showed that Reavis' group gave King $5,000 that
summer, while CORE, having received Ford Foundation money,
also contributed $3,000. That didn't cover King's expenses
as he traveled to Cleveland a number of times and had staff
here. An October 1967 outline of King's Southern Christian
Leadership Conference, however, revealed that $27,899 in
expenses was used in Cleveland from its Atlanta offices.
SCLC had received a $230,000 grant in Atlanta from the Ford
Foundation that year.
How important was this election to the aims of business
leaders, not only in Cleveland but nationally? I'd cite a
statement by McGeorge Bundy, president of the Ford
Foundation, who told the Urban League in 1966 that if blacks
burned American cities, "The white man's companies will have
to take the losses." Robert Allen in "Black Awakening in
Capitalist America," quoted Bundy and added, "White America
is not so stupid as not to comprehend that elemental fact."
Bundy told the Urban League audience, "Something would have
to be done about the urban problem." Allen added, "Thus, the
Ford Foundation was on its way to becoming the most
important though least publicized organization manipulating
the militant black movement." The Cleveland election
provided Ford with a prime testing of a strategy to turn
black anger into conventional politics.
In Cleveland, the Ford Foundation had a perfect setting. It
also had close friends at the Cleveland Foundation and a
city dominated by corporate controlled foundations and front
groups to guide its aims to fruition.
Locher was defeated in the primary. Stokes went on to defeat
The business community made best of the notoriety of being
the first large American city to elect a black as mayor.
Business interests took out a full-page ad in the Wall
Street Journal soon after Stokes election. It bragged of an
old-line city with new blue chip leadership.
Their love affair with Stokes turned sour eventually.
Ironically, a year after Stokes' election and 36 years ago
this month, the same buyoff strategy used by Ralph Besse to
keep peace in the ghetto that summer so Stokes could defeat
Locher, proved very risky. Ahmed Evans and others were paid
to extended peace in Cleveland but the second time around
events ended with the Glenville shootout. That broke the
alliance Cleveland business had built with Stokes who had
walked the streets of Cleveland keeping peace on April 4,
1968, the day Rev. King was assassinated.
After the Glenville shootout, Reavis and his friends
deserted Stokes. "He felt the corporate leaders had deserted
him and Cleveland and that they simply didn't want
conflict," an associate said. His press secretary said of
Stokes, "He became more and more conscious of his blackness
and this disturbed the business community." He quoted
Stokes' unstated feelings, "I'm not going to be their house
nigger." Stokes did not run for a third term in 1971.
Ralph Locher went on to win a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court
where he served with distinction, with a liberal
interpretation of our laws.